Being a Play Engineer is as fun as it is hard. How to get Play (the essential natural way of learning, the way how mammals evolved beyond other species) to be taken serious? It’s so integrated and involving most scientists and educators walk around it. You can’t control outcomes or measure all the things happening at the same time. That’s the magic.
Becoming a Play Engineer means going against the grain of what most people consider a serious career. It is stepping outside the zone of a good career. Yet I find it liberating, playful and enriching. It has opened doors to new possibilities, most of all for myself, beyond the scope I ever expected to get. Here’s this playful approach to life and work came about:
I was a kid of wonder and imagination. And of reality. I loved day dreaming, and wondering about the world around me. When I made a drawing at 5, for my teacher, I had tried to draw white clouds on a white paper. My teacher curiously commented directly: “You draw clouds with a blue pencil!” Looking up to the sky I didn’t get it. The clouds were white. Right there and then I decided my own observations would trump all stories from authorities I could feel being not, exactly, correct.
And I was a sharp observer. At the same age I was having recurring nightmares of giants walking around the house. Boom, boom, boom. I could feel their footsteps thundering inside the house where I was hidden, looking at their legs passing by. Since I knew I was dreaming I wondered what made the giants happen day after day. Then I found the rhythm of their steps. It was my own heart booming in my ears pressed against the pillow. By noticing this, the giants disappeared. When years later scientists claimed to have proven one can be aware that one is dreaming, I just sighed. I knew all along, yet who would believe a kid?
Both my parents have been hard hit by the second World War. Three of my grandparents were part of the resistance. My mother lived during the hunger winter in Amsterdam, away from her parents farm, where Jews and others were in hiding. My father lost his father in a concentration camp and two of his brothers drowned escaping occupied territory. My parents met because my father went into hiding at the farm of my mothers parents. So I am here, thanks to the war. That’s kind of hard to celebrate. Both their fates shaped their character I think. My mother is always nice to strangers as she had depended on the kindness of strangers to survive the war. She also worked with refugees. My father was a creative man, turning more and more harsh on himself as he sacrificed his life to work for us, as had his father and brothers sacrificed theirs for a cause. He also became hard on me, as if I had to do the same (forego on creativity) to protect me from difficulties in life.
He wanted me to be an engineer. Me, the dreamer with a independent mind should focus more on school and prepare for a safe professional job. I didn’t want it. I wasn’t that. I rebelled. I felt not seen and stimulated for who I really was. I felt attracted to theatre, drawing, activism and just plain fantasizing. I became a rebellious teen, who was hiding his real loves, for apparently they were not accepted. This made me very shy.
My father worked at Philips and provided a safe income, as was the way of the sixties, for the family. Yet, as an ardent writer for Amnesty, he was blown away when his own employer, in 1973, was part of the instigators of the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. It crumbled him. He became sickly, had a burn out and died of cancer at 52. Nearing his end, he told me “I had won our war.” This greatly hurt me, as I hadn’t perceived our differences as a war. I didn’t want war, I wanted be be seen and acknowledged for who I really was. Yet what I wanted to show was in hiding. Thus his death, sadly, also became a liberation for me. First slowly, then more forcefully I started to craft my own path, one born out of imagination, playfulness and artistic activism. I studied to be a drama teacher, and practiced between 30 and 40 more than 11 different creative professions. Each time moving on because of new interests and opportunities.
The liberation from my own fathers pushing, became gradually something more. Like my grandparents, I follow a path of inner truth against dominant thinking. I became a rebel, who showed the world you can get away with it, often struggling with the longing for the acknowledgment I had so missed in my youth. I began to shed the pain of the deaths in the family, the cramped life of fear towards aliveness and professional freedom. I started seeing many people caught in a very similar struggle. Like my father, who I now understand so much better, and myself as a teenage boy, I see so many people who are hiding their true identity and longings; I see them everywhere. And it hurts. It hurts them. It hurts me to see all that anguish, self delusion, fear and shame. And I think it greatly hurts our society.
My own liberation, as someone who crafted his own destiny before destiny crafting (concept design, theory U, etc), has become a profession. I’ve done lots of experiments that challenged conventional thinking. I let children help adults with their life questions. I offer workshops titled “the way of the fool” (a path of playful aliveness in any setting) and “how to make money with your weaknesses” (embrace your weaknesses, rather than fight them). I help people to awake to the fact that they do have a choice and a fire within. I play with possibilities and design games, play, processes and mindsets that help people overcome self imposed prisons and unfold to aliveness and meaning. Not to say that such steps can be very challenging, full of admitting and overcoming fears. Yet the rewards are those values that we seem to be losing in our society: humanity, compassion, inner freedom, playfulness and love in and at work.
Thus, dear father, we both won. I have become an engineer. I build bridges now, albeit immaterial. Like my family before me I work for a cause. And I have made my rebellion part of a greater one, that is coming out of hiding: we are all loving beings and we do deserve to live that at work and at home. We can be a civilization that has compassion, togetherness and aliveness of the individual souls at heart. It will enrich everything and everyone. That is my dream.