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Remember when we were kids and nothing was that serious? Everything seemed like a game, from joking around with friends at school to recess to after-school sports. When we were kids, we tried everything, and nothing was off-limits (until your parents grounded you). Our imagination and creativity came out to play every single day. Each new experience, location or field trip lit up our neurons, and the possibilities were endless.
Then we became adults. Bills, responsibilities, worries, stress, anxiety, all of these things enter our lives at different points but are uniform challenges of becoming a self-sufficient human being. But why does our sense of play seem to disappear as we grow older? Does it have to? Absolutely not.
“Playing” can be anything: riding horses, hiking, soccer, watching football with friends and a cold beer, traveling, eating at great restaurants or simply going for a walk and looking around. Play is a mindset. It’s critical we welcome it into our daily lives and foster it as much as possible. Here’s how:
1. Find your sandbox
The first time your parents put you in a sandbox, what did you do? After a few dazed and confused moments, you probably started grabbing a fist full of sand to see what this stuff was that begged to be thrown. You might have started forming this mysterious substance into different shapes and creations. Some of your masterpieces might have been a little crude. Over time, your time in the sandbox yielded better and more ornate objects. Playing around allowed you to get into a flow state where you were completely consumed by the task at hand, ignoring everything else around you.
As an adult, there are unlimited sandboxes to play in. The only thing you have to let go of is your fear of looking foolish or inexperienced, and just dive in. When you start to see the world as full of sandboxes just waiting to be tried out, everything starts to feel a bit less serious.
It’s all about finding the sandboxes that you enjoy playing in. The only way to do this is by experimenting and trying tons of new things. Saying “yes” instead of “no.” Going outside of your comfort zone. The usual clichés!
2. Build your treehouse (community)
The times I remember most clearly from childhood always involved playing with my friends. The little communities we built — complete with our own lingo, our own rules and our own customs — were unforgettable. As we grow older, our communities shift drastically. High school and college are ready-made communities that are structured and familiar.
Once you leave school, you realize how fluid and unstructured real life really is. This can be liberating or scary, depending on your perspective. Try looking at it this way: You now have the freedom to build your own treehouse and invite whoever you want into it. The internet has busted the world wide open, and we can connect with people who share our values and interests no matter where they live.
Your treehouse isn’t exclusively limited to coworkers or your old friends. Any time is a great time to build new connections and fill your treehouse with fascinating, like-minded folks. At the end of the day, community and connections are what truly fulfill us — being part of a group that’s bigger than ourselves. Sharing, learning, and growing with long-term friends is really what it’s all about.
3. Explore new neighborhoods
Going to a new neighborhood was such an exciting experience when we were young. Each neighborhood had its own mystique about it that always brought new experiences. But as we get older, some sort of natural human instinct to consolidate and settle down kicks in. It can be easy to lose that spark for the unknown, the new, the fresh. Make it an intention to keep seeking fresh discoveries.
Travel is the cure for adding to your “neighborhood.” The more we travel, the more our eyes are opened to the endless array of ways to live our one, precious life. Travel can be as close or far as you want … in the next town over or the furthest country away. It’s the curious exploring that allows us to keep an element of “play” in our discoveries.
So, while work and other obligations demand most of our time, it’s important to also make time for play. Start by finding your sandbox, building your community and exploring new places.