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A few years ago, when my daughters were around three years old, we visited the Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. While we were wandering around, I read some quotes about play that really changed how I viewed both play and work. All play is pretend work. Seems obvious to me now, but somehow, I hadn't thought about it that way until then. It really was a lightbulb moment for me.
Play is kids pretending to build a house, pretending to bake a pie, pretending to hunt, pretending to fight. Structured games like soccer look very much like work: running around vigorously trying to kick a ball into a net. It's pretend work.
Since then I've come to view play as an essential component of human development and I've tried very hard to let my kids play as much as possible. I let them stay back after school and play with some friends of theirs for an hour and a half after school every day. They've played like this nearly every day since they started kindergarten almost two years ago. I've let them skip structured work like math worksheets or writing practice when I see them absorbed in something else. I have no doubt that this is the right thing to do. What they learn through play is essential and cannot be learned any other way.
This connection between work and play makes me wonder whether work, done properly, should feel like play. When our ancestors went out hunting and gathering, did they enjoy it? Maybe. I know some people who do enjoy their work. It seems to happen when they have enough space to do their job without being micro-managed, and they feel that what they do matters and is appreciated.
But the vast majority of people don't seem to like their work. Why is that? If we enjoy pretend work and actively seek it out, why don't we enjoy real work? Is it because our jobs are so badly designed that what we naturally enjoy becomes distasteful?
Author of Economics: The Remarkable Story of How the Economy Works