This summer, particularly the past month, I’ve learned that perhaps the point of life is simply to learn how to be a kid again. In other words, learning how to enjoy life. How to play.
If my theory is correct, then collectively we have a long way to go. As adults, particularly in America, we don’t tend to make joy, play, curiosity and approaching life with wild abandon a priority. The lucky among us figure this old in old age (the awesome, funny old people you’ve met); most get more stuck in their overly serious ways (the bitter, grumpy old people you’ve met).
The older I get the more I see how the latter can unfold; the more I’ve seen the ways I am headed down that path.
I think taking ourselves too seriously is a byproduct of our society, certainly. We do have seemingly real struggles and real concerns—we have to work, make money, survive, figure out how to have healthy relationships, crumble when we can’t, not get ill, get better if we do, etc. Focused on these things, we don’t typically incorporate play into our lifestyle, and if we do it is usually play that is competitive—in other words, play that takes itself too seriously. But when do we play just to play?
To me play means saying yes to what makes you feel alive, no matter the impracticalities. And “you” is the operative word here. It isn’t about what makes others feel alive—I’m not suggesting you have to sky dive or something extreme because that’s what other people think is thrilling; it could be as simple as sitting down with a good book. It’s what works for YOU. If it isn’t fun for you then it isn’t play. It’s about being your authentic self. How many people do this, make play that is authentic to themselves a priority in their life? Not many I know.
I have done a lot of self-growth over the years but I wouldn’t say that “play” is an area I’ve focused on. My growth has for sure been divergent from what society measures as growth (money, houses, things, kids, jobs, etc) and has been spiritually focused, but it certainly hasn’t centered on this major point of life. In fact it’s been opposed to it. I am super guilty of taking my life and myself too seriously; just ask my exes.
I need to publish a book by this date, I need to be a professor by this date, I need to move to California by this date, things need to be perfect by this date…. You get the picture. Ruled by time and high expectations, I’ve grown spiritually but spiritually in a way that I still measured by “adult,” human ways of measurement. I wanted to be best in class, rather than just enjoy the fuck out of the class. I was so tough on myself and administered myself tests for which nothing but “A”s would suffice. I was a Catholic nun schoolteacher to my own self.
I beat my own self up.
This summer something shifted inside of me in regards to this. In the past I’d often let fear of failure or over-seriousness drive my decisions, despite my seemingly “bold” character. But recently something inside me told me it was time to chose fearlessness and living in the moment—the only place where this childish joy can be found. There is no joy in analyzing the past as there is no joy in anticipating the future. There is no joy in fear.
This morning I’m sitting in Michigan reflecting on yesterday’s day of play, which by social standards would be considered quite unproductive: I woke up and played basketball before breakfast, enjoyed a perfect brunch with a good friend, aimlessly wondered around record and thrift stores with no agenda, came home and blasted Stevie Nicks and Chicago vinyl while playing Mario Kart on Nintendo 64 in the suburbs, looked through my friend’s mom’s old photo albums of concerts from the 70s, had an excellent dinner I didn’t make myself feel guilty about, did not dwell on the thousands of menial tasks I needed to get done or the things I should be doing to make me a better person. I had a similar experience in New Jersey a few weeks ago. And the weekends in Sedona leading up to New Jersey, too. This month has been eye-opening. Giving into the moment, into the play, has brought me so much joy that I felt more alive. And the more alive you feel, the better a person you will be. I know that for sure now.
These recent days in which I gave 100% into play were such successful days for me, in a way that can only be measured by the soul. As I approach 30—which for some reason signifies an invitation to be the person you always wanted to be—I hope I can lead my life in a more soul-centered way. I want the measure of my life to be the joy I felt and the joy I brought to others; not the furniture, car or house I own, not the amount of money I make, not how much I checked off my American-made to-do list. No one will ever tell you on their death bed that they regret they bought the wrong house or they wish they would have worked harder for Corporation X; they will tell you they didn’t spend enough time doing what they really, truly, in their soul loved.
My driving philosophy as I enter my 30s then will be to say yes only to what makes me feel astonishingly alive. People, places and things—turn me on, turn me up, turn me into myself, or else there is no time for you. It has to be that simple. Life is too short for anything other than joy and play. We do not need to reach retirement to realize this. We can connect back to that childish abandon at any time, and I choose now.