Many years ago I attended a community seminar called “Women at Play”. Hundreds of women of all ages gathered together in a high school auditorium on a Saturday morning ready to spend a few wonderful hours forgetting family obligations, and other commitments. As people gathered over great coffee, fruit and breakfast treats, invigorating music pumped through the speaker system. A motivational speaker provided the first dose of enthusiasm and then we indulged in various fun activities some of which focused on learning, some focused on movement, some focused on creative expression. Workshops ranged from an overview of art history to modern jazz dance moves, to ethnic cooking classes, to journal writing and music. The day was designed to help us explore aspects of ourselves and to have fun. I don’t remember the motivational speakers or the lunch menu but I do remember a couple of wonderful women that taught me the rudiments of Thai cooking, the artist that helped me to create a watercolor that I still treasure and the singer that helped me to realize that there were aspects of vocal music that an untrained voice could enjoy. The enjoyment of these workshop activities did not make me an accomplished cook, nor a painter, nor a singer. However, the workshops are memorable because fun was involved in the learning aspects of the day.
Upon reflection, the lessons from this seminar are important. Throughout adult life most of us have forgotten how to play. We have focused on professional careers, personal goals, raising families and accumulating resources for retirement — the post work journey which is the focus of this blog. So how does a career-weary, slightly self-conscious ‘older’ adult begin to learn to play again?
- Start by exploring something new to you. This might involve lessons as in learning a new sport, undertaking study of another language, delving into a hobby that challenges and absorbs you completely.
- Choose something that is completely different from activities and skills that you have already mastered so that you are challenged to stretch your self. If you keep doing the things that you already know how to do, you will soon be bored.
- Give yourself the permission to make mistakes. We don’t always have to be good at things — we can also be ‘bad’ at something and still have fun. Who cares about this except you? Most of us learn from failures so it is important to give oneself permission to make mistakes and to laugh as new skills are attained.
- Stay with it. You won’t remember how to play unless you give it time and keep playing — every day until play becomes part of your repertoire of skills. Remember that kids play all the time — and they keep repeating activities, just because of the fun!
- Don’t be afraid. As adults, we are often too embarrassed to try new things and therefore we hold ourselves back rather than face self-conscious distress. Excuses such as ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘I could never do that’ are used to avoid new situations that could provide stimulation and enjoyment.
- Give yourself permission to behave frivolously. Play is about abandoning inhibitions and allowing the sense of joy that comes from new experiences, from creativity, and from new learning.
- Finally, just have fun! Remember that you are learning how to play all over again. Laugh out loud! Giggle to yourself or with others that are playing with you! Allow your silly bone to show itself!