Work as Play


“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing
under differing conditions.”

- Mark Twain

During one of my coffee breaks whilst installing two new toilets in our house, I came across this quote.  These ‘breaks’ had been happening frequently, so the toilet refitting wasn’t happening quickly.  I wasn’t bothered about this; after all, I’m retired and can take my time doing things.

As I put the task of installing toilets out of my mind and turned to some activities I actually enjoyed, such as my writing and photography, the number of breaks increased and took longer  There is no doubt that I was considering the toilet escapade ‘work’ and my artistic efforts ‘play’.  Some might suggest that I was procrastinating.

Now, I was staring at this quote.  I had to stop and question if I believed it.

I pondered, thinking about my career before I retired and realised that during that period of my life I was lucky.  My work really was play.  I was having fun.  Yes, there were some bad times, but on the whole, I enjoyed what I did and where I did it.  Yet it was clear, this toilet ‘work’ was not fun.  Of course, I could have hired someone to do it, but initially it seemed so straightforward.  After all, I am an engineer, so, I thought, I can certainly figure out this toilet thing.

The first toilet installation went according to the book and I was done in a couple of hours.  That wasn’t play, but the result was satisfying.  However, the second one was a challenge and, as I write this short epistle, it still is.  Now I am ‘working’, but this is not ‘play’.

On one of those ‘breaks’ I talked about earlier, I scanned some other articles on this statement, Work as Play, to see what I could find.  I came up an excellent statement of division between the work we like and that other stuff—like the terrible second toilet.  From now on, that bit of work that I have to do but don’t find it can be covered by the word ‘play’, I will call ‘toil’.  Somehow, that works for me.  Toil evokes a boring, repetitive, and tough activity.

Isn’t it interesting how toil and toil-et seem to have the same root?  But I digress.

Anyway, in the future, that is how I’ll talk about that stuff that I would rather not do, but must: toil.

My enjoyable ‘work’ these days has to do with my art and writing.  I cringe, inside, when people say it is ‘so nice that you have a hobby’.  For me, it is work, but of the play type.

My thoughts go back to a time long ago when my older son, as a young teenager, used to regularly tell my wife and me that, “there isn’t enough time to play.”  It seems that he got it right.

Photos layout.001

WORK photo by Jim Foley