Welcome to the first in a weekly series of Monday Mama Muse posts, a weekly post designed to help mothers to start their week in their right mind, that is their creative, playful, source of energy right mind.
I’ve been wanting to write these weekly posts for the longest time now but my tendency toward procrastination or, to give myself the benefit of the doubt, my tendency toward perfectionism stopped me. There were so many ideas/themes/thoughts whirling around my brain that I wasn’t sure where to start. What was the most useful nugget that I had to share?
As I thought about this, I pondered upon what I had found most helpful in my own life during the past year or so.
I turned 40 in March 2008 and have lived much more purposefully since that time. Turning 40 felt like a big deal to me. When I heard that 50 was the new 40, the procrastinator in me almost carried on living aimlessly but, as I watched my children watching me, I decided that enough was enough.
Enough of talking a big game. Time to walk the walk. So, what would that look like?
I am fitting many many lives into this one 24/7 existence of mine: Mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, coach, writer & performer, studio owner
I was becoming depleted from trying to juggle so many different responsibilities, roles and tasks. Some of the roles that were less meaningful to me were taking up the majority of my time. The impact of this was taking a significant toll on my physical and emotional well-being. I wasn’t modeling a life well-lived for my children and that bothered me. Deeply.
When I turned 40, I decided that I wanted to figure out – once and for all – what it was that I really wanted to do with this “one wild and precious life” of mine. What was my purpose? That thing that I was born to do. The body of work that I was perfectly equipped to do with my unique set of passions, desires, talents and natural instincts.
I started doing stand up comedy when I was pregnant with my now 10 year old daughter. I never pursued it completely seriously. Much as I loved writing the material and I enjoyed the time on stage, there was something that felt dissatisfying about it. I knew that it was significant to what I wanted to do with my life but that it wasn’t quite “it”. I started coaching six years ago and found that it was incredibly satisfying but, again, not completely “it”.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that there’s necessarily just ONE THING that we’re supposed do with our lives. I no longer expect to hear James Earl Jones’ voice proclaiming my life purpose. I believe that we each have a “body of work” to do and that our satisfaction is at its height when we are actively pursuing that body of work. I wanted to figure out how I could create a life that allowed me to be both a comedian and a coach in a way that would be truly satisfying.
As a voracious reader, one of the books I stumbled upon during 2009 was a book called “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown. I highly recommend this book, especially for parents.
In Chapter One of the book, Brown states:
“Of all animal species, humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play. When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality.”
He further states that:
“There is a kind of magic in play. What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of “nonproductive” activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life. When an activity speaks to one’s deepest truth, … , it is a catalyst, enlivening everything else.”
He concludes Chapter One by stating:
“Ultimately, this book is about understanding the role of play and using it to find and express our own core truths. It is about learning to harness a force that has been built into us through million years of evolution, a force that allows us to both discover our most essential selves and enlarge our world. We are designed to find fulfillment and creative growth through play.”
In the book, Brown talks about play personalities. This was HUGE for me. This one concept both transformed and informed my life. It gave me a point of reference to look at all the different things I was doing in my life and to see if they fitted with my play personality. If they didn’t, was there a way of infusing those activities with my play personality and thereby make them more satisfying? If that wasn’t possible, how could I eliminate (or, at least, reduce) those activities from my life?
The eight different play personalities are:
The Joker: a joker’s play always revolves around some kind of nonsense. Think practical joker or class clown. Think George Clooney or Matt Damon.
The Kinesthete: kinesthetes are people who like to move, who – in the words of Sir Ken Robinson – “need to move in order to think.” This category includes athletes but also those who find themselves happiest moving as part of dance, swimming or walking.
The Explorer: each of us started our lives by exploring the world around us. Some people never lose their enthusiasm for it. Think Richard Branson or Jane Goodall. Exploring can be physical, emotional or mental.
The Competitor: competitors are people who break through into the euphoria and creativity of play by enjoying a competitive game with specific rules, and enjoys playing to win.
The Director: directors enjoy planning and executing scenes and events. Brown gives examples as Oprah Winfrey and the Barefoot Contessa chef Ina Garten.
The Collector: the thrill of play for the collector is to have and to hold the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects or experiences.
The Artist/Creator: for the artist/creator, joy is found in making things.
My dominant play personality is “storyteller”. Writing and performing stand up comedy satisfies that play personality very strongly but I felt like there were stories I wanted to tell that weren’t necessarily 100% funny. I started to think about writing a one woman show and found a writing class at The People’s Improv Theater in New York that was for people who wanted to create solo shows. This weekly class energized me for the rest of the week.
Discovering my play personality also impacted the other work I was doing and also my role as a mother.
In my work life, I coach and I run a studio. I am absolutely in my element and in my storytelling play personality when coaching. I’m listening for negative stories my clients are telling themselves. I’m helping them to write new stories that will lead them toward a much more satisfying life. I’m sharing stories of my own life when that seems helpful to the work we’re doing together. This work fits my play personality perfectly.
Running the studio has been the part of my life that felt like it was draining me physically and emotionally. I started to wonder how I could bring my storytelling personality into that work. As I looked at the play personalities, I realized that there is also a part of me that fits the artist/creator play personality. The part of the studio I love is creating new classes. I especially love creating classes for young children who already love to tell and hear stories. This feels very satisfying to me. I’m gradually finding people to help me with the studio work that doesn’t satisfy my play personalities to free up my time to concentrate on coaching and writing.
One area of my life that was transformed by the discovery of play personalities was my relationship with my children. Bringing my storytelling personality into our relationship has been SO satisfying. As Martha Beck states in her book, “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the life you were meant to live”, your children are genetically predisposed to enjoy some of the same things as you enjoy. My children love being told stories and have shown an instinctive talent for telling stories. We’ve added a new twist to our night time stories. My three children now improvise a story together. One of them will start the story with a sentence or two. The second one will add a couple of sentences. The third one will then add their personal twist to the story. The first time we did this, I expected my 10 and 8 year olds to get the idea but I thought my 3 year old might not “get it”. How wrong I was. He was hilariously inventive in the things that he added to the story and completely got the idea of what the three of them were creating. It has become such a fun and precious part of our day.
Last year, my oldest daughter, Eva, turned 10 years old. I was already taking the writing class by then. It was with an author called Jen Nails who had written a book called “Next to Mexico” for Eva’s age group. I found out that Jen was going to be performing the one woman show that had inspired the book the weekend of Eva’s 10th birthday. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate Eva’s first decade. Eva LOVED the show, laughing out loud in all the right places. As we left the theater, she said “I want to do that when I grow up.” In my head, I heard my own little girl voice say, “Yeah, me too.”
After the show, we went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. As Eva enjoyed her very first Virgin Margarita, I tempted myself to a positively slutty one!
So, how can YOU start this week in your right mind?
Take a moment to read through the list of the 8 main play personalities above. Does one resonate with you?
Think about all the different things you are doing in your life and all the different roles you are playing. How can you bring your play personality to the different parts of your life? If there are things you are doing that really drain you, is there a way of bringing your play personality to those activities? If not, is there a creative way to eliminate or at least reduce them? Email your thoughts, comments, and challenges to me or post them in the “comments” section below. I’d love to hear how discovering your play personality changes your life.
Next week, I’m going to talk about something I’ve discovered after ten years of being a mother and almost 42 years of being a daughter. “Just Bring Yourself” – it’s one of the first rules of Improv Comedy and a wonderful way to be the mother (and daughter) you were meant to be rather than the mother (and daughter) you think you should be!