On Mastery and Play


There is enormous beauty and value in mastering a skill. It shows us that with patience and persistence, we can do pretty much anything we want to. That doesn’t take much to prove, I mean, just look around- there are examples of it everywhere! From the seemingly simple task of learning how to walk to the stunning examples of deaf musician who can compose and play better than anyone I know. There is no denying the profound feeling of achievement and empowerment in seeing it happen and experiencing it for ourselves.

But have you ever noticed that as we get closer to our expectations of mastering something, the inspiration and motivation to keep it going starts to fade away? Its like as soon as we get carried away with our own expectations, social pressure and this need to get somewhere with it, we start loosing sight of why we chose to do it in the first place. How frustrating!

This is where play comes in.

Boredom is generally my cue that its time to take off the master’s hat and go back to exploration. Problem is, adult playtime is incredibly undermined and no one really tells you that maybe that’s all you really need. You start coming up with all kinds of excuses for why you’re stagnating, bored and can’t find inspiration. So instead of playing, we get into problem solving (Yeah, lets go from dull to duller- great idea!). But playing is not just for children and teens, it is not something people do because they have nothing better to take care of. I mean, sure...that helps. But the way I see it, playing is a human need. It is the gateway to tapping into our creative nature. It is the time we get to spend learning about all kinds of silly things we can do. It is the time we allow ourselves to make mistakes without being met with our own harsh judgements. It's about giving ourselves the opportunity to stumble upon completely random possibilities and be surprised.

Play is essential soul food, but we often dismiss it as immature and unsophisticated. We place rules on it as if it was an uncontrollable, troublesome child. We stifle it with all kinds of confines when its very nature is to break our conception of boundaries and barriers.

While persistence and repetition have their place, playing is the real source of creative inspiration- and there is an unlimited abundance of that stuff waiting for us to venture into its house of wonders!

To put it simply, playing is what makes the journey to mastery joyful, adding freshness and innovation to whatever we do. I could sit there and teach myself to paint like Renoir, but after awhile, what good would it be if there was nothing new in it to discover and explore. And what joy would it bring to an audience that’s seen it done before?

You want to tap into your very own source of inspiration? Start playing. Play for the sake of play. Play without an agenda and without expectations. Play out of curiosity. Play and forget why you’re even playing. Just play! 

Sarah El Sawi