Before I jump into the post, please know that when I refer to work, I do not only mean paying jobs, but any role that keeps you occupied throughout the day.
I found the sticker in a tiny basement bookstore in Taiwan, a few years ago, while I was a preschool teacher in Taipei. Here’s an important thing to know about me: I am not a preschool teacher. But I had returned to Taipei to do research on theology of work, and getting that particular job was a great place to do my research, especially in light of the fact that teaching four-year-olds was not necessarily something I felt passionate about.
So, when I first bought the sticker, it really was to remind me that I needed to focus on that which I did love about my job: being in a position where I was able to unlock the world of reading and writing to a bunch of little ones, and to touch their lives through the way I interacted with them. That, I found very rewarding.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I had resigned from being a missionary in the boonies of Kenya for several reasons, one of which was to try and understand the challenges the majority of Christians face in the workplace. One visitor to Kenya (let’s call her Annie) once told me, “What you do [as a missionary] is meaningful, Adéle. What I do just pays the bills and helps me come on trips like these.”
I wanted desperately to help people like Annie understand that work didn’t simply have to be endured, and that all of us are called to serve God regardless of our job titles. I figured, though, that I couldn’t challenge others to embrace all of life and work as worship had I not recently worked in a “secular” environment. And so I left the village and moved back to Taipei (where I had worked at a media ministry for several years before), and ended up teaching preschoolers at a prestigious international school. The career shift was an eye-opener, to say the least. A year later, I took a similar assignment, this time in a Muslim context, in Jakarta.
Along the way, I learned about the concept of serious play from a former professor of mine, and once I tossed my preschool teacher hat, I ended up interviewing almost 30 people from various walks and seasons of life and from several countries who LOVED life and work, and called them serious players. I also found some people who didn’t love their jobs, and called them reluctant workers.
A serious player, I concluded, is someone who is able to say at the end of the week, “I enjoy life. I like what I do—at work and in life—a good eighty percent of the time? But life’s not only good for me, I get to make a difference in my community.”
Serious play is a lifestyle based upon the assumption that the majority of an individual’s time—both in the workplace and in life—is not only spent doing what you are naturally gifted to do (using your skills or aptitude) but also doing what you love to do (your passion or burden) so that work is enjoyable and thus becomes play. And if what you do has significance (it has purpose or is meaningful), it is considered serious.
You can also look at this as working with your mind and your strength, with your heart and with your soul.
When you’re able to do this, work becomes worship,
and you are able to say “I love my job,”
because you’re doing what God
had uniquely created and positioned you to do.
What’s more, you are able to use the talents God had given you in such a way that opens a door for you to “enter into the Master’s joy” (Mt. 25:21). What’s not to love about that?
Serious players, I had found, tend to have the following characteristics.
- They are energized and have an energizing effect on their environment.
- They are psychologically self-employed.
- Serious players have what they need—and perhaps a little more.
- They have high self-esteem.
- Serious players are able to, and choose to, swim upstream or go against the tide.
- They live in the reality of positive, self-fulfilling prophesies so that good things keep happening to them.
- They do not allow one area to completely drain them but instead, by living integrated lives, allow different areas to synergize each other.
- They are willing to take calculated risks.
- They are successful in various fields.
- For serious players, work is a natural, enjoyable expression of self.
- They take time to invest in relationships.
So, how about you: Are you a serious player? What is it that you love about what you do?
If you’re a reluctant worker, what changes would you need to make in order for you to become a serious player and thus enter into the Master’s joy?
Adéle’s doctoral dissertation was devoted to the study of serious play, for which she interviewed serious players such as Kurt Warner, Mako Fujimaro and F.W. de Klerk as well as stay-at-home moms, struggling small-business owners, and successful business people—all serious players. Adéle has written a book on serious play and her goal is to get it published in the not-too-distant future.
Adele Booysen, challenging college students in Asia with Compassion International