Managing Your Gift: Get Confused

This is a continuing series in managing your gift. The basic premise is that your giftedness is not your problem; you just need help to manage it. [1]

I see a lot of people who are dissatisfied with their work environment. I’ve been there. However, I’ve seen my satisfaction increasing as I’ve watched my perspective change. One of the problems, I’ve come to believe, is that we are too systematic in our lives, and I think we could benefit from some confusion between work and play.

My parents instilled in me that recreation can be both fun and educational/developmental in nature. When I was young, my brother and I were never allowed to play computer games (something for which I’m quite grateful). Because of that and because of an older brother’s coaching, we spent our childhood programming computers (first Pascal, then C/C++). We thought it was play; an adult might have told us it was work. If we weren’t programming, we were reading books. I had assumed that both programming and reading were merely a pastime, and I underestimated the impact on my life.

That’s where my work/play confusion started, but it’s gotten greater more recently. For most of my life, I’ve worked on a very strict hourly basis. More recently, I’ve transitioned from hourly pay to a salary, and I’ve been given quite a bit of autonomy. With this freedom, I’ve come to recognize that some of the things I do for fun have a significant impact on my work performance. For example, I’ve come to enjoy learning about management, business, and leadership. The more that I learn, the better I know how I fit into the organization. If this benefits me at work, tell me, please: is this interest “work” or “play”? While this interest benefits me at work, I also find it recreational.

Further, I keep learning ways at work move me more and more into my sweet spot. Some of my projects at work I either really enjoy or really value. Even though I am working for my employer, some of these projects I would do for free. For example, I enjoy writing. One of my assignments at work is taking others’ written reports and making them sound better. While I don’t live or die for this particular job, I do enjoy it, and it allows me to continue honing my verbal skills. It is of significant benefit to me personally and something I enjoy. Tell me, then: is that “work” or “play”?

In the past, I would have tried to answer that question of work/play, but I’ve been finding it’s better to leave it unanswered. I’ve come to prefer to keep the confusion between work and play, and I’m discovering that it can actually make me more productive and fulfilled at work.

If this confusion isn’t enough for you, it runs deeper still! I’ve already mentioned how I’m learning to view myself less as a worker (driven by lists and commands) and more as a manager (driven by projects, goals, and purpose). This means that my employer isn’t really my boss. I am. Yes, I buy into the vision, and I go beyond the job requirements. I do everything I can to make the right things happen. But there’s something much greater that’s driving me. I’m looking at the big picture of my life, and I’m fitting my assignments and projects into that big picture. My goal is to use my gifts and abilities to the best of my ability to bring the most glory of God. What does it matter if I stay late at work as long as I am continually developing what I desire in my life? Since personal development can happen on the clock or off, who cares which it is?

This perspective runs counter to our traditional perspective of work. I can hear employers asking me, “Won’t this mean my employees will be distracted and unproductive? Won’t they go off doing their own thing?” I’ll address this more in the next post. In short, if you want assembly-line employees, keep the traditional model of having work and play strictly separate. However, if you want a team of creative people who have autonomy, who will think outside the box, and who will be able to develop your business with you, you need this confusion. You’ll end up with a team of self-motivated and fulfilled people. [2]

I can also hear employees asking me, “Won’t this mean I’ll turn into a workaholic?” The truth is that workaholism has no confusion between work and play; it is simply work overtaking your life.

Here comes the challenge. You have to work it out for yourself.

Step back and look at work in the big picture of your life. How can you break the separation between work and play? How does your work fit into the overall picture of your life? How can you start moving closer towards your sweet spot at work?

[1] I am self-conscious writing these ideas as if they were my own. I’m shaped by others, and their voices comes though. You know who you are. Thank you.

[2] For more on this concept, read Daniel Pink’s book Drive. Various companies (especially in software but also in other fields) have gone so far as to provide employees with time every week or every month when they are expected to develop something that holds personal interest to them but is not directly related to the normal assignments at work.

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