Playing with the Dragon in the Dip

I drew this “playing” near the dragon and “The Dip”…

Do you remember when you had play time? Not some time you forcibly carved out in your schedule to not do work or spend time with friends…I mean true, honest time for play. This is time that was set aside for thinking and moving in a playful manner with no agenda, purpose, or script. When was that? If it has been a while or you cannot remember, keep reading. First, let’s talk about your work, and not the routine stuff that you slog through like an automaton on an assembly line. I am talking about the important, hard stuff. The work that both challenges you and makes you want to put your name on it when it is done. That work, the hard stuff.

Why is it hard? It is the resistance, that invisible force the holds us back in the creative process. It is what makes the work hard. It challenges us to the core and presents the struggle reach our goal. It leads us to doubt ourselves, our path, and our goal. We’ve all felt it, every single one of us. Steven Pressfield uses a dragon to embody resistance.

“On the field of Self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”

Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

Now you might not have taken the time to think of resistance as a dragon or some other scary creature or person standing in the way of your work, but it has been there. It is there now and always will be there. Beyond the constant and consistent presence, this dragon usually lives in the same spot, “The Dip”.

Seth Godin calls the Dip “the long slog between starting and mastery.” It is the place between where you are with your ideas and plans and where you want to be with a finished and shipped project with your name on it. This is why the Dip and the dragon are located together in your creative process, and your journey is through the Dip and past the dragon. There is no other way.

“The people who set out to make it through the Dip — the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip — those are the ones who become the best in the world.”

Seth Godin, The Dip

But now that your mental eyes are focused to the notion of resistance, pause for a moment. Do you remember it as a child? No, you do not. You do not recall it like this. You remember playing, seeing the wide world as something to be explored first-hand…putting your hand in the mud, running with a kite, or letting a dog lick your face. The world was not a place to be feared, studied at a distance, or left alone. Sure there were boogie men and ghosts, but you still played and pushed your boundaries. The only difference is that you did it without fear…

So the creek behind the house was too scary to cross, but you could build a stick fort next to it and then add a branch or two to dam up the water so you could cross. Or the basement was too scary and dark, but your spaceman flashlight and a pillowcase cape gave you the bravado to explore the dark. And the kid you wanted to play with would not talk to you, but when you made an airport out of blocks during recess he came over to help.

See that, play. Play pushing your boundaries, sometimes right past your dragons, your resistance. Now, why don’t we do that today? While there might not be room in your cube for a Lego set or your manager would frown on a game of tag breaking out in the office, there is a time, place, and most importantly a need for play even as an adult. Without play as part of your process, you are left with the grown-up tools of grit, strength, and will. Effective, yes, but they are very singular and monotone. This is where play presents a welcome and effective alternative tool to push past resistance, conquer that dragon, move through the dip.

It does not matter what your job, role, or title is…when we play, we explore. Our fear subsides and we take the small unexpected leap our “sane self” normally won’t. We color outside the lines a bit, we put Legos together with Lincoln Logs, or we change the rules of kickball to allow base runners to play “hide and go seek”. Those creative strokes take us out of our comfort zone, out into the Dip, out to where the Dragon lurks. But we are not afraid or retreating in self-doubt because we are playing.

That is it. Of course, you know what to do, and now you have another tactic to try when the traditional ones are not working. Trade the “To Do Lists” for blank paper, keyboards for crayons, and schedules for imagination. Watch yourself wander close to the dragon and the Dip, and see how your journey to your goal gets closer and easier. Go play!

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