The Power of Play: Why Loving Your Work Matters

Want to know what I do for fun? I draw gestures, study art and business, and write stuff that nobody reads. And what I do for WORK: I do tattoos and run a studio for 5 hours most days.

Then I pick my kids up from school, play and cook and clean, tuck them in, hang out with my wife, and repeat.

It looks boring from the outside. Why would Josh study for fun? Isn’t it hard to draw every day? Is that another fucking book in Josh’s hand?

Yes – and I love it. Because to me, my work is play. And my play helps my work.

I’ve found what I love, and I’m letting it kill me – just like Charles Bukowski said I should.

I’ve defined “success” on my terms, so I get to study the things I love, play with my kids when I feel like it, and draw on people to make a living.

I’ve hit a goldmine.

Hitting creative goldmines looks like “talent” from the outside.

It took me almost 30 years to figure this shit out. I had false starts, made stupid decisions, racked up a terrifying amount of student debt, and experienced multiple failures before I said “fuck it” and pursued art as a career.

It didn’t come naturally. Ignore the idea that things come naturally. I still struggle to improve my craft every day, but I can focus on improving my craft because that struggle is FUN.

Find a craft that you can deeply focus on and people will assume you’re a natural at it. Don’t let their comments about talent go to your head; it’s not true. You just put in more reps than the next person because you thought it was fun.

Steven King’s nuance on talent is to find the things that feel easy but look like work from someone else’s perspective:

“[When] you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy.”

You’ll keep doing it because you’d do it even if you weren’t getting paid. In the most extreme cases, you’d even pay to do your work. Because it’s THAT fun.

The Rewards of Effortless Creative Execution

That sounds like a pipe dream, right? Who the hell is lucky enough to pull that off? Happiness is a luxury that not everyone can have.

I don’t know. Honestly, if everyone pursued that thing they’re great at, we might have an entirely new world on our hands.

That’s Simon Sinek’s mission – to flip the ratio of job satisfaction on its head. To go from 80% job dissatisfaction to 80% love of the work. He’s written several books on the topic — check out the books “Start With Why” and “The Infinite Game” if you want a taste. 

But why should we care about that mission?

First – increased productivity. If you LOVE something, you’ll get good at it. If you get good at something, your output skyrockets. You can do more in less time than the next person could dream of.

You’re more valuable to society if you can give the world a lot of what you’re great at.

Second – enhanced creativity. Let’s assume that you enjoy your craft so much that you do it non-stop. Those constant iterations give you a place to play and experiment.

Eventually, you take your craft in a direction nobody would have thought of because your experiments and fun yield interesting results. You learn, test, and apply until you’ve developed a creative style that is uniquely yours.

Maya Angelou – renowned poet, author, and civil rights activist – was known for her love of writing and how she approached it with joy and passion. 

Writing was her sanctuary and her form of self-expression. In an interview with The Paris Review, Angelou said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” 

ELEVEN BOOKS. According to her biographer, writing was “play” for Angelou. She wrote with a childlike sense of wonder, which made her prolific and creative in the process.

Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech, titled “Make Good Art,” echoes this sentiment from Angelou.

I don’t think anyone can deny that Neil Gaiman is one of the most imaginative professionals alive today. And he’s doing exactly what he loves.

Finally – greater job satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

By every metric I can think of, finding something you’re great at, that you have fun doing, and that people will pay you for is one of the most satisfying things you can do.

Steven Spielberg probably agrees with me on this one. He has a reputation for being obsessive with his films – from doing incredibly deep research for Schindler’s List and working inhumanly long hours on…well…every movie he’s ever directed.

But imagine the feeling of accomplishment he must have when a new film debuts.

The only way you can maintain that level of obsession is by loving your craft. And when you love your craft, the hard work doesn’t feel like work. It eliminates the NEED for grit. I used to think I’d have to power through the tough stuff to get to the fun stuff.

That’s not the case, though. We don’t need to delay gratification. When we develop an obsession, we’re getting our fix by following the obsession.

Replace the need for grit with a sense of pride in what you’re able to do and a love of the process. It’s not ego, it’s confidence.

Tips for Tracking Down Your Creative Calling

That sounds nice from the outside, but what about pulling it off?

I say: start by experimenting with everything you ever wanted to do as a kid. Yeah, you heard right. You weren’t equipped with the Social-Filter 9000 when you were 6. That got installed when you were 11.

I wanted to be an artist, and I didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought about it. Until I started chasing money over passion in college. Then it took me over a decade to find myself back on track.

Make a list of everything you can remember dreaming about. Even if you can’t do the thing you were dreaming of, it could help you find an obsession. 

If you’re too old to be an astronaut (that might change soon thanks to the Billionaires commercializing space flight), you can still study the stars. Look to related fields if there are limits to your reality.

Keep an open mind and try out new opportunities, and follow the rabbit holes every now and then.

Boyd Varty relates this to tracking in The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life. It’s a good comparison. You have to keep looking for the next thing that sparks your curiosity, then see where it leads.

This is different than most people’s recommendations – to make a life plan and follow it. 

Joseph Campbell said, “If you can see your whole life’s path laid out then it’s not your life’s path.”

Having plans is good for finding a direction, but you have to follow your little curiosities to get where you’re supposed to be.

Sometimes it won’t work out. You’ll fail more often than not. But that’s not wasted effort or time. You’re refining where to look by learning where NOT to look, which helps find where you’ll eventually go. Once you’ve made a choice, don’t worry if it was the wrong one. Live with the choices you’ve made and move forward, don’t be anxious about the choices you made in the past.

We’re all guessing in the end. We can’t tell the future (which is why plans have to change), so make your best guess and take action.

Let life unfold like an experiment. It’s not about KNOWING what will happen, but DISCOVERING what will happen. There’s no wasted effort in an experiment. There’s no wasted effort in finding your creative calling.

So go out, have fun, and find those tracks that spark your curiosity. Follow them wherever they might lead. Go at your own pace, and have fun while you do it.

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