“We have no empirical evidence that being more serious leads to greater insight into the human condition than being playful. There is, however, growing empirical evidence that being playful opens toward the ever-elusive, supple heart.”
John Paul Lederach

There is only one thing I miss…that I truly miss…from going to work every day at an organization, from being an employee, on a team, responsible to deliver what’s been promised.

That thing? The fun of it. The playfulness, the messing around, the good humor, the connection and camaraderie. Enjoying myself at work – playing at work – is something I never got tired of and that I miss very much.

As a “sole practitioner” I have to work very hard to create the kind of playfulness that, inside the walls of the company – in the right conditions, of course – happens organically. I have regular and irregular phone calls and email/text exchanges with friends and colleagues that help me keep perspective, have a laugh and enjoy the experience of my day-to-day work. And that’s essential because I can take my work much too seriously on far too many days.

I am reminded today that the intensity of my furrowed brow suits my work only insofar as it moves me toward lightness and freedom. I realize that I can measure this by checking whether I am inching myself closer to the playground than to the principal’s office.

That the seriousness of my endeavor can be for the purpose of creating more playfulness – rather than just more work “product” – seemed an irreconcilable difference to me for far too long. That my work is and always needs to be playful, given all of the best effort I can muster, is what makes it worth doing. And what makes those on the receiving end much more appreciative of what I offer.

I love my work. Some days I love it so much that I squeeze the life right out of it. Some days, better days, I hold it lightly…so lightly that it just starts to float away. And I can sit back and smile as I watch it go.

This is for my friend, Alia.


Playful Responsibility

I see my life as the gradual integration of two separate selves. There’s the playful, joking, attention-seeking, naive, risk-taking, laughing, entertaining youngest of six children. And there’s the serious, controlling, responsible, (hyper)sensitive, brooding, melancholic man who always seems like the oldest guy in the room.

Neither of those is a person I’d like to take a long road trip with. The combination, however, has some enduring appeal.

I think that each of us intuits a “native” self that is in a lifelong conversation with our adaptive self. Our job is to tune into that ongoing conversation, like the way we once could lift the handset of a landline and secretly listen in, only this time we make our presence known.

That conversation is the work of my life, and maybe the best work any of us can do. It is to become a whole person, to consciously and continuously uncover and piece together an integrated self.

I don’t imagine there’s an ultimate destination or place of arrival. Rather, there seems to be a maturation, through attentive stewardship, into a greater sense of ease; a belonging to myself in a way that fits like a favorite jacket, inspiring both comfort and confidence.

I see myself practicing “playful responsibility” in my work and at home, and I like what happens when I do. I also see myself revert to one or the other of my separate selves and it’s a splash of cold water to the face when I recognize the regression.

It is and always will be an imperfect conversation. And it goes on.

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.