Play, dont work

Joao Garin

Joao Garin / August 06, 2021

5 min read––– views

Music studio

Work as we know it

We tend to think about work as something that “has to be done”. Something that is dragging and boring or even worse at times.. We have to “not like” work somehow, that is how it is supposed to be. And even though newer generations are starting to carve paths in order to make work more sustainable and fun, we are far from this being the norm. Many people are trapped in a circle that is hard to get out of..or so it seems sometimes.

We don’t usually think of work as something we get to play with or have fun with. Now, I understand there are many jobs that are just not fun at all and people don’t have the opportunity to even think about work being fun.

But many of us get sucked into work in a way that is not healthy and end up being and feeling unhappy about our work, often by our own fault and as a result of our own patterns and beliefs. And sometimes all it takes is a mental shift, and something clicks and even though nothing should have changed, it all did.

Lessons from music

I like to draw an analogy from music when I think about work. This started many years ago before leaving my last company. Music has been a big part of my life, earlier in my life I played drums in a band and we were pretty professional you might say.. We played all kinds of concerts from gigs with 10 people (sometimes only our friends) to live shows with ~10.000 people. So for a band of people in their 20’s and 30’s you can say we were quite ok, we played regularly, every month, sometimes on tour were we played 3 to 4 times a week, we had a manager, we certainly received money and so on..we didn’t play as good as many bands play of course but I would say we were quite ok.

See how many times I just used the word “play” in the last paragraph? I could be talking about the best drummers in the world (Mitch Mitchell and Stewart Copeland are some of my favourites), the best guitarists or the best piano “players”, it doesn’t matter how professional / serious / proficient you are at it :

Music is played, it is not “worked”

Is it just a word? Does it make a difference at all? I think it does, and I don’t think it's just a means something we call it play for a reason. We say he is a football player, music player, and we say I work in tech, or I work in construction..for a reason.

And I think we will not just change that overnight but we can certainly challenge this a little bit in our lives and think “How can I make my work feel more like play” or “how can I play a little with the work that I do”.

Bringing play into the work

Now.. I am a frontend developer, I think for sure this is an area where “play” is really intrinsic to it. It's creative, it's fun, it has colors and shapes and some sense of “draw”, it's's everything that play is to me.. But if I ask a backend developer in my team, he will say surely it's not fun at all, and far from “play”. That’s the whole point though, people find fun in all kinds of different things, and fortunately I think there is room and “need” for all kinds of people of all kinds of tastes in all kinds of fields. And working with people who feel like they are playing and having fun is contagious, it spreads to other people.. just like the opposite does as well.

Find the area of your work that you think is more likely to bring you joy in this kind of playfulness, I am sure you can bring some ideas, challenges and “make” opportunities to make work feel more like play at your company.


I don’t have a magic solution to make your current workplace feel like play (so sorry if in any way I made you think I did). But my main point with this post is to make you think, how can you start moving towards a place where this is possible? And one day, sooner rather than later real? I certainly had jobs where maybe I was doing too much, wearing too many hats (some of those hats I really did not like) or having to wear a suit and a tie to go into some office to develop (yep..I did that) and it's not easy to change it or leave it if you have to (this last one was pretty easy though). I understand that completely.

Work can’t always be fun

But Joao, work can’t possibly be always fun!!. Of course it can’t. Nothing is “always” fun, especially when you do it everyday. Ask any professional musician, gamer, surfer, football player, or people that do what they love for a living, they will tell you that not everyday is fun, not every day is joy and happiness, that is unrealistic. But, most days can be fun..surely many days can be fun, and this is worth investing the time in.

Don't wait

I think it has to be each one of us (teamworkers, colleagues, managers, CEO’s, CFO’s etc) to bring play into the work, and maybe some people expect that it should be the work doing that and be magically playful and then we get to have fun and do great work. But I would argue it's more that we have the opportunity to make it playful, and not doing it is a real waste of potential.

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