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Work as Play

“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.”
- Mark Twain

During one of my coffee breaks whilst installing two new toilets in our house, I came across this quote. These ‘breaks’ had been happening frequently, so the toilet refitting wasn’t happening quickly. I wasn’t bothered about this; after all, I’m retired and can take my time doing things.

As I put the task of installing toilets out of my mind and turned to some activities I actually enjoyed, such as my writing and photography, the number of breaks increased and took longer There is no doubt that I was considering the toilet escapade ‘work’ and my artistic efforts ‘play’. Some might suggest that I was procrastinating.

Now I was staring at this quote. I had to stop and question if I believed it.

I pondered, thinking about my career before I retired and realised that during that period of my life I was lucky. My work really was play. I was having fun. Yes, there were some bad times, but on the whole, I enjoyed what I did and where I did it. Yet it was clear, on this day the toilet ‘work’ was not fun. Of course, I could have hired someone to do it, but initially it seemed so straightforward. After all, I am an engineer, so, I thought, I can certainly figure out this toilet thing.

The first toilet installation went according to the book and I was done in a couple of hours. That wasn’t play, but the result was satisfying. However, the second one was a challenge and, as I write this short epistle, it still is. Now I am ‘working’, but this is not ‘play’.

On one of those ‘breaks’ I talked about earlier, I scanned some other articles on this statement, Work as Play, to see what I could find. I came up an excellent statement of division between the work we like and that other stuff—like the terrible second toilet. From now on, that bit of work that I have to do but don’t find it can be covered by the word ‘play’, I will call ‘toil’. Somehow, that works for me. Toil evokes a boring, repetitive, and tough activity.

Isn’t it interesting how toil and toil-et seem to have the same root? But I digress.

Anyway, in the future, that is how I’ll talk about that stuff that I would rather not do, but must: toil.

My enjoyable ‘work’ these days has to do with my art and writing. I cringe, inside, when people say it is ‘so nice that you have a hobby’. For me, it is work, but of the play type.

My thoughts go back to a time long ago when my older son, as a young teenager, used to regularly tell my wife and me that, “there isn’t enough time to play.” It seems that he got it right.

WORK photo by Jim Foley

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