“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” —The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
There are high-minded folks who are prone to speak confidently, and perhaps somewhat knowingly, about the challenges of today’s “workplace,” as some distant plot of time and space that is in desperate need of inspiration. These gurus and generals of thought and attitude speak of a place that somewhere along the way has gotten separated from the rest of our lives.
What we have come to call “work” now seems to consist of only duties and tasks that our minds and bodies are obliged to do nearly three out of every four days of our lives, rather than a grand stage where our hearts and souls lead the dance. The mere mention of the word “work” has become synonymous with labor and toil, with survival and disengagement, with quiet desperation and the worship of weekends.
Today’s deepest leadership challenge is not finding a way to influence people and ourselves to work harder or more efficiently; rather it is to inspire and encourage meaning and joy in the tasks we set out to achieve in the service of others.
“The work that is really a man’s own work is play and not work at all,” Mark Twain noted in A Humorist’s Confession. “Cursed is the man who has found some other man’s work and cannot lose it. When we talk about the great workers of the world, we really mean the great players of the world.”
The poorest paid receptionist to the highest paid executive should be challenged to cultivate the eternal, to store up treasure in others, and to ultimately rename work as pleasure—a dispensation that rewards our highest calling as human beings through the consumption of meaning, purpose, and happiness. The teacher, architect, salesperson, accountant, mechanic, engineer, copy editor, software developer, legislator, actor, pastor, poet, prince, homemaker, painter, speaker, writer, software developer, or singer, should seek the higher rewards of their daily endeavors through the enjoyment and adventure of completing what they have learned to do, have trained to do, were born to do at work.
But the ones who have subtly and silently slipped into the chorus of groans and now tread in the mental pool of toil, have in fact resigned themselves to no longer hope to do something great in their work.
“How can they when their souls are in a ferment of revolt against the employment of their hands and brains? The product of slavery, intellectual or physical, can never be great,” Twain concluded in his sober confession.
It is time to rename work as pleasure and seek to master it with as much passion and persistence as we do a good meal, a child’s laughter, or the deep and intimate connection with a friend or family member who reminds us of how precious this life is. It’s time to renew our spirits during the three out of every four days of which our minds and bodies are not obliged to “work,” but inspired to work with joy.
Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies and CoAuthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning experience that empowers individuals with the skills to achieve excellence at work.