All Play and No Work

I had no clue what to write about this week until I watched the TEDxYouth talk by Seth Godin called “Stop Stealing Dreams.” Specifically, I got interested in writing when I heard Mr. Godin say “…if it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less. And if it’s art, we try to figure out how to do more.” I think this statement is obvious, but I also think it is something we overlook every day.

Maybe I am wrong in thinking art is similar to play, but in my mind it is very clear that when I view what I am doing as play I am 100% more willing to do it versus when I view it as work. When I say “art,” what I am picturing is something that is creative, thought provoking, and often times fun, which to me resembles play. For example, when I am working on my literature review for my thesis I view reading journal articles as a chore. They are interesting, no doubt, but in my mind there are other things I would rather be doing. On the other hand, when I have free time and I am able to do something else, a lot of times I will choose to read journal articles, but this time I am reading them for pleasure! This time, it is as if I am sitting down in front of my computer ready to play video games, but in reality I am doing the exact same thing as what I pictured as “work” before. This time, I am not limited to the viewpoint of “what will be useful to put in my dissertation,” but rather I am able to think freely about what it is I am reading and I can let my mind make many more connections to other concepts that I would usually shut out.

It is clear that we like to do things that we are not supposed to be doing at the time. If I know that I should be reading these papers in order to retain information to write for my dissertation, it will be a long, annoying day. But, if I am able to indulge myself on those same papers, then the day could not go slow enough. Mr. Godin makes an amusing analogy during his talk between memorizing baseball history and stats to memorizing information we learn in school and I could not have said it better myself. Whether or not he intended this, what is even more ironic about his statement is that many people (myself included) do spend time memorizing stats and the history of sports because at the time we are doing it is a fun, creative process that we are just making up as we go along. I have spent countless hours going through pages of statistics for soccer players/teams so I can recite/recall the numbers at any give time as well as making graphical representations to understand the layout of the league at that moment in time because I enjoy going through those thought provoking exercises. It is funny because there are people that do that sort of stuff for a job, whereas I spend my time doing it out of pleasure.

I think I should state that I really do enjoy my PhD work (and academia in general), but I do classify it as work. There are times that I am able to view it as some sort of art, which makes my day that much better, but I think that I (and many others) could benefit from trying to view their work and/or schooling as art, or at least some sort of creative, thought provoking process, which may end up making it that much more enjoyable.

5 thoughts on “All Play and No Work”

  1. Thanks for sharing.

    I think you made great points here. Even just the labels of “art” and “work” have a different impact on each individual. As I was reading I started thinking that one of the things we need to do as faculty members is to drag practices from different fields and incorporate them into our classrooms. For example, people enjoy learning about different sports, why don’t we use sports in our classrooms in order to learn the topics we need to learn. If we used your soccer example to teach a statistic class, I’m pretty sure people that enjoy soccer will be eager to learn how to use the class to be a better “fan.”

    Again thanks for sharing.

  2. Everything you talked about in your blog completely resonated with me, especially because I’m working on my thesis right now too! I wrote about this same topic for my post this week because Godin definitely made me realize just how much viewing education as a work really does take all the fun out of it. I recently had a conversation with my dad about why he works so much now, despite technically being retired. He mentioned that society has cause us to view work as a chore, so we are often just thinking about how to get it over with as soon as possible. He told that he absolutely loves what he does, and therefore feels that his work is fun so he works all the time. When you have a true passion for what you do (in our case learning/education) the effort is not forced, it comes naturally. Its just a matter of how we train ourselves to think about our work, which is a challenge that I’m not sure how to overcome.

  3. Thanks Taylor for sharing! It kind of reminds me of that other TED talk (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) where he talks about being in “flow”. I think if we all can find what makes us passionate, then work no longer feels like “work”, but instead it feels like “play”. To some art may feel like “play”, and if that is the case, they should spend their life doing it. When you are doing something you are passionate about, life becomes much easier!

  4. Hey guys, thanks for the responses!

    Homero, I liked your point about possibly using sports (or anything that a large group of people find enjoyable) in order to make our “work” seem more “fun.” It seems like a no-brainer, but I feel that I rarely encountered this throughout my academic history.

    To Krystalyn and Turner’s points, I wanted to bring up an example that is relevant to what you two said. I want to preface this by saying I really do enjoy my research and I look forward to continuing in this field for years to come, but I get jealous when I see cooks/chefs/restaurant owners/whomever else I’m missing having a great time in their restaurant feeding people. It sounds weird, but eating is the best thing ever, so to be able to actually provide that joy/necessity to someone while getting paid to do it is just amazing to me. And, you get to be creative/have fun while making the food so it’s like a win-win-win. I know that’s probably a gross over-simplification of restaurants, but yeah I just wanted to point out an example of people whom I am jealous of, and I’m hungry, so I did.

    1. So, when or if the dairy thing doesn’t work out, or you feel like you’ve done what you were meant to do, I hope you’ll invite us to the amazing restaurant you’ll open after you embrace your inner chef.

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