The Illusion of Permission: Why Do We Make Work and Play Two Separate Things? by Leslie Juvin-Acker
Many of us start our routine everyday at the crack of dawn to the sound of an alarm clock, or, if you’re like me, have been jumped on by a bubbly toddler. Eventually, we find ourselves in a rut and feel that we need to break free of the routine and go have some fun either through a vacation or some kind of suspension of reality.
The thing is, we hardworkers have a tendency to make vacations and breaks such a far away thing. That, someday, when the work is done, when we’ve got enough resources, and should someone give us the permission, we’ll be free to enjoy ourselves. Whose permission are we waiting for, anyway? Our bosses’? Our families? Ourselves?
Take a moment to think about the concept of permission. I mean, really open your mind and let it sink in. How much permission do we give ourselves to be playful? When did being so serious become such a serious thing? It’s like we’ve gotten stuck in our roles as professionals (and adults, for that matter) and, like a grinning chimpanzee, it’s suddenly undignified to demonstrate an inkling of playfulness in our work and in our lives.
We walk around with a poker face all the time at work and suddenly, we feel like our whole lives are a game of poker: Hold a straight face, keep our cards close to our chest, and definitely don’t make any sudden moves. Goodness, that’s exhausting and a drag!
So, what do we do when our company hosts a party? We go nuts. We get blasted, say things we’ll regret because we don’t have the tact or the guts to say them while sober, and we go over the limit because, Hey, I’ve been given the permission to let loose!
I’ve seen senior level executives hold straight faces even in the most benign contexts. See a subordinate enjoying the company of their wife or kids during a break? Continue acting like a hard-ass robot devoid of feeling when acknowledging their presence. See a colleague on the beach over weekend? Just continue walking past them because I don’t know them as people outside of work. Or, end up at a personal occasion at which a subordinate in another department is also invited? I don’t want to get close because I might have to fire them. I’ve heard my fair share of baloney as an executive coach and I see it all of the time. It’s petty stuff, but it’s the reality of many of us live in because we’ve gotten so stuck in work mode that any semblance of play and genuine expression of joy, happiness, and pleasure have become signs of weakness.
Some of the most compelling and charismatic leaders have a great sense of humor. And they know how to relate to others, not just as employees or consumers, but as people. People like the Dalai Lama take their work about spreading the word of enlightenment seriously, but if you’ve watched your fair share of documentaries about him (or met him in person), he spends most of his time cracking jokes. If His Holiness can let loose, then so can we.
Laughing and recreation (as defined as mental, spiritual, and physical comfort) is good for our health and it’s not something we have to wait for or that exists beyond our reach. Working hard can involve playing hard at the same time. We don’t have to stop feeling like playful and emotionally creative human beings just because we’re on the job. Dr. Patch Adams shows us that even though healing sick children is a serious business, humor and laughter while on the job are critical aspects to treating and healing all of mankind. Which leads me to ask, what kind of bedside manner do we have on the job and in life?
Playing hard needn’t be an embarrassing, vulnerable state of mind reserved for the moment after we clockout. We can actually permit ourselves to take pleasure in the small moments and big accomplishments and make a joyful occasion out of everything that we experience - no matter how tough they appear to be. It’s ok to say, I’m a human, I have feelings - good ones, actually - and I’d like to demonstrate and share my joy.
Those who are aware of their feelings are in most control. So, instead of making a mere semblance of control, why not allow ourselves to fully experience the full range of emotion at work (especially the good feelings) and be a master of them all? Many who give the image of always working hard are actually afraid of the perceived vulnerability of being emotionally authentic. After a while, putting on a front leads to ruts and burnout - and, believe it or not, I’ve coached quite a few burnouts (not the herbal remedy kind, either).
I’m not advising emotional recklessness and insensitivity to others’ feelings in exchange for our own emotional authenticity. I’m just saying, as hard as we work, it’s okay to be as happy and free to enjoy what we’re doing when we’re doing it. Yes, it’s work, but it doesn’t have to be work.
Enjoying ourselves at work and permitting ourselves to be as authentic and genuine as possible about our passions, our feelings, and joys can take on subtle forms, but can have oh-so powerful results. People love to be around other people who are happy, emotionally intelligent, and can put aside their facades in order to be fully engaged in the moment. It’s these kinds of people who seem to magically attract good things and “luck”. Go ahead and allow yourself to enjoy what you’re doing and be surprised as to how creative and responsive this joy can make you feel. No need to clock-out to have a good time; the time is now.
Coach Leslie’s Questions To Ask Ourselves:
1. Do I try to act serious at work? Have I become attached to the “serious guy” role?
2. When I want to connect with a colleague or subordinate in a personal way, do I hold back for fear of some arbitrary story I tell myself?
3. Do I get too caught up in the illusion of job-titles? Do I allow this illusion to create a barrier between me and the potential fun I can have with my colleagues?
4. What do I have to lose by giving myself permission to have fun at work? Do I see work as work?
5. Do I wait for the end of the day to allow myself to have fun? What are the small pleasures that I find at work and how can I expand on them to give joy to the other mundane/serious things I do?