What is work? What is play?

To have a vocabulary for the word ‘work’, it raises an awareness to the opposite: play. For this, we can pose some questions like: What differs work with those of not working? How can I say that some activities are work and some others are play? Why do I enjoy play more than work while both activities may consist similar actions? The answers to these might seem obvious to the common sense but, is there anything beyond the obvious?

To work means to do something of, or that creates, value. More bluntly put, to work is to earn money. However, using this definition for the word ‘play’ is also true. To play is also to do something that is valuable, i.e. fun. Even though how I articulate the ‘value’ between play and work might be quite different, here it seems that work has more derogatory meaning. I mean, un-fun. Work is also usually associated with an imposed external force, that something makes me have to do it. There is someone watching over my back, or there is something that I have to work for, therefore I have to work. Play, on the other hand, is voluntary, experimental, and exciting. But in most cases, play hardly makes money.

Play, on the other hand, is voluntary, experimental, and exciting. But in most cases, play hardly makes money.

Here is the catch: what if, I can have the best from both worlds. I am given the freedom to do what I want, I don’t have to show-up and work, there is no one watching over my back, it is up to me to do things that I like, to experiment, even to fail—and all these while still get paid in the end of the day. Is there anything like it on earth?

Plenty. Heck, in fact it could be anything that people play. The only difference is contained in one modifier word, ‘professional’. Pick any activity that is fun and put the word ‘professional’ before it. Professional gamer, for example. To be a gamer is fun, it is essentially playing. I would love to play games all the day. But when the word ‘professional’ is added, it means much more than just (amateur) gamers. And there is a price for that one qualifier word. To be professional demands discipline, persistence, and expertise. Malcolm Gladwell on his book “Outliers” describes it as a ten-thousand-hour rule where people has to pass through this threshold to master the doings and become an expert. Or Steven Pressfield’s book “Do the Work” where he emphasises that there is a big leap of attitude from an amateur to be a professional (I highly recommend you to read the book, it is short, to the point, and compelling).

Then, work has to mean something more than merely attaining economic interests. While it is true that money is crucial, but people need just enough to get the matter out of the table so they can focus on the work itself and given the freedom to play. At least for creative workers, what they need is time, space and tools to try something new, to fail, and to do creative works.