For readers who know me only from the blog, in my other life I run an information technology firm that helps multi-billion dollar organizations make better software. If you’ve ever wanted to smack your forehead in frustration over a company’s glitch-ridden website or mobile app, that company could use our help. You could say we are helping serious organizations create serious software for serious business purposes. Yet, some of these organizations, the better ones in my mind, encourage their serious adult software developers to go play in the company sandbox occasionally.

Sandbox FunMany organizations offer this sandbox, a place where software developers can blow off steam, can attempt to not take work and software code so seriously, can simply play around to get creativity flowing. And it works. Breakthroughs are made, problems are solved, better software is created.

If you have an image of an adult in business attire shoveling sand over her shoulder in a progressive company’s corporate sandbox, I’m going to burst your bubble. Most developers in progressive software organizations these days are in shorts and flip flops. No stuffy business attire.

And it’s not a true sandbox either, as you’ve probably guessed. This sandbox is a certain type of development environment that is not connected to the live software system. Programmers can play around with the code including taking risks and making mistakes in a no-pressure setting that won’t crash the live software product. Through these escapades, wonderful things sometimes happen, even the creation of new revenue generating products that weren’t on the company’s radar.

In other words, play is good for these software developers and ultimately the companies where they work. And play is good for us in general. It makes life more fun and exciting, but it also spurs creativity to help us solve problems and make breakthroughs. It’s also keeps us healthy. And my hunch is most adults don’t get enough of it.

How many adults do you see walking around who seem excited about life? I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m pretty sure I see a lot more kids who are excited to be alive than I do grownups, at least if I go by what many adults project from their faces as they plod through life. One argument for why kids seem more excited by life is they don’t have the responsibilities weighing them down that adults do. But responsibilities only weigh you down if you let them, especially if they come in the form of a bigger and better house and more expensive car. 

Like kids, adults need their playtime, a little nonsense here and there. If you look to the kids around you and watch them for any length of time, you’ll find so much adults should mirror. 

I wrote a whole post on how my kids were unknowingly mimicking yoga positions well before I “rediscovered” the value of yoga as an adult. They were also naturally doing interval training, something that has recently gained popularity with fitness enthusiasts for its health benefits. Interval training is short bursts of power interlaced with easier paced activities. Watch children on a playground sometime… they talk to other kids a bit, they walk around, then break into a run for short distances, or expend lots of energy climbing something for thirty seconds, then they are back to an easier pace until the next burst of power. Kids have been doing interval training for generations before adults in modern society figured out its health benefits. 

Boy looking over edgeHow many of you have kids who wake up excited everyday, especially the younger ones who have not yet reached the more intense levels of school work? Mine always woke up excited when younger. The moment I moved my two-and-a-half-year-old son from a crib to a toddler bed, I realized I’d made a huge mistake the next morning at five am when I woke up to see blue eyes glinting at me over the edge of my bed. Life excited this kid. He refused to miss any by lounging in a bed since he could now escape it. I know what it’s like to wake up that way still, on occasion, especially when I’m getting up early to catch a plane for a fun vacation.

The older I get, the more I realize play is not only important in staying youthful as you age, it’s vital. Blowing off steam in fun settings, whatever that looks like as one ages, gives people something to look forward to and keeps them excited about life even when other parts of life are not so exciting or downright bad. We are built to play. It’s in our DNA.

I like the way Richard Bach puts it. He’s author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a massive bestseller at the time, but probably my least favorite book of his many great ones. My favorite is Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. In it, Bach writes this about humans: “We are game-playing, fun-having creatures, we are the otters of the universe.” If you’ve ever watched an otter for more than four seconds, you know they don’t play around when it comes to playing around. And if you have watched otters, you have to be one dour, lemon-sucking grinch not to walk away with a little joy in your heart. 

When I find myself stressed in life, it’s usually because I’m taking everything way too seriously. I’m putting pressure on myself to be perfect, instead of being human. Most of the time I’m not following my own advice, advice I give to my boys often: Maturity doesn’t mean you have to act mature all the time. True maturity is knowing the times when you must act mature, and those special times when you don’t have to be.

Admittedly, I’ve messed this advice up both ways, by not lightening up and having fun during times I didn’t need to be mature, as well as acting like an irresponsible idiot during other times when I should have had my act together. The latter has given me humbling life lessons that I’ve done my best to learn from, but then, nobody’s perfect, right?

adult woman on swing over mountainWhich brings me back to pressure. In today’s society, I see too many of us put pressure on ourselves to be perfect instead of trying to have fun while we do the best job we can at any given moment. The pressure to be perfect takes the fun out of life. It causes major stress. When I look back over my life, my best, most rewarding accomplishments other than trying to raise kids the best I can, have been things I had the most fun with, like learning to fly and starting a business with good friends who, while taking client work seriously, don’t take life or themselves too seriously.

The converse to above, when things don’t go well in my life and I’m dealing with major stress, it’s almost always because I was trying too hard and taking life way too seriously.

So whatever you are working on today, figure out how to inject some lightheartedness into it. And if you ever run into me and I’m looking serious and stressed out, do me a favor and talk a little nonsense into me.

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