English is no one's first language. Nor is Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian, or any organized language, for that matter. It is not speech that we learn first—it is the language of play.
Recently, my advisor reminded a group of sophomores, myself included, of the importance of play. He quoted Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.” I tried to think of the last time I truly, purely played. I found I couldn't. I had become so wrapped up in the life in front of me that I willingly allowed everything else to slip by. It was time to take action.
I thought about the meaning of play that was true to me. The word I kept circling back to was "imagination." It had been my source for games of Barbie dolls, house, and artwork. Lately, it is my go-to for story ideas and writing assignments. Wasn't that play too, if I was harvesting form the same source? Didn't it count? I realized that making those excuses would never get me any further in life. I determined that if play meant imagination, then laying pretend would be my greatest feat yet. On stage. In the classroom. In front of enemies. Before stressful meetings. With children. Playing pretend is the greatest invention of human civilization, and thankfully, it is etched into our basic humanity. We know to smile, to laugh, to become distracted with joy before we understand our parents' murmurings of affection. When faced with the impossible, pretending to be confident can land us that interview, score that deal, and settle that argument. When we suck at pretending, others notice the insincerity, chastise it, and we vow to become better actors. Other times, it is a Tony award-winning performance, and we bask in the standing ovation.
These rejections and applauses shape our character and make us better people, along with the innate knowledge that we are worth more than our work. We are worth a lifetime of play.
7 Tips for Better Playtime With Your Inner Kid
- Let yourself speak and write badly. Just think of all that you would say and do if no one expected you to do it well. Live boldly.
- Live fast and see what happens Pound through your bucket list at 30 years of age, with no time to lose. You'll never know the outcome of those turns you didn't take, but that's okay.
- Channel your ego(s). Pretend you have revived your childhood imaginary friend, or erstwhile pet. Sit them down for a therapy session, and don't interrupt.
- Dip your toe in new waters. Speak up. Do a silly dance. Go there. You will never know the spontaneous side of you if you never let it out.
- Remember everything. Never, ever forget the things that shape you, but focus on the good. Take a mental trip through the good times and watch memories bloom.
- Get a new perspective. Be a Russian supermodel for a day...even if you're playing dress-up with your kids. That history teacher who dressed up was onto something.
- Do what you love. It's a bit kitschy, a lot cliché, but people will never believe your act if you never talk about what you care about. When you do what compels you, you're not pretending anymore. You're simply...you.