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Play to Win

Photo by Daniel Novta

Several lifetimes ago, I was a financial analyst for a large corporate healthcare system. Most of the finance analysts that I knew hadn’t started out in that field at all. Personally, I’d started out as an assistant who helped manage the books for our department. Most of us were struggling to keep our heads above water, and we had all kinds of audit issues and two different accounting systems and a really scary corporate comptroller with intimidating eyebrows.

The entire lot of us needed to improve our overall performance, in a hurry.

One day, the Powers That Be (namely, the scary comptroller) decided to hold a team-building exercise for the financial analysts. If you’ve ever lived the cubicle life, you know that team-building is usually viewed with derision at best, root-canal-shuddering revulsion at worst.

I was the first to show up. We had a guest speaker, who was wearing a novelty tie that looked like film from a reel of cartoons.  “Hi! I’m Dr. Play!” he chirped, setting up.

What fresh hell is this? 

Root canal, that’s what. Especially since they’d scheduled several hours with this guy.

He immediately took in my skepticism – and promptly commented on it when everyone else got there.

“Now, some of you might think this is just some stupid team-building exercise…”

Looking around, I saw I wasn’t alone in this assessment.

“… but what I want you to learn is, even as adults, it’s important to maintain a sense of play. Now first, I want you to go over to that table and grab a nametag, and put it on. That’s going to be your name for today!”

I went to the table, and there were a number of tags with names like Scooter, Buttercup, Panda.  I grabbed one blindly.

I was now Spud.

“First, I want you to stand up and form a line,” he said, sounding like a deranged cheerleader.  We did. “Now, I want you to organize yourselves, from youngest to oldest. But!” he added quickly, with a grin, “Here’s the catch! You cannot talk! You can only make hand gestures! Ready, set… go!”

We all stared at each other.  Apparently hilarity was supposed to ensue.

Instead, one of us took out his wallet, pulled out his driver’s license, and held it up. The rest of us followed suit. In less than two minutes, we were in order.

“That… um,” Dr. Play said, nonplussed. “Has never happened quite so quickly before in one of my workshops.”

Scary Comptroller, wearing a nametag that said Lambchop, stared at Dr. Play intently.

Dr. Play seemed to take that as a challenge.

Next, we played Telephone. Admittedly, that had several of us chuckling, since things went predictably wrong.

After that, we engaged in what Dr. Play called “Beep-beep.”  We paired up, one person standing in front of the other, the person in back with his hands on the shoulders of the one in front as the “driver.” It wasn’t bumper cars, but there were enough of us that it was quite the traffic jam. We were instructed to zoom around the room and not hit others. Several of us careened around, with broad grins, narrowly missing our cohorts.

The laughter increased. 

I don’t remember the rest of the games, but I do know this: by the end of the session, my skepticism was gone. I felt more relaxed than I’d felt in years. And even Lambchop was smiling.

Dr. Play encouraged us to… well, incorporate play into our jobs. Have crayons at our desks. I wound up getting one of those little magnet-fishing games for people who stood at my cubicle, waiting for me to get off the phone, and it got a surprising amount of use, as did my Magic 8 Ball.

It’s easy to take writing seriously, to feel like we’re in dire straits, and that if we don’t do something immediately, the work in progress will sink to the bottom of the ocean like a cannonball.  It’s also really easy to lose perspective and let stress overwhelm us.

Sometimes, it’s good to simply play.

Do things that make us happy, the sillier and closer to childhood the better.  My husband and I play  games of Uno or Sorry with our son. (Monopoly is blood-sport, as is Risk, and best saved for holidays or other special occasions.)

Ever wonder at the emergence of coloring books for adults? It’s an easy way to get mindful and it’s a callback to childhood. Simply doodling is a good thing, whether you consider yourself an “artist” or not. Just the smell of crayons usually triggers memories of simpler times.

Reading your favorite books from childhood can be a way to relax, as well. Or new children’s books, picture or middle grade. There’s a treasure trove of material out there that is both beautiful and inspiring.

Finally, getting out in nature and doing something physical can help. If you can get others in on it, variations on hide and seek or tag can be unbelievably exhilarating. (Of course, the last time I played I was so out of shape I thought I’d die, but it was worth it to see my son’s friends go wide-eyed in terror as they realized I wasn’t quite as slow as they’d assumed. HA!)

Have a laugh… and a breakthrough.

I won’t say that our financial turnaround was all due to Dr. Play’s unorthodox teachings. But as a whole, we were a better team, and we did approach our problems more effectively, somehow. We took ourselves less seriously, even though we had serious issues. And even though we were recalcitrant, once we loosened up, everything did, indeed, feel better.

So when you’re stuck, find a way to play… and laugh. It’ll work wonders.

Have you “played” lately? When was the last time you had fun? And do you feel it’s important for your writing?

About Cathy Yardley

Cathy Yardley is the author of eighteen novels, published with houses such as St. Martin’s and Avon, as well as her self-published Rock Your Writing series. She’s also a developmental editor and writing coach, helping authors complete, revise, and get their stories published. Sign up here for her newsletter to receive the free course Jumpstart Your Writing Career.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.