Tales From Winde Cotig [sic]: Play At Work

Version 2

These are dark times. The world seems to have gone crazier than ever. Senseless horror is a daily occurrence; dangerous men stalk the earth, looking for innocent prey.

No wonder, then, in the midst of all this terror, this new dark age, we’re turning to our children to shed some light for us.

Channel4 have been truly enlightened in seizing on this, with both Gogglesprogs and their Secret Lives Of…series (which, if you are able to watch, I highly recommend you do).

Watching children comment on the world as it is presented to them on Gogglesprogs, or navigate the world as they find it on The Secret Lives Of Brothers And Sisters, we can’t fail to be reminded of our innate better selves. 

Their sense of fairness. Their kindness. Their quickness to apologise for hasty actions or mean words. Their resilience and will. This they all share. They wobble, of course they do, but they soon come back to a universal sense of decency, of doing the right thing.

Where does it go? How do so many of us lose the gifts we were given so long ago? Why, as our brains develop, do our hearts contract? Children’s brains have far less capacity for empathy than adult ones, so, at the risk of sounding like Barbra Streisand, why do we end up acting more like children than children – and so much crueller?

In treacherous times, it doesn’t hurt to be a little sentimental. In fact, it’s a perfectly fine survival mechanism.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with many children in my life – my nephews, my godchildren, and their siblings – so I’ve been given a constant reminder of the wondrousness of being human. I’m sure it’s the reason I’m ultimately an optimist.

Winde Cotig [sic – Windy Cottage] opened at the start of the summer holidays two weeks ago and has been open for business every morning since. It serves a wide variety of plastic, wooden and fabric breakfast and lunch items (including a picnic basket option) – usually served in very quick succession – and provides menus, table service and a bill at the end of your repast (where you are taken to the till and handed a fat plastic credit card to swipe).

Run by my five-year-old goddaughter A– and her eight-year-old sister C–, I was lucky enough, last weekend, to be treated to three visits to Winde Cotig during my stay, and was amazed at the efficiency of the operation each time.

I was reminded of this Alain de Botton quote from The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (something else I’d highly recommend):

Long before we ever earned any money, we were aware of the necessity of keeping busy: we knew the satisfaction of stacking bricks, pouring water into and out of containers and moving sand from one pit to another, untroubled by the greater purpose of our actions.

A– and C– are certainly aware of the necessity of keeping busy, and there they are, each morning in their little wooden Wendy House, organising, planning, preparing, utilising their creativity and inventiveness, their developing numeracy and literacy skills – not to mention their performance skills – all work, in its way, and all self-induced.

And magical.

But if industry is hard-wired into us, it can also be disconnected – through depression, disengagement, dishonesty, disinclination or simple disinterest.

I wonder how many people suffer from boredom at work. Real boredom. I’m sure everyone suffers from some level of boredom at work; all work has its boring aspects.

In the main, I’d think these were fleeting hours of boredom: putting together a nasty report or attending a tedious meeting; a long journey with a dull colleague; a dead afternoon in the shop. Sporadic in frequency. Noticeable because of their infrequency (most people I know feel they barely have time to breathe at work, let alone get bored).

Deep-rooted, existentially-edged boredom at work is something else, mostly depression I would think. But whether the workplace is catalyst or incubator, boredom (probably even more than workplace warfare – where at least one might be engaged with the action if nothing else) is surely one of the worst of our possible cages.

Breaking free can be an epic feat akin to Tim Robbins’s escape in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s hard to chip away at the walls we, or circumstance, put in our way. And there’s a lot of sewage to wade through when job-hunting.

Often that’s why bored people stay where they are, worried they’ll just step out of one type of cage and into another (the old ‘better the devil you know’ philosophy). But that’s a devilishly destructive, not to mention wasteful, way to live.

If you’ve found yourself in the cage of chronic boredom, your best advice is to take time out to go right back to the beginning.

Get a blank page. A big one. Map your journey through education and work. Go as far back as you can remember, even as far as your own version of Winde Cotig, when you played at work, making work feel like play.

Look for patterns. What did you look forward to doing? When did it work, feel right; make you energised, bring out the best in you? Who inspired you, helped you, made you feel confident in your abilities?

How are you wired? What kind of people, activities, ideas or discussions, amplify you? What obsesses you? What are you really good at (honestly really good at – you’ve got to be really honest with yourself, otherwise it just won’t work at all)?

Putting it down on paper in front of you definitely helps. It allows you to step back a little in order to see yourself, and, in seeing the bigger picture, maybe start to see the bigger you. 

I’m not a big believer in formulas, but, having observed and interviewed hundreds (possibly thousands), of people at work over two decades, I think the formula for Work Happy goes something like this:

Wiring + Passion + Skill (- Conditioning) = Work Happy

If you’ve found yourself in a rut, taking your conditioning out of the equation might be the healthiest thing of all to do. Go back to who you are and what you’re about (not what anyone told you you are or should be about).

At any age, we can adapt, reinvent, reconfigure our lives (sometimes with a bit of work, sometimes with a hell of a lot).

But that’s another amazing thing about being human. It’s never too late. We can rediscover the joys of Winde Cotig: chuck in the C-Suite, open a café; find our natural habitat.

And, when you find your natural habitat, that’s when you really can play at work – and love what you do.

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