in Guest Posts

The Creative Life: (Re)Learning How to Play

Today’s post comes courtesy of Cali Harris. Cali is an amazing young woman and I couldn’t be happier to be able to call her a good friend. She is insightful and eternally optimistic, not to mention a heck of a salsa dancer (or so I hear). Enjoy the post below, and be sure to say hello to Cali on Twitter today!

In the amorphous social category that is “Gen Y,” there is a lot of talk around combining work and personal interests, or turning a hobby into a stream of income, or–dare I echo the mantra of GenYers–“following your passion.” And though I am poking fun (just a little) at what seems to me to be an echo chamber of self-affirmations, I know there are people who have created a life-work that is important to them and that is important in their field.


As I continue to meet people who have been able to figure out this desirable blending of work and passion, I find several common personality traits. The one that really jumps out at me is creativity.

We’re all creators. We may write lines of code, or design logos, or cultivate business relationships. We might create community or processes to manage projects. That we all create something means that we most likely run into creativity ruts. While there are tons of tips, tricks and hacks on how to get your creativity groove back, my latest go-to hack has been playing.

(Re)Learning How to Play

We all played when we were young. I know that in my adult life, in so many ways I’ve stopped playing–I don’t have a playful attitude nearly enough. I’m not sure what inspired it, but recently I’ve made an effort to (literally) play more. I’ve visited parks to swing or play frisbee or go down a slide. I have five nephews under the age of six, so I’ve also spent a lot of time building rocket ships with Legos or zooming around Micro Machines or building blanket forts.

This playtime has certainly helped me to relax and to feel a little freer. But I’ve also made a conscious effort to (re)learn how to play in the more serious parts of my life, like in work and grad school. I have remixed and reinvigorated my creativity in a few playful ways. I bought a stockload of crayons, colored pencils and butcher paper so I could color and brainstorm. I scribble on chalk- and whiteboards any chance I get. I make mind maps and doodle when I have a new idea. Occasionally I steal my nephews’ Legos and attempt to build a concept using only those rectangular interlocking blocks. Sometimes I force myself to draw pictures when I have writer’s block.

Basically, I try to recreate that same feeling of freedom I feel when swinging on a tire swing at the park when I’m trying to tackle more “serious” projects. It lets the creator in me be more creative. While there are, of course, certain aspects of our life-work that aren’t playgrounds (hm…legal and financial issues come to mind), I believe that as creators we have limitless opportunities to play.

Have you played lately? Are there any playful things you do to lead a more creative life?

(Image c/o Sir Fish)

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  1. Heya Cali,

    I have a very childish view on life – keeping the potential to wonder from my earlier days. If you accept that kind of behavior and live it – magic can happen again. You are back in tune with the Universe, and your openness allows the creativity to flow within you. It's a grrreat place to be.

  2. Hi, Cali. I am certainly not of your generation, but I definitely believe in awakening the child within us all. When we have family gatherings, the other adults talk and laugh with the other adults. I talk with and play with my grandchildren. They are so fresh – no politics, no religious debates, no worrying about job security and monthly bills. They just enjoy every moment of every day to the best of their young abilities. This weekend, I watched my 3-years-old grandson pick up a short limb with leaves still on it and spend 15 minutes figuring out all the ways it would go through the holes in a cement block, all the while happily chatting to himself, the block, and the limb. It was pure pleasure. Today, maybe I'll find a bigger limb with leaves and see what possibilities present themselves. Wishing the child within you a wonderful day filled with new possibilities!

  3. Cali-I love that you have brought playtime back into your life. I'm all about letting my inner child run free. We're too serious sometimes, too focused on accomplishing our goals, that we forget to have fun. I love to swing on the swings, play with beads, or color every once and a while. And, I'm not ashamed to say that I'm still a fan of Elmo. He's just so darn happy and cute, he makes you forget all the stupid little things you were worrying about. We all need something like that in our lives. Great post!

  4. Cali,

    My whole life is play time :). Just kidding. I can totally relate to this since my most creative work comes from all the time I spend in the ocean. It's funny because I'm sure most people think i'm a total beach bum surfer and don't ever do any work, but every idea I come up with is something that stems from my play time. I think that right brained experiences that shut down our logical minds have a tendency to bring about some of our most creative thinking.

  5. I play when I'm on vacation, but you make a good point about incorporating this into regular life. I think it's easy to get stressed out and miss the big picture. Sometimes you need to get out of your rut in order to get perspective.

  6. I get it! That's exactly why I got a pool, because it was the thing I loved most when I was a kid and now I get to splash around and jump and play. I am totally getting some lego! Great idea and great post, Cali.

  7. Cali, I love this and how you make the connection between creativity and playing. Sometimes (okay, usually) I'm my most creative when my mind is open, and that usually happens when playing.

    What do I do to lead a more creative life? I head down to the park or take a walk in the woods. Anything to change my scenery and get out of my head. Recently, I actually went to the playground and, well, played. I actually wrote a post about the importance of play (…).

    Thanks for the thoughts, Cali!

  8. Mars — It IS a great place to be! You used two perfect words: “wonder” and “magic.” YES. Though I believe creativity can be a developed habit, I think creative absolutely has a magical element to it as well. There's some amazing sort of thing that happens when you open yourself to it, as you so well put. Thanks for the comment. : )

  9. Hi Bonnie! Thank you so much for sharing that story of your grandson. You know, my five nephews (all under the age of five) have played the leading roles in getting me back to a more playful space. And you're spot on: we're usually so consumed with adult-things that we never leave an adult-mental space. I hope you found the bigger limb today.

  10. I LOVE to play! In fact, it's my word of choice when I'm asking / telling a friend we need to hang out. I say, “Let's play!” or “When is our next play date?” Because playing keeps us youthful, excited and full of life. We're constantly playing and I don't care how old you are, there's always room to smile, giggle, let loose and enjoy. LOVE the post Cali :)

  11. Thanks a bunch, lady! Oh man, your mention of Elmo reminded me of one of my favorite cartoon characters, Totoro ( ). It is so *freeing* to play. I love that freedom…and letting go of the seriousness, as you point out. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  12. Exactly! The right brained activities seem to give us permission, of sorts, to relax. Though I LOVE play time, as I've gotten older I tend to hold on too tightly to my ideas and processes–which, of course, tends to inhibit my creativity. Thanks for commenting, Srini. You beach bum surfer, you. ;)

  13. Aww….thanks much, Katie! Your comment just made me realize something else: physical play can be SUCH a creativity-accelerator. Whether it's the jumping and splashing in a pool, or getting down on the floor to play, or going down a slide…the physical activity is refreshing. I'm a salsa dancer…and when I let myself go and just have FUN on the dancefloor is when I try new steps or invent new patters. Completely awesome.

    And yes, get thee some legos! :)

  14. Thank you so much, Grace! You've GOT to go look at the comment I just left on Laura's blog post (link in her comment above). Seems we have that (among many things) in common. :)

    And giggling — giggling like a KID — SO awesome. I laugh all.the.freakin.time. I think some people who don't know me well project that I'm flighty or ditzy because I try to share a lot of joy and laughter, but I don't care. Playing…laughing…is so necessary. :)

  15. Well, your post is brilliant, Laura. It should be here instead of mine. ^_^ Whenever we finally meet, we have GOT to go to a playground! :)

    Thanks for your thoughtful words.

  16. Love it! People who color outside the lines have more fun! :)
    There are times I feel like I am trapped in a box (aka grad school) because I have certain things I must accomplish and learn in a very short amount of time. But I adore the idea that in a few years I will be able to do what I want because I will have the necessary expertise and experience to do so. I am following my dreams, making sacrifices to do what I need to do in the future. I turned my passion for helping others into a career that will be satisfying psychologically, spiritually and financially. I love my job. I love learning. I love helping people. And hell, I GET TO PROGRAM VIDEO GAMES FOR MY THESIS. And I get to play on high speed boats and stare at hot military boys at work. Talk about combining work and play. ;)

  17. there's an excellent TED talk about this! It basically says humans (and all species) have the necessity and ability to play. And I wholeheartedly agree. Adults need to let go of their covers every once in awhile and learn how to be child-like. I think its this youthfulness that is the 'fountain of life'. Play more!

  18. I saw the word Lego an my interest immediately popped. With a brand new son here my world has changed from all about me, to what is going on with him. I am looking forward to once again be able “play”. People really do need to let go an “play” a little more. During holiday at a busy mall Starbucks were I work, I took to wearing a fake sharpied black moustache. Ya it was crazy and ubber playful (maybe a little over the top)… but it sure as heck made people stop, smile an laugh. When we play we can have fun, but its also fun to get others to spontaniously let go an have fun also. Awesome post Cali. Thanks.

  19. That's the beauty of blogging — topics can transcend across multiple blogs and it makes for some rich conversations :)

    Speaking of meeting, are you still planning that trip to Seattle? We've got some amazing playgrounds…

  20. I thought I'd be there late May/June, but given my work I don't think that's going to happen just yet. Want to make it out to Seattle at some point this summer. I will most DEFINITELY be letting you know! :)

  21. Alex, I LOVE that I'm sitting across from you right now during your visit to Boulder and reading this comment! Your comment makes me think about the fact that sometimes we need to create parameters around our play so that we CAN play….like being in grad school and making certain sacrifices in order to have payoff later. That's a really healthy perspective, Alex.

    Also, programming video games for your thesis is awesome!

    (And for anyone else reading these comments…don't let the notion of a video game-oriented thesis fool you. Alex is developing an incredible framework to support her thesis…go check out her blog!)

  22. Cali – can't thank you enough for taking the time to contribute in my humble abode here at LWP. While I understand the concept of work/life integration – something that we're leaning toward more and more among the Gen Y community, but like you, I see this serious need to break away and get away from the grind (much more often than we're probably allowing ourselves to do right now).

    Loving what you do is great, and is part of total fulfillment, but work should never be life – the love you have for work pales in comparison (or at least should) compared to the love you have for your family, friends, and yes, even Legos.

    I wrote a post around this topic last year titled “How to Live Like a Kid Again” (…) – You're never too old to let go and give yourself a “recess” from everything. Cheers!

  23. In general we take ourselves way too seriously, don't we? If we'd all just relax a little more, life would be a lot less stressful and we wouldn't allow the petty crap to get into our heads. I'm on board that fake mustaches are the key to all of life's problems. :)

  24. Right on! Often we forgot how things used to be before we went out into the career world and had to get serious. We were all running around on the playground back in the day – there's nothing stopping you from doing the same right now. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods Floreta, good to hear from you!

  25. I was never good at coloring inside the lines. That, and those numbered-coloring things that told you what color you were SUPPOSED to use, yeah, I totally always broke the rules with that too. Now if only I could write Thesis' about video games and stare at hot military boys all day…wait, what?

  26. You know how graduation card quotes and Disney movies encourage you to dedicate your life to a specific goal or cause? I think mine is, and always has been, proving that we've been “growing up” backwards all along — that many, if not all, of the answers we seek in our “grown up” life can be found in our inner freaking child, just as you pointed out with downright playtime. I think we lose a lot of great intuition because we think that's what it means to grow up — to trade our uninhibited, child-like abandon for jadedness and practicality. Because that's what every other jaded and practical adult in our lives taught us to do.

    Really, what I think “growing up” should be is just what you described, Cali — learning to adapt the things we knew as a kid into our adult lives: Play when you're bored or stuck. Say what you mean. Go out and grab what you want.

  27. Kalon, thanks so much for your comment! I agree with you and Matt that fake moustaches are pretty much the bees knees. ^_^ I think *I* should wear one around.

  28. Matt – 'Twas an honor to write on LWP. Thank you for including me! I love your post (hadn't read it before) — and love that it was inspired by Where the Wild Things Are — such an unexpectedly fun film. :)

  29. Haha – I LOVED this comment, Bernadette! You know, maybe that's what true wisdom is — growing up backwards and learning how to really let go of the inhibitions we develop as we get older.

    And heck YES to taking off your pants! WOO! :D

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