When you don’t know what to do, play.
Sometimes you need to let go to get a grip.
Somewhere between working on this, and reading about this, I hit a wall. Funemployment (well, my version of it anyway) has its very high highs and incredibly low lows. In one minute, you’re up and thinking everything is possible. The next minute, you’re down and screaming to yourself that all of your past accomplishments are no more than a fever dream.
The day starts with someone telling you they have a sure-fire opportunity for your company. It ends with an empty inbox and no confirmation that the conversation you had in the morning was about a real thing.
I go to bed physically jittery and mentally exhausted, but, as soon as I put my head to the pillow my mind kicks into high gear. I am convinced that no amount of education or training can prepare you for the emotional whiplash that comes from trying to build a basket around nearly all of the eggs you own while the clock ticks on your next bill. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and listen to this on repeat or you just watch ‘Zootopia’ from beginning to end.
Bunnies can be cops. Bunnies can be cops. Bunnies can be …
…frustrated and ready to call it quits. Nothing was coming together today, and my mind was tired of spinning a positive yarn about why I should continue reading or brainstorming business development ideas. Who was I kidding? It’s the holiday season. Unless I’m selling the latest and greatest in shipping logistics or the year’s top toy, I wasn’t going to get anywhere with anything anytime soon.
So, I got through my last (and very enjoyable call) for the day, and I put on one of my favorite sweatshirts (I got it at a Spark Camp gathering — one of the most transformational experiences of my life). I then pulled out an early Christmas gift I received.
It wasn’t just any gift; it was the LEGO Architecture model of the Lincoln Memorial. The person who gave it to me knows me far too well. This was, of all the sets they could have chosen, the only set that was perfect for me at this point in my life.
Lincoln is my favorite memorial. The Jefferson is lovely. The King is powerful. The Washington is classic. Lincoln is all of them combined. There’s the history that led to its creation, the history that has been made on its steps, and the beacon it shines into the future. The monument speaks to the highest of aspirations and ideals. It is a reminder that unity is strength.
The LEGO set had been sitting on my couch for a few days while I worked my way through some startup fog. Then the moment hit when I was at a complete loss for what to do next. New ideas and the will to keep marching had both dried up.
I also found the perfect podcast, an interview with “School of Greatness” host Lewis Howes and One World founder Krishna Ji. (Yeah, I listen to Lewis Howes and I really, really enjoy it.) The audio on the interview was especially low. So, I pulled out my headphones, pulled up the hood on my hoodie and started building The Lincoln Monument one LEGO brick at a time.
The act of raw doing and the experience of clear progress was bliss. I hit flow almost immediately. Somewhere between being reminded that I can choose to be happy and the tiny, clear, plastic that makes up the roof of the model, my attitude went from zero to one-hundred percent.
The experience reminded me of a lesson I really struggled with over the last three years: The work of creating new things, whether you like it or not, requires play. You must be willing to play if you really want to get the best out of yourself creatively. You have to set aside the rent check, the bills, the swing from e-mail feast to e-mail famine (if you want to all but eliminate the number of e-mails you receive, strike out on your own) and the knowledge that you’re not going anywhere for Christmas because you need that cash for the rent check you’re not thinking about. See, it’s tricky.
It’s the most counterintuitive thing in the world: let go to get a grip. That’s what it takes, though. Back in 2010, America entered what Newsweek dubbed a “creativity crisis”, and the halls of education and business were ringing with cries for more play. In 2011, designer Laura Seargeant Richardson wrote this, in part, for The Atlantic:
“…we must set aside the myth that play and work are two separate things. Play should be our greatest work, as it is the biggest driver of innovation.”
A lot has changed since 2011, and creativity has received and continues to receive quite a bit of attention. But the older we get, the more difficult it becomes to shed the years of traditional schooling and work environments. Most adults must fight and win a tiny war with themselves to dive back into play. There’s the self-consciousness and the paranoid fear that you’re wasting your time. But you’re not. The joy and inspiration play brings can be the most valuable tool in your problem-solving arsenal.
Then, before you know it, you’re back to work that feels a lot more like play.