I'm only 32, but was recently accused of not being playful by a couple different people. I've always thought of myself as young and playful and someone capable of experiencing joy, being spontaneous, being in the moment until I started graduate school. Progressively as I've moved through my masters and PhD, my life has felt heavier. I have become more serious, stressed, anxious, sadder, having fewer hobbies and a smaller circle of friends. For a long time I thought this was the necessary sacrifice to be successful. More than that though, I was drawn to graduate school because of a passion for my discipline. I found great joy in thinking and working in my area. Work was a source of intellectual and creative energy that was in some ways playful or at least as life affirming and nourishing as play. I pursued the work and the education for no other purpose other than curiosity, and in that sense it was like play. And so it seemed reasonable to throw myself completely into it, to the exclusion of other things.
Somewhere along the way, my relationship to my work changed and it changed my life in ways that have not healthy or beneficial. I have come to hate my work. I no longer get pleasure from thinking about ideas, working through problems, that I used to. I've lost the energy and creativity that propelled me in the past. The result has been this internal and now external rebellion. I am just now realizing, as I work towards finishing my dissertation, in my last year of grad school, that I have to play outside of work. I have to do things with no purpose, only for pleasure. Aside from just making me happier, I am hopeful that playfulness will bleed back into my work too.
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