The Courage to Play

I received the following “Words of EnCOURAGEment” this week from Terasa Cooley, Executive Director of the The Center for Courage and Renewal. I hope you appreciate and enjoy it as much as I do and then take a few minutes to go to the Center’s website and learn about their important work.

Back in 2013, Bruce Springsteen pulled a request from an audience member at a concert to play Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” Which he had never performed before. Which his band had never been prepped for. He hums and strums and struggles to find the right key. The band is looking mystified and frustrated. And then he takes off. After a few bumbles the band kicks in. And then the joy begins. Everyone gets caught up in the pure creative fun, and you can’t watch it without laughing and dancing (even if in your desk chair!).

In today’s fractured and fractious time, it often feels to me like we’ve lost the joy of playing together and risking together. When we’re anxious our instinct is to hold ourselves tight, to contract, to hesitate in case we get it wrong. I know I feel that way. Watching this video and feeling the bubble of joy break through me, I realized how much I need this feeling, and how I need to let myself play!

What would happen if we tried and got it wrong? The world would not crash down. What happens when we hold back? Our souls close down. Bruce Springsteen had the luxury of a band that would play along. Who in your life could play in your proverbial “backup band” while you risk making mistakes and feeling foolish?

I never thought of play requiring courage. But clearly it must, or we would do it more often. Children at play are often fearless. At some point we realize there are consequences to our actions and the fear starts shutting us down. But that child in us still longs to play. My vow to myself is to let her come out and tease me into risking being the fool.

Remember to Play

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I want to close this week with a word about play.

I am always looking for meaning. I consistently interpret my experiences through the lens of significance and I make every effort to integrate those insights into my perspective and out through my language. I am an observer and an interpreter of meaning and it is a quality I genuinely value about myself.

It is also a place where I can get stuck. When overused, my bias for meaning can get heavy, a little too serious and a little too much work. I have been perceived as intense and brooding. When my idealism takes a blow, when it feels like meaning can’t be found, I do know that my darker qualities emerge. In other words, I take myself too damn seriously.

And the antidote to that seriousness is play. Frankly, the key to learning, the key to creativity, the key to relationships is the spirit and practice of play.

This week I have invited you to make friends with your obstacles, to declare yourself worthy of investment, to find the shelter to restore and protect what matters, and to reach deeper into the unknown possibility of yourself than you may have before. None of this – none of it – requires grim determination or depressed isolation. In fact, it suffers from it.

We always get to choose how we feel. Always. The more we choose the energy of possibility and the awakening of discovery, the more we equip ourselves to lighten our grip and open our hearts.

The playground is waiting.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.