As children, our creativity flows effortlessly from us. We have not yet learned to question ourselves. We don’t yet hear the negative voices and see no distinction between our created selves and our authentic selves; there is no artifice yet. For this reason, a vital step in your creativity journey and the fastest path to your authentic voice is to begin to play again. The greatest creativity does not spring from work; it springs from play. The work is important because it helps build the skills necessary to execute your ideas, but true creativity requires spontaneity and serendipity. And for that you need to play.
What does it mean to play? Play is experimentation, not execution. When you play, you start with the thread of an idea and you follow it. You have no expectation of where you are heading and no plan for the outcome. It is a journey of discovery. It is a process of asking “What if?” instead of asking “Why?” and it is about the process, not the result.
It is through play that your mind becomes open to new ideas. With no plan, no goal, no aim in mind, your play is the dark, fertile soil in which a seed can be planted and nourished into something more. Play removes the need to perform and the expectations of perfection. With no plans for the outcome, play gives you the freedom to experiment and that brings innovation. Creativity feeds on novelty and that thrives in play.
Play is not easy, however. We begin discounting the value of play very early in life because ours is a society that promotes work. We wear our busyness like a badge of honor. For many of us, “busy” is the go-to answer to the question “How are you?” We don’t take our vacation time, we drag our sick selves to work, and if we have the freedom to do so, we slink out of the office if we have something personal to attend to, hoping no one notices. We know that the appearance of anything less than total dedication to work will be detrimental to our careers and we pretend that it’s not detrimental to our well-being. We tell ourselves that “idle hands do the Devil’s work” and we push on, hoping to make it to retirement.
When you begin to play again, you will face the very real challenge of bucking several centuries of social conditioning designed to convince you that play is frivolous, that it is selfish, and that by doing it you are a danger to the social order. Loved ones will question you. They will think you’ve lost your mind to do something that you should have left behind in childhood. But secretly, many of them will be jealous of your courage and certainly jealous of your happiness. Keep going. Let your play serve as an example to those who have not yet rediscovered the many benefits of play. Reclaim your sense of wonder. See the world anew through child-like eyes. Experiment without a plan for the sheer joy of it. Play.
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