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The productivity of play




An unproductive premise

I know of a woman who wanted to take up gymnastics at the age of 26, but the instructor she consulted told her she was too old. She gave up because the instructor convinced her it would be a waste of time since the typical professional gymnast begins training in their early pre-teens and peaks by the time they’re 26.

At the heart of this instructor’s advice was an oft-repeated but rarely questioned assumption:

In order for a creative interest to be justifiably pursued, one must have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to perform well and/or translate their passion into an income generating profession.

Here’s my two cents:

That advice is 100% rubbish! There is simply no rational basis for accepting that  assumption as true. It completely flies in the face of the very thing which makes us human; the capacity to become vehicles of expression for divine imagination through our willingness to engage life playfully.

An interest doesn’t need to be able to pay your bills in order for it to be meaningful.

There is no reason for anyone to delay or deny themselves the opportunity to explore a passion simply because they don’t have an idea for how to turn that passion into a job, an award, or 15 minutes of fame.

In fact, people who actually do end up turning their passions into professions are usually the ones who had the courage to simply fool around with an activity that captured their sense of wonder without any indication of a forthcoming reward.

We’re so afraid of wasting our time on our “silly” interests, that we fail to do the very things that are designed to show us how interesting and creative we truly are.

One of the most practical things we can do is nurture those aspects of ourselves which don’t derive their value from practical concerns.

We had it right when we were children

Jesus once said “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about living forever in paradise when we die. The kingdom of heaven is about experiencing an eternal quality of life while we’re still breathing here on Earth. It is a mode of being in which we experience ourselves as conduits of creative energy flowing  through us from a higher state.

But we must be like children if we wish to enter this state.

Of all the things which seem to frighten children, the one they never cower away from is the invitation to play. Children are willing to use their imaginations without concern for the lack of practicality characterizing their games.

By the time the average child is a teenager, however, it becomes a matter of course to prepare himself beforehand with carefully laid out reasons for why every decision he makes is logical, practical, or at least cool. In a world where so many people feel the need to justify themselves constantly, it is easy to see how so many adults gradually become alienated from their child-like sense of wonder. 

The productivity of play

Play takes us into a space where our reasons and justifications simply don’t matter. It has no respect or regard for our compulsive need to impress one another. It forces us to own up to our hearts by doing something simply because we find it thrilling to do. Play activates our faith by requiring us to step in a direction that carries no guarantees.

When we play, we’re able to unearth our soul’s treasures and discover portions of ourselves that are never called upon by our professional lives and daily routines.

All productivity begins with the willingness to be “unproductive”. In order for one to succeed, he must be sufficiently inspired to act. In order for one to be sufficiently inspired to act, he must be fueled by a vision which energizes him. In order to have an energizing vision, he must first take the time to playfully imagine.

Work hard, but play harder. Your productivity depends on it.

T.K. Coleman

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Hi T.K. You’ve touched on a subject near and dear to my heart. You know my blog, the Wonder Child Blog, is all about reclaiming innocence, stolen dreams, and then learning how to use playful creativity to move towards our dreams. Bravo on your excellent description of the process of needing the imagination to get things moving. I also appreciate that you quote Jesus about needing to become as little children. In the Mark’s version on this story, Jesus says those words and then takes the children into his arms and blesses them. And this is crucial to the whole deal. Our child-like nature’s, our creativity and imaginations, our innocence, is BLESSED. Nowhere else in the gospels does Jesus ever embrace anyone—but in this story, he embraces a child. And that’s exactly what we need to do—embrace our own divine innocence, for it is, indeed, divine. Moreover, in John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000, it is a CHILD who provides the basic ingredients for the actual miracle. Jesus uses the fish and bread from the child’s basket to feed the crowd. This is significant to me because we all bring our own baskets of destiny, our baskets of gifts and talents. And while they might seem small to others (the disciples took a look at the child’s offering and thought it was completely insufficient) but to GOD—our talents and gifts—our destiny—when used for the service of others—can feed multitudes.
    The key, as you suggest, is to honor the spirit of the child—to let the creativity flow through imaginative play. The trouble is so many of us carry shame about our bodies or about our enthusiasm that it’s tough to break through. But, as you suggest, break through we must in order to be fully productive. And it’s not only that–breaking through will help us feel fully ALIVE.
    Nice job, T.K. Keep up the great work!

  2. Joseph,

    I read this comment on the right day at the right time. Your words have reached into a deep place in my soul and have awakened my inner child from its slumber. I never saw how significant the role of the child was in those Gospel stories. I love this quote from you the most;

    “Our child-like nature’s, our creativity and imaginations, our innocence, is BLESSED.”

    I hope to share that thought with the world someday soon.

    Thank you not only for these comments, but also for the way in which you represent this spirit of playfulness and childlikeness on your wonderchild blog.

    I’m glad to have you as a part of my journey.

    Cheers 🙂


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