Someone once said, each day you either get a little better or a little worse. The choice is up to you. While it may not be that simple, it is an interesting question to ask ourselves: Today, did I become a better parent, husband, worker, runner, cook, and so on and so on?
When we think about “getting better” we often think it means working harder or practicing more and may even feel stressful. And while these are no doubt paths to improvement they are not without limitations.
In Dave Eggers’ insightful and often hilarious new novel, Heroes of the Frontier, Josie, a mom of two leaves the trappings of society behind to find meaning for herself and children by whisking them away to Alaska. Justifying her actions, she thinks:
“Raising children was not about perfecting them or preparing them for job placement. What a hollow goal! Twenty-two years of struggle for what – your child sits inside at an Ikea table staring into a screen while outside the sky changes, the sun rises and falls, hawks float like zeppelins. This was the common pursuit of all contemporary humankind… She would not subject her children to this. They would not seek these specious things, no. It was only about making them loved in a moment in the sun.”
In Josie’s mind, becoming a better parent or raising better children starts with seeking out joy.
Shortly after reading that passage, I was walking in a park, witnessing people becoming better at so many things. Skateboarders mastering a new trick, a runner going faster, and a group of thirty men demonstrating why soccer is called “the beautiful game.”
While some might call what they were doing work or practice, most would refer to each as playing. And with play comes joy.
It is no wonder that when I ask my daughter if she wants to play guitar together I get a drastically different response than when I ask if she wants to practice guitar together.
Playing sometimes feels like a luxury. And for many it is. Earlier that same day, I had met a father of three girls (just like myself). He needed to work two jobs seven days a week to provide the basics for his family, lamenting how he wished he had more time to spend playing with his children.
But for others of us play and getting better is a choice. How we approach our work, our families, our interests, and our lives matter. Do these things feel like joyless work or joyful play?
If we truly want to become better in each — to become the best version of ourselves — try to find the joy in each and play more.
If the stress is too much to make this possible, perhaps a change is in order – although maybe not as drastic as a move to Alaska.