The Power of Play

When was the last time you laughed out loud? In public? Or had a beaming smile on your face, that kind of grin you can’t wipe away? If it is anything like most of us, I bet it’s been far too long.

In case you feel like you are playing all the time, please drag me along with you. I promise to be a great sidekick!

As physicians, you spent years sacrificing and training. You stayed up late studying and missed parties, weddings, holidays, and family vacations. During training, we might have justifiably said we didn’t control our schedule. We didn’t decide when we showed up in the morning and were told when we could leave in the evening (or, heaven forbid, the next morning).

I’m about to ask a hard question… So what’s your excuse now? Wasn’t this supposed to be better now that we’ve finished training? In so many ways, our lives are much better. We are better compensated, and most of us have more control over our time. But, I bet if we’re honest with ourselves, we still work more hours than we want.

But this note is not about how many hours we are working. I want to talk about how much or how little we play. Recently, my wife and I got up to Mt Bachelor for a great day of skiing. It was snowing hard, the roads were a mess, and we have a toddler at home. We had plenty of reasons to sit by the fire and take it easy.

We both needed to get outside and play. And we both knew it. So we braved the terrible roads. And guess what? The snow was amazing, and we both were wearing huge smiles. It was a nice reset.

On my desk at home, there is a picture from residency. What’s great about this pic is it has nothing to do with the hospital and I am not wearing scrubs. It’s after a long day skiing Highlands Bowl in Aspen. I was with a great friend from residency. Most importantly, I am wearing an enormous, radiant smile.

I bring this up because I want more of that feeling—happiness and joy from working and playing hard. Laughing so hard, your abdomen hurts! I’m betting all of us could use a bit more of these kinds of days.

Turning the lens of you – what can you do this week to play and have fun? Is it going on a walk after work? Or getting involved in a new hobby? Only with this goal in mind, simply to play.

Why is this so important? There is ample research demonstrating that downtime is crucial for our well-being. Being able to let go, and clear your mind, is critical for our mental and physical health. This is especially true working in medicine with the high stress we deal with on a daily basis. So why is it so hard to make time for play?

Life is not just about working and paying bills. It is not just about saving and investing and always planning. There needs to be time for laughter and play, and fun.

One major hurdle is time. We all work far too much. Then we have families to care for and other work responsibilities. One solution that works for our family is to schedule downtime. Does this feel antithetical to the idea of play? That you need to be inspired for it to count?

How’s that currently working for you? I bet you end up overbooked and you end up taking the hit. Many of history’s great thinkers and writers would schedule down time. Putting it down on the calendar doesn’t mean it will happen, but it will at least force you to reconsider overbooking yourself.

I think back to medical school and how much I used to ski. One of my proudest accomplishments was skiing over one hundred days at Alta during my 4th year. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. But I did have at least twenty best ski days of my life that year. And I still found time to serve on the admissions committee as well.

Like all of you, I remember studying for hours and hours, learning anatomy, biochem and the various organ systems. But I also remember having a ton of fun with friends; spending time outside camping or mountain biking or skiing. Every now and again, I’d tell myself I needed to buckle down and study. That I couldn’t ski this week because of a big exam.

Guess what? I always seemed to do worse when I wasn’t creating time to play. I have to think this was related.

Here’s my challenge to you – schedule time every week this month for play. Let’s start with a minimum of thirty minutes, but I encourage you to reach even higher. Block it out, and don’t let anything interfere. I’ll check back and see how you’re feeling in a few weeks.

For now, tell me what play looks like for you. Is it playing with your kids at the park? Is it time outside in the mountains? Is it exploring the city or going to an art opening?

Reach out here if you want to chat about your current situation.

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