Finding An Easier Approach To Life - Even If You're A Grown-Ass Adult

19.09.20 10:55 PM By Heather Kleinschmidt

I still remember that moment every day…

The bell rings… Recess!

Those glorious 30-or-so minutes in the middle of the day when we could literally run wild.

Free to play. To create. To imagine. To engage with each other as we so chose.

We marched single file through the hallways to the backdoor, leading out to the playground. The doors open, letting in a burst of sunlight, and we immediately scatter like ants.


Some kids instantly dash off to the swings, or to another favorite spot. Some kids grab their friend’s hand and pull them in one direction or another, inviting them to play. Some kids linger, maybe because they’d rather play on their own, maybe because they don’t have any tight friends, maybe because they’re just scared.

We all split up and spread out, forming new clusters around the playground.

Those clusters became like breathing organisms, they would expand and contract, constantly morphing. Sometimes a kid leaves a cluster to go join another one, or to form a new one of their own.

Inside my cluster, the group generates its own rules. We do this. We don’t do that. When you want a turn, you approach in this way. We create new rules as the need arises — we do so through a messy group consensus model. Some of our rules are articulated; some are simply understood (no one needs to explain that “we don’t bite to get our way”).

Those rules define the reality within which the group operates. The kids draw on both imagination and fact — but it’s all within the scope of the rules of the game at hand.

As a result, entire worlds were generated: potions mixed, dragons slain, households built… All through this mysterious process of play.

As it turns out, everything in life is play.

We’re always taking turns, generating rules with the people in our cluster (both explicitly and implicitly). When someone is a bad player, we start to exclude them — or if that bad player spoils too much of the game, we leave and find a new game to play.

Like children at recess, our clusters as adults are like living organisms, constantly morphing. Anyone can and does walk away whenever the game at hand is no longer working out for them.

We operate on both imagination and fact — but all of it resides inside of the agreed-upon rules by which we’ve determined to play.

We try to make a distinction between "school" or "work" and "recess" or "games"... but the reality is that it's all game. Your entire world is like a playground.

Everything is play.

In our lives, this takes form at various levels:

  • Banter is play.
  • Sex is play.
  • Disagreement is play.
  • Conversation is play.
  • A night at the bar is play.
  • An afternoon coffee chat is play.
  • Holding a meeting to discuss that new proposal is play.

All interactions are play. We’re always feeling people out, testing each other, seeing what we can do with the relationship, seeing what the rules of the game are going to be, seeing what we can do together.

Every outstretched hand from another human being is an invitation to play.

What is fighting?
Fighting is when you’re negotiating the rules of the game.

Disagreement is where the game is made.

Like at recess, you usually don’t (actually, never) have all of the rules that you’re going to need before you start the game.

The game is refined along the way, as unanticipated events arise. All the kids stop, and fight about what should be done about this thing, and then quickly get back to playing the game.

It’s a messy process—but ultimately, some solution wins, and the game continues (or no solution is reached, the game dissolves, and that’s the end of that).

The ultimate goal of the fight is to keep the game going. Everyone is there because they want to play. So when something needs resolved, there needs to be an exchange to resolve it.

Fighting is also the negotiation that keeps the forward-motion of the game in check.

It’s the mechanism that prevents things from charging ahead too blindly.

It’s the thing that saves the game from early self-destruction.

Fighting is what keeps the game going.

When you don’t fight, someone (eventually) quits. And if enough people quit, the game is over.

Why does non-fighting lead to quitting?

Because it means that the players don’t have a voice in the game — which will lead to frustration, sooner or later. And frustration, if it’s never resolved, means they’ll come to a point where they no longer want to play. They’ll no longer be bought-into the rules of the game, and they’ll be done playing.

It might happen now, or it might happen later — but it’s coming if no course-correction takes place.

Fighting is the moment that can provide that course-correction. The requirement for it to work is that the players have to fight. They each have to say what they need to say in order to keep the game satisfying for everyone.


It’s play, or it’s survival

Everything in life is either play, or it’s survival.

Survival requires precision. It’s either done right, or it’s done wrong — there is no middle ground or room for experimentation or improvement. Did you survive, or not?

It’s yes or no.

Play vs. Survival

A few things worth noting here…

1 | The things you need in a survival situation are developed during play. In other words, you become equipped for survival based on what you do during play.

Play is how you develop rapport, how you learn to work with each other, and how you stress-test the dynamic between you and someone else. In those moments when you need someone to turn to — it’s your playmates you’re going to call. Play is where you develop the relationships that you need to lean on when you find yourself in survival mode.

Play is also where you experiment with things, where you iterate on ideas, and where you develop a deep understanding of how stuff works. It’s this exact understanding that you’ll call on in survival.

2 | Survival is precise, but play fluctuates.

Trying to apply a survival mentality to a game of play means that you’ll be the loser.

Play evades all the rules of survival. It’s not about precision, and you can’t control it. It’s about the human interactions, and the mutually-generated rules that govern the group.

Your only way of succeeding in play is to engage with the group.

Why so serious?

When you’re taking yourself too seriously, it’s an indicator that you’re in survival mode. And that stance ends up ruining the game for everyone…

Everyone who’s playing the game has an equal stake: all want to enjoy playing their part. If the game stops serving that purpose, they’ll leave and find a new game that does work for them. “Enjoy” doesn’t mean have it easy. It simply means they want to feel some sense of satisfaction from doing it.

And so, everyone will cooperate within reason with the needs of others and with the rules as they’re generated.

Problems crop up, however, when one person takes their own interpretation of the game too seriously.


Because everyone else isn’t there to play your game. They’re not there to make sure things go in the way that makes it pleasant for you. They’re there to play a fun game for them. And they’ll cooperate within reason with all other players in order to keep the game going. If the game ends, after all, that’s no fun for anyone.

So all players are willing to make some concessions and to abide by the agreed-upon rules in order to keep everyone happy so that the game continues. But as soon as someone starts acting like the game is supposed to be one very specific thing — more specific than what the group has agreed upon — if he starts behaving in a way that demands all other players to follow suit, and if all other players don’t like playing that way, the game will fall apart as the other players lose their interest.

When you make it too serious — when you pretend like it’s all survival — you’ve stopped playing. You’ve made it about you.

When you try to control the game too tightly, you lose.

When you obsess too needily over how things are going, how the other players are doing, you lose.

When you stop fighting through the problems that come up with the other players, you lose.

Creating anything worthwhile — doing anything generative — comes only from play

Only part of life is survival. The rest is play.

Play is where we generate, create, and connect. It’s where the magic of life happens.

The key part we often forget is that it should be treated like play. Most things in life should be treated like play.

Your world is a playground, full of invitations to join in. There are always group-generated rules for collaboration, and fighting to keep the thing going. When you can recognize these moments for what they are, you’ll become a much better player… and somewhat surprisingly, a lot of those outcomes you’ve been searching for will reveal themselves in your life after you (re)learn to play.

How to Play
1. Don’t take it too seriously. The most important outcomes are indirect and can’t be controlled. So let it go…

2. What matters most is the choice (by all players) to continue playing. When you ruin the game, the game gets ruined (and people quit playing). If you don’t want to ruin the game, then choose to have fun (when you have fun, other people have fun).

3. Fighting is good — it’s what keeps the game in play. Not domination by one person — but genuine friction where all players engage with finding a solution that suits the game.

4. The playground is bustling with imagination and adventure. When it’s time for you to exit or end one game, go find or start another one. There’s so much possibility for joy and adventure!

Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.

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