The Power of Play and Rekindling Youth

Jack Russells Playing

Photo by Steve-65 via Wikimedia.

I grew up in North Eastham. The pride of North Eastham is most likely a windmill and/or a lighthouse. Or maybe it’s a beach. Long story short, there wasn’t a ton of action in North Eastham, so we had to create the action ourselves.

We wedged firecrackers into the joints of our G.I. Joe action figures. Multiple firecrackers were typically required to blow the limbs off some of these figures. I’m just thinking more about this now and realizing how inappropriate symbolically this seems in today’s world. We hadn’t yet been exposed to thousands of soldiers coming home from the Middle East suffering similar fates.

Amazingly, none of us ever got hurt during the action figure explosive trials.

Eventually, we turned to motorized vehicles. It was a natural progression given that just through the woods behind our house was a long strip of land cleared for power lines. This hilly dirt track runs from Eastham to Marconi Beach in Welfleet (or thereabouts).

We also had the luxury of a huge gravel and sand pit and just on the other side of those same woods.  It was like our own personal 20-acre jungle gym of hell-raising. We lost a lot of good men out there.

Ok, we didn’t “lose” any men per se, but quite a few people were injured out there in the 1990s.

My brother, James, and I used to race cars around our 5-acre lot.  One day we traded paint coming around a sharp turn. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. Our father let us drive the cars around the property, but we weren’t supposed to go rally car with them. It was terrifying and awesome.

Dirt bikes came next.  Dirt cycles as my grandmother called them.  She also referred to James’s football performances as “great interference.” That may well be what they called blocking in her heyday.

We all got hurt riding dirt bikes.  James severely lacerated his lower leg when racing a 4-wheeler over a puddle near a pile of jagged rocks.  What the hell were we thinking? I’m amazed and extremely grateful no one in our circle got killed in those days.

I broke my ankle. Our friend Chris got burned and cut up pretty good when his bike landed on top of him. I’m fairly certain one guy broke his jaw at one point. There were tons of injuries. We didn’t have much of a sense of mortality until we got hurt, and that sense only lasted until we were 100% again.

I miss those days — sort of. I now spend a large percentage of my days in an office dreaming of being elsewhere.

As a kid, I took this freedom for granted. I was forced to go to school many days, but that was only for six hours a day. Six hours seemed like a lifetime back then. Now, weeks seem to fly by.

I’m starting to think that rekindling of youth is probably the best medicine for many of us. We get so rutted by doing the same thing everyday in the same place.

I heard an interview with Charlie Hoehn recently on the School of Greatness podcast.  Charlie has worked with some of the greatest minds in the entrepreneurship world and had some great success. He talked about this recurring awareness that he wasn’t loving his work. His prescription — play.

We don’t play anymore. We’re too often consumed with cultivating a composed appearance. I do it all the time. My most recent self-realization moment is that I’ve been driven by my desire to look cool. I went to law school because I thought it would make me look cool and help me become GM of the Patriots, which was my true desire.

If I focused on my true desire, I would’ve realized that the quickest way to becoming GM of the Patriots was not by doing anything cool. The quickest path was to demonstrate the legitimacy of my desire by putting in the work as a volunteer or intern for a football team.  Not cool per se. Not easy. But effective.

There was a great scene in one of the most recent episodes of Mad Men when recovering alcoholic, Freddy Rumsen, encourages a down on his luck Don Draper. Freddy said something to the effect of, “Just put your head down and do the work.

That’s what it’s all about. I’m convinced that you get better at everything if you stop worrying about looking cool. Looking cool holds you back. You make decisions based on the perceptions of others rather than what you know is best for you.

Trying to look cool makes you more afraid of failure. But failure is where the magic happens. You learn just as much from failure as you do from success, but failure is where you build character and strength. Failure equals growth.  Failure means you tried. When you’re not afraid to look stupid, you experiment and try things that may lead to growth.

So, we should value looking stupid to some extent.  It’s brave. I recently realized that my best performance often occurs when I am alone. It’s because I wasn’t afraid to fail.  I wasn’t worried that somebody might see me do something stupid.

So, I leave you with these words of encouragement, which I now issue to myself each day:

Do not be afraid to look stupid, do not try to be cool, just go for it. That’s how we grow, how we progress, how we become the best versions of ourselves.

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William W Barnes

Creating and evangelizing world-changing products. I like Lions and Cows.
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