Rediscover Your Play With Jeff Harry
As we grow into this world, we are often taught that in order to succeed, we must live a life of all work and no play, forgetting our inner child in the process. As a result, many working individuals have found themselves unhappy and unfulfilled. In this episode, Corey Jahnke interviews Jeff Harry of Rediscover Your Play, where he shows individuals and companies how to tap into their true selves to feel their happiest and most fulfilled all by playing. Together, have a fun and open discussion about how to find your true self and to prepare for living your best life in a world with an uncertain future. Jeff is raw and real as he shares memories of failures and difficult times, and the lessons he has learned that help him help others find their true selves and live their best lives.
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Rediscover Your Play With Jeff Harry
Welcome back, Successful Thinkers. We’ve got another exciting episode. I’ve got a dude that’s going to talk to us about something that almost every single adult I talked to has forgotten how to do. We’ve got for you Jeff Harry. He is going to show us how to rediscover our play. Jeff shows individuals and companies how to tap into their true selves to feel their happiest and most fulfilled all by playing. Jeff has worked with Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon and Facebook helping their staff to infuse more play into the day-to-day. Jeff has got all the credentials. He’s an international speaker who has presented at conferences such as INBOUND, SXSW and Australia’s Pause Fest showing audiences how major issues in the workplace can be solved by using play. Jeff, welcome to the show. How is it going?
It’s going great. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited.
How did you get into the world of play and what are you going to teach us?
The way in which I got in the world of play is I saw the movie Big with Tom Hanks way back when.
I loved Tom Hanks. I’m old so that movie was when I was young.
For me as well. In that movie, he writes toy companies and I didn’t realize that I could work for a toy company. As soon as I finished watching that movie, I started writing toy companies. This was around fifth grade. I kept writing them all the way through high school because I wanted then to become a toy designer. I went to college to focus on engineering to become a toy designer, and then went to New York and started working for some toy companies. I was thinking it was going to be like Big where you’re just playing with toys all the time. It was none of that. It was horrible.
I went to New York around 2000. I remember sitting in a cubicle at a major toy company and 9/11 happens. I’m like, “What am I doing in this cubicle? I don’t want to die in this cubicle not playing.” I left that organization and kept looking for other toy companies that I could play. I couldn’t find it and I had a quarter-life crisis. That’s when I came across an organization where they were teaching kids engineering with Lego and it was just seven people. I found them on Craigslist. I helped them grow into the largest Lego stem educational program in the country. While I did that, I realized how we grew the business was we just played and tested things out.
We had no idea what we were doing. We had no business plan and we just picked cities we thought were fun. We hired people that were fun. We followed our curiosity. While we grew big, I started working with a lot of companies. I noticed when we were working with companies and helping their teams to play more, I realized that they love talking about creativity, collaboration, and innovation, but they didn’t want to talk about serious issues. It’s like an inner critic or that toxic person at the workplace or how do you create an inclusive work environment? I created a separate organization called Rediscover Your Play that was all about diving in and challenging people to ask the hard questions and then using play as the way to figure them out.
One of the things that I have done my whole pharmacy career, I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve gone and played with my customers. You have seen people that approach life that way. What is your impression of people who have more fun at work?When someone is in flow, they are crushing it, they're at ease, and they know who they are. Click To Tweet
They are able to fall into flow better, which is what the corporate term is for play that we use. People are always talking about, “I need someone to be more productive. I need someone to be this or that.” When someone is in flow, they are crushing it, they’re at ease, and they know who they are. They’re not trying to people please somebody else because they’re, as Gay Hendricks says, in their zone of genius and not their zone of greatness, which is what you’re good or great at. Your zone of genius where it’s like, “This is who I am and I’m being me.” That’s more powerful when you’re around someone like that because then it also gives permission for the other person to be like, “Maybe I can be myself too.”
When people are themselves and that free-flowing energy comes out, that’s what creates the great companies, don’t you think?
Yeah. There’s this quote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive,” because what the world needs is for more people to come alive. That is what you want at your organization. A play mentor of mine, Kevin Carroll, would always say, “Your future is where your fun is.” Any people and organizations that are having fun are more adaptable and more able to navigate uncertainty. That is where the future is because people are gravitating towards that.
I love the idea that you said, “That’s where the future is,” because as you and I are talking, there’s nothing but uncertainty?
Here’s the ironic part. There’s always been uncertainty. During COVID, if anything has lifted the veil to show that nobody knows what they’re doing and we’re just making it up as we go along. It’s a real struggle for a lot of people because people are like, “What’s the right way for me to handle the pandemic? What’s the right way in which for me to navigate this uncertainty?” You’re challenged to figure out what is the right way for you? How do you want to show up at this moment? How do you want to adapt to the fact that maybe you lost your job or you realize now that you’re not going to work?
You’re not at a job that you like anymore because you’re not connecting in that way. I have to ask myself harder questions like, “What’s important? Who’s important in my life?” People are struggling with uncertainty because they’re looking for guidance and somebody else to tell them what to do when frankly, they already have the answers within themselves. They just need to follow their play and follow their curiosity in order to figure those out.
What does that look like when you say follow your play?
What that looks like is first, getting bored. What I mean by that is cut down on the amount of Netflix binge-watching. Don’t get me wrong. I watch it as well and I love it but there’s only so much you can do. Get off social media for a little bit and get out in front of your TV. Get quiet and figure out how it is that you are able to listen to yourself. Is that you writing stuff down? Is that filming yourself? Get to a point where you can hear your own intuition and your own curiosity.
Get present in that if you need to meditate, go on a walk, play and throw a ball around, or whatever you need to do to get to that calm, soothing and relaxing place. Listen to that intuition and curiosity. It’s not going to be this loud, screaming like everything else that you hear, especially from social media. It will be this quiet voice in your head that’s like, “Write that blog. Make that video. Figure out how you want to leave this job so you can find the next job.” Listen to that quiet voice and see where it takes you because it probably is going to take you to an interesting fun place.
One of the things that people are always afraid of is, “Am I going to look silly? Am I going to look stupid? Am I going to make a major mistake?” Talk to those people for me.
First off, am I going to look silly? Am I going to look stupid? Yes, you will. Also, think of some of the people that have created the craziest inventions or the craziest ideas. A lot of people laughed at them at first. That’s part of the process. There’s this interesting video of a random dude dancing at a festival and people are mocking him. He stands for ten minutes straight by himself. He’s super alone and people are like, “Look how ridiculous this guy is.” Finally, one person comes over there because they’re like, “The guy is having fun though. I’m not having fun just sitting here mocking him so I’m going to go and start dancing with him.”
He started dancing with him and then someone else came over again to mock him, but also to dance. After a while of dancing with him, he’s like, “This is fun.” What you watch in the video, and it’s super short, all of a sudden, other people start showing up. Within three minutes, this guy is surrounded by 200 people. It all started with him first not caring what everyone else had to say. He’s following his own intuition, which was like, “I want to dance. I love to dance. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I look stupid.”
Other people mocked him and he ignored that. He kept doing his thing. Look at all the happiness and look at the amount of impact he was able to bring because he started this festival, which was crazy. That was happening. That’s the power that you can have when you’re willing to go through the embarrassment or the weirdness of like, “What if I make this TikTok video? Will people like it? Will people not like it?” It doesn’t matter because you’re making it for yourself as well, just follow and trust that.
You made me think of two specific incidents that had an impact on me. One of which was I went to a Brendon Burchard event down in California and he had this gentleman from Australia who was crushing it on the computer business or whatever. He says, “I can’t think of the last time somebody told me, ‘I stopped reading this blog because I didn’t like the font or I didn’t like the header and all of that.’” I said, “Stop obsessing about the stupid little details that no one cares about and put your voice out there.”
I’m going to share this quote on my Instagram. It was from Andy Warhol. He said, “Don’t think about making art. Just get it done.” Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art. Because it doesn’t matter what they think anyway. I’ve been making all these videos and people are like, “I love these videos.” I’m like, “I’m not making those videos for you. I’m making them for myself.” If you enjoy them, great. That’s awesome. A lot of times, when we’re able to create stuff for us, it’s because it makes us feel good and not only gives permission for everyone else to be like, “Maybe I’m going to create something too.” It also helps us to ground ourselves and understand more of following our own voice and inner child. That is where we’re trying to figure out anyway. That’s the super-powerful place where a lot of the answers lie.
The other thing it reminded me of was when I first read a Seth Godin book. Seth is a world-famous marketer if you don’t know who he is. He said, “The only way to have a great idea is to be willing to have lots of bad ideas and put them out in front of people.” I love the way you discussed this. “It doesn’t matter what they think anyway.” Let’s go into that a little bit because we’re not talking about, “Screw the world.” What we’re talking about when you say that is a specific kind, which is that no matter what you do, you’re not going to reach everyone.
That’s not the point. The point is to create what you feel compelled to do and by doing that, you will attract the people that would resonate with you anyway. Sometimes when I make videos, they get popular, and then there are a lot of comments on it. I’m like, “Let me look at this.” I realize sometimes they’re not commenting on my work. They’re just arguing with each other. It’s almost like my art isn’t even my art after I make it. I put it out there and then it’s done. It’s for whatever people want to experience with that.
My friend, Gary Ware, and I created a workshop called How to Deal with Toxic People at Work Through Play, also known as How to Deal with the A-Hole at Work Through Play. We put it out there and many people wanted to do it and many conferences wanted to have it, but it didn’t attract everyone. A lot of people still weren’t vibing with it. They’re swearing on that workshop. It’s not for everybody, but for the people that it was for. They loved it and they were fully into it. That’s what you’re doing. You’re creating stuff for yourself and then seeing what reaction you get back. If you get a reaction, great, and if you don’t, still do it because it makes you feel good.Any people and organizations that are having fun are more adaptable and more able to navigate uncertainty. Click To Tweet
If Salvador Dalí, for example, worried about the world taking him on a permanent acid trip, we would be cheated out of amazing, immense art.
There’s a meme that went out where it showed one of the painters, maybe it was Pablo Picasso. He was feeling bad because he’s like, “I haven’t made anything in three years.” Now it shows some social media influencer being like, “I haven’t posted something in an hour.” The context of thinking we have to constantly be creating perfection all the time is absurd.
My son and I love the movie, Vincent, about Vincent van Gogh. He didn’t sell anything his entire life and now, he is the most sold painter in American history for sure. It says that your art is only the context that it’s based on. I love what Dr. Phil said about this topic, and a lot of people have said it, “If people knew how little other people thought about them, they would be offended.”
A lot of times, we are obsessed with people-pleasing. I was telling a friend of mine who was struggling to write her book, “Most people are not going to read this book.” I was like, “That’s not to be offensive. There are 7.5 billion people in the world. Even if you sold 30,000 or 40,000 books, that’s not a lot of people that are going to read your book. That’s a lot of people that are still reading your book.” A lot of times, we overthink it. Let me explain why it is this way because you might be beating yourself up like, “I know I should follow my intuition. I know I should follow my inner child, but I don’t know why and I suck because of it.”
There’s a main reason why this happened. When you were born, you were told no. You were told no so much that by the age of fourteen, most people have heard 40,000 noes and maybe around 7,000 yeses. That was a study they did. In addition to all those noes you get from your parents, you go to school where you’re told to raise your hand, you have to ask permission, and there’s a certain way in which you can excel and the only way is to get good grades. You’re told all these shoulds on top of the noes all the way through your educational career.
You get to the workforce where more people are telling you more shoulds and more noes. It’s almost such a rebellious revolutionary act for you to be yourself because a lot of times, anytime you wanted to express yourself, it was looked at as being mischievous. It was like, “You’re being too much right now. Stop being too much.” To be able to challenge yourself to go against those societal pressures and to listen to your intuition is difficult but if you’re able to do it, you’re able to liberate yourself and then also liberate others.
The big key is to liberate others. I had a coaching client once. He was talking about, “What if I write this book and no one likes it?” I said, “I’ll guarantee you that no one will like your book but at the same time, there are a lot of people who need your book.” This man was a Muslim who was married to an Irish Catholic and they had gone through some serious problems. Even to the point where his parents wouldn’t visit his house and they lived across the parking lot. I said, “People need this book.” It’s not even about like. It’s about how this could change people’s lives. You’re cheating all of these people out of the opportunity to learn from what you and your wife went through.
I say that at the end of a lot of my talks where I say, “There’s somebody waiting for you to show up because they need you in order to show up themselves.” I think of this guy’s book and being like, “Someone’s going to read this,” and be like, “I can do it. I didn’t know I could before, but now I have an example of someone else taking that risk and surviving. Now, maybe I can do that.”
If I’m sitting at a presentation or a workshop that you’re giving, what can I expect? What am I looking at?
It depends on which workshop you’re doing. Say, for example, I’m running a workshop on How To Play With Your Inner Critic. All of that is about us exploring what your inner critic is saying and what does that mean voice say to you all the time. “You’re a loser. You’ll never accomplish anything. You’re full of BS. You’ll never get another job. You’ll always be single,” or whatever mean thing that that inner critic is saying. In that workshop and talk, I have people figure out what does that voice sounds like? What does that voice look like? Is there a character to that? We name your inner critic. In my workshops, we have people act out their inner critic to see how absurd it sounds.
If I was running a workshop with my friend Gary about How to Deal with the A-Hole at Work Through Play, we put people through play experiences where they have to address the a-hole as well as act like that toxic person, so they know what it feels like to be in that person’s situation. If I’m running my talk about Your Future Is Where Your Fun Is, it’s all about identifying your child core values or play core values, and how those core values should work. They are connected to the work that you should be doing now. If you can identify what you love to do as a kid and what were the values that you love to do as a kid, those are important for you to incorporate that into your work and into your life now.
I admire your work because one of the things that I do as a pharmacist is I’m not professional. In fact, I pride myself on the fact that I’m probably the least professional pharmacist you’ll ever meet. My goal is to be approachable. My goal is, whether you’re 18, 88, a millionaire, or poverty-stricken, to feel like you could walk up and talk to me. Sometimes, yes, we have crossed the line and made the wrong joke at the wrong time and had to stand there and go, “That wasn’t good. Let’s make another joke.” It will work out. What about that a-hole that you have to work with? Everybody feels like it’s always the other person. Let’s talk about that.
I’ll answer that but let me first respond to the pharmacy thing because that resonates with me so much. My dad was a cardiologist before he passed away in 2015. He had so much fun at his job and was approachable just like you that it put people at ease enough to share even more with him so that he could take care of them better. I’m sure you see that as well. His job was better because he was fully present in it. The other thing that we have to think about is when you are fully present at your work or whatever it is that you’re doing and you’re playing and enjoying it, that then gives people the opportunity to have more of a connection to you. You can help them even more so that’s vital.
Responding to the a-hole at work, there are a lot of different approaches to responding to that individual because a lot of times, we’d rather complain about it than address it directly. We need to address this directly. Some of the ways in which we encourage people to address it is let’s say that a-hole talks so much at a meeting. They are always talking 80% of the meeting. One of the first approaches we suggest is that you work with the other people that are part of that meeting and you’re like, “We’ve got to claim more of that space at that meeting. We have to get each other’s back.” If he cuts you off, then it will be like, “Hold on, Chad. Can we let Denise finish?” The first thing is setting those boundaries and that’s the initial way.
Second is addressing that person directly. A lot of people that are toxic don’t realize how toxic they are. Going into Chad’s office, because some people are like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” If you feel you can go up to him being like, “When you cut off Denise or said that was a bad idea, not only are you communicating to her that she shouldn’t share, but you’re also communicating to all of us that we shouldn’t share too. Is that your intent? I want to be clear about what your intent is. I don’t want to attack you, but I want to know.” They might be like, “I didn’t realize that.” Others might be like, “She had a bad idea.”
You have to deal with it on a higher level. You approach their boss and you’re like, “Do you want to keep Chad on this team because Chad has already caused Denise and other people to quit? Does that represent the values of this organization? Does that represent the core values? Because if it does, then I should go as well.” Simon Sinek, the Start With Why guy, talked about how we interviewed the Navy SEALs and they will pick the team over the brilliant jerk any day. Regardless of how much money the brilliant jerk is bringing in, how athletic, how amazing they are, and how they can save everyone else.
That brilliant jerk causes so much toxicity in the team that it will destroy the team, thus destroying the organization. If you keep the a-hole, you’re going to be surrounded by a-holes and your company will eventually deteriorate. The final stage that we also talked to people about is addressing that inner a-hole or that inner critic because you have to identify like, “Why does that person trigger me? Is it because I believe what they have to say? I believe I’m stupid when they tell me I’m stupid?”
Once you’re able to address that inner critic and you’re like, “Whatever he’s saying is not true,” next time Chad says something super insulting to you, you could be like, “Chad, don’t ever talk to me that way. I don’t tolerate that anymore.” When you say that, not only do you set the boundary for that person, but you also give bravery for everybody else to also speak up against Chad. Chad has a choice. Does he stay at the organization and shut up or does he leave because this is not a situation where he can bully people anymore? Those are many of the ways you can do it.The brilliant jerk that causes so much toxicity in the team will destroy the team and, thus, destroying the organization. Click To Tweet
I was thinking about the bullyism culture that we have in our country and I was thinking about family dynamics at the same time. You caused me to remember when my wife and I were first together, there was a thing that happened and she started screaming at me. I looked at her and I said, “We don’t scream.” She’s like, “What are you talking about? That’s the only way anyone can hear you.” I was like, “What do you mean?” We unpacked it a little bit. She’s from a family of 9 and I’m from a family of 5. I was the oldest boy so I could always just stomp on my brothers if I wanted. She was near the youngest. What you find is that everyone has developed some skillset. The thing that she does because of her big family is she eats like someone’s going to steal her food because someone was going to steal her food. I like the idea that maybe Chad doesn’t know how he comes across. We also should be asking ourselves, “How do I come across?”
There’s something else that you tap into that resonates with me. It reminds me of what my play mentor, Gwen Gordon, has said, “People aren’t able to play until they learn how to soothe themselves.” You can’t play if you’re in a scared or angry state. The way in which you learn how to soothe yourself, you adopt that from the person that took care of you the most. You almost adopt their nervous system because you adopt their coping mechanisms. That’s how they cope, that’s how you learn to cope.
For a lot of people, in order to play and free themselves, they first have to identify, “What are the ways in which I can calm myself? What are the ways in which I did it that weren’t unhealthy in the past?” For example, screaming to get attention. “That doesn’t work for me anymore. Do I need to do that? I did that when I was seven but should I be applying this now that I’m in my 30s and 40s?” No, probably not. How do I want to show up and how do I want to take care of myself so that I’m in a calm rooted place so that I can create and follow my curiosity? That’s a question definitely worth exploring if you want to know how to play.
It reminds me of an offshoot of mindfulness. Tell me how you feel about that.
I studied a lot of positive psychology and a lot of positive psychology is about awareness. Positive psychology is not about being happy all the time. It’s about identifying whatever emotions are coming at you and fully embracing those multiple ones at the same time because you can hold joy and sadness at the same time. I realized that when I was at my dad’s funeral surrounded by family. I was like, “I’m joyful that I’m surrounded by all these people and sad my dad died.” Your mind is complex so you should embrace all of those feelings at the same time. Listen to your intuition when it comes at you that way.
Just simply being aware of, “Why am I angry right now?” “I’m in flow. What were the reasons why I was in flow?” “I’m excited. Why am I excited?” “I’m sad. What are the aspects of why I’m sad?” Being aware and catching yourself like, “Why am I feeling bad about myself right now? For the last hour, I’ve been telling myself how crappy I am.” I read that most actual thoughts last between 9 seconds and maybe 45 seconds. What we do is we love to replay the thought over and over again.
When you’re like, “I had such a bad day.” No, you didn’t have such a bad day. You had 1,000 bad thoughts that you kept playing over and over in your head based off of one incident that you had. That might have been bad. Your whole day wasn’t bad, but you framed the day as being bad. The same way, you could ask yourself this question which, my friend, Desiree, taught me. You could ask yourself when something good happens, “How can it get any better than this?” By simply asking that question, you’re framing your mind to look for patterns of positive outcomes.
All of a sudden, you start to see more like, “I’m doing this amazing podcast. How can it get any better than this?” “I get to meet this cool person. How can it get any better than this? Maybe they’ll introduce me to someone else. This is awesome.” “I get to see my friends later. How can it get any better than this?” You follow that momentum and that’s when you fall into flow and that’s when things start working out for you. We all know this feeling because we do this when we travel. We say yes to everything and it creates this amazing adventure that we never thought we would have if we didn’t embrace it fully.
Brian Tracy said this, “Unsuccessful people ask what if it doesn’t work? Successful people ask what if it does?” What you did there was fun for me because you talk about reframing. One of the tenets of The Successful Thinker book when I wrote it was that you can reframe any story to find the positive in it. Maybe give me an example of a time where you had to turn yourself around.
This was harsh. I invested in a cafe and it’s a horrible idea. I knew nothing about cafes, but I invested in a cafe. I lost so much money. It’s the most amount of money that I ever made and I lost it all. When I left that, I thought, “The world was going to come to an end,” but instead, what happened was I realized that I survived. After that, I was like, “I survived that and I’m still around. Why don’t I start reaching out to companies and creating new workshops for them based off of play?” I made it up. I made at the time this whole separate wing that became our corporate team building play special events program.
It was because I didn’t care anymore about failing. I was like, “I failed badly that all this other failing can’t be that bad.” From there, I had the audacity to reach out to anyone. I remember I was watching a Marvel movie once and I saw the VP of creative direction at Marvel or whatever it said. I was like, “I’m going to reach out to the person right now.” I did. I found him on LinkedIn and connected with that person and then started doing things. It’s the boldness that I got from failing badly that gave me the bravery to take more risks.
You faced the end of the world like a Marvel movie.
Here’s the ironic part. It wasn’t that bad. I did a talk about death with two friends of mine. We talked about how when someone is willing to truly embrace death and understand it, that is when they understand life. If you think of Chadwick Boseman who is Black Panther, he got cancer during 3 or maybe 4 of the Marvel movies, as well as another movie and he was visiting cancer wards. Every acting performance that he did, he did it as if it might have been his last. He was fully present. I always wondered, “Why is this guy such a great actor?”
It was because he was like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow so I’m going to be fully present today.” By embracing the fact that he might not be around, he was able to truly live. I feel like a lot of times, we’re in that mass state where we’re like, “I don’t know if I want to take a risk.” A lot of people are scared of what might happen if they are successful, but being able to embrace that fully and owning your nerdy, imperfect, weird self is a huge rebellious act that will make you feel more rooted in your purpose.
Thank you for sharing that story. It’s funny when you have a painful story, many people try to hold on to it. It’s not painful if you can make some good out of it or share it with someone else who can benefit. I’ve sat there alone with myself saying, “What was wrong with you?” Yet, that second thought, that’s the one that says, “We got by that. Let’s try again.” How does that quote go, Jeff, where he says, “Failure is how to begin again more intelligently?”
What I want to underscore here is that Jeff is a successful, handsome and super intelligent dude. He stood here and told you, “I fell on my face and it wasn’t that bad.” I personally, December 27, 2019, called into an office and fired. What happened? I had worried about being fired from that job for months and I felt better by the time I got to my car. Now I have the best job I’ve ever had where I get to be a pharmacy manager, run around this pharmacy, play with the customers, and everything. It wouldn’t have happened had I not had to visit that office in December.
One of the things that we talk about in The Successful Thinker is that there’s this thing called the Law of the Agenda, which is the universe throws something at you and you choose. No one else can choose for Jeff Harry how he’s going to respond, only Jeff can. Readers, ask yourself, “What have I been responding to in a non-playful way when maybe I could learn from Jeff how do you play more?” Jeff, tell me about someone else that you’ve helped reframe their life and it’s made a difference to you personally.
I’m thinking of two of my coaching clients. One of them wanted to become a speaker, but she has never spoken before. She was like, “I don’t even know where to start. I can’t do this.” Over a two-month span, as we were building up for her to speak in front of hundreds of people, we tried to tap back into what she has been scared about in the past that she was able to overcome, and that was travel. She used to not be able to travel. She was scared about traveling. When she did travel, she would have these whole itineraries. As she traveled more and took more risks and was willing to talk to random strangers, then she was able to have these crazy adventures. She realized that she didn’t need an agenda. She could buy a one-way ticket and she could travel anywhere.It's the boldness that you get from failing badly that will give you the bravery to take more risks. Click To Tweet
We took that same frame of mind, that travel-oriented and play-oriented process, and then did the same thing with her speaking where we had her first speak in front of me then speak in front of a couple of her friends, and then we brought more people. Each time, we added more people and we took more risks with each one that by the time it came for her to present, she was like, “I got this. I have this. I’m ready for this,” because she felt empowered and she felt rooted in her own purpose. That’s the help that I want to provide. I’m running a lot of workshops. When we ran How to Deal with Toxicity in the Workplace workshop in Australia, there were people that were crying and they were laughing.
The reason why they were doing that is because they always thought they were alone. They were the only ones that quit a job because of a person when 7 out of 10 people quit jobs because of a person. It was in The Ohana Way Book as well. Having people show up not only then gives permission for people to be like, “I can do that too,” but it also tells people like, “I’m not alone.” Especially during COVID times, I feel like a lot of people think they’re alone and they’re the only one suffering.
“It seems like everyone else is good at Zoom calls and has the perfect Zoom background and is still being productive,” when none of us are. We’re all not being productive and it’s okay. This is such a crazy, chaotic time. This hasn’t happened in over 100 years, so why do we believe that we can be as productive as we’ve always been? Let’s have more compassion for ourselves and for others during this process. By having that compassion, maybe then you’ll be able to come and soothe yourself enough so that you can play more.
You described something that we almost missed. You described that learning to play and learning to overcome fear are learnable skills. A lot of people think, “I’m not playful. I don’t know how to play. I don’t know how to overcome fear.” I admire the way you set that up. People, baby steps. My friend Darren Hardy says, “You don’t have to climb the whole staircase. You just have to take the next step.”
Sometimes, you already are playing. I remember once working with a lawyer and the lawyer was like, “I don’t play enough.” I was like, “What do you do?” She goes, “I help mediate and bring people together that hate each other, and then I get them to agree.” I was like, “How do you do that?” She started explaining the whole process and I was like, “That’s playful. You are solving a tough issue, but you’re doing it in a creative way.”
What I love to tell people of the way in which I define play is anything you do that brings you joy, where you’re not focused on the result. You don’t have regrets about the past and you don’t have anxiety about the future. You’re fully in the moment and you’ll know it because you’ll forget about time when you’re doing that. That’s different for everyone. Whether that’s drawing, talking to people, making videos, writing or whatever it is that you’re doing, you’re fully there.
You love to do it for the process. You fall in love with the process. I encourage people to explore when was the last time you did that? Do more of that. That’s not watching somebody. That’s not like, “I forget about time when I’m binge-watching Netflix.” That’s not proactive as much. That’s more of you watching someone else play, but when are you creating something yourself where you’re fully present and you’ve let go of the result?
It’s the result’s focused mind that traps you.
Expectations are the thief of joy. If you think of why most people are depressed or disappointed is because they thought 2020 was supposed to be a certain way and it’s not. They haven’t gotten over that and they haven’t let go of what they thought 2020 was going to be. Once you’re able to let go of all of those dreams or whatever it is that you thought you were going to accomplish for now, not forever, that’s when you’re going to be able to create something special.
You brought up an interesting problem that most people have, which is this business of falling in love with a future that hasn’t happened yet. We planned a trip and then it’s ruined because one minor thing goes wrong. I love how you’re talking about, “Let’s not get attached to the results. Let’s not even buy a roundtrip ticket. Let’s buy a one-way ticket and figure out where life takes us.”
Allow yourself to feel the emotions. What we do in our workshop is we have people write down all the things that they wanted to do in 2020 and then we have them fold that paper up and throw it like a paper airplane. They can pick that paper airplane later on and take those but right now, allow yourself to mourn the fact that you couldn’t go on that trip or you didn’t get married or this was your year and now it isn’t your year. Mourn that and allow yourself to feel those feelings fully, and then let it go.
As long as you keep holding on to it being like, “It still is going to happen. It’s going to happen exactly how I thought,” you’re ignoring all of the other possibilities that you can have when you get in a state of play and a state of flow. They talk about this a lot in positive psychology. Your mind starts to see many more opportunities when you’re in a flow state because you’re not fixated on specific results. You’re in the process and seeing all the various streams of consciousness you can go down. That is where all of the fun, playful ideas lie.
How many Salvador Dali paintings are in the garbage that we never got to see but because he was able to let those go, we can see the ones we see. Successful Thinkers, when you are negotiating with a potential guest, you have this exchange of information, links and things. Jeff, I want to tell you that I purposely didn’t click on a link that you sent me because I wanted to know the story fresh from you. I didn’t click on the link that said, “Most embarrassing story when I was a teenager.”
I’ll give you the abbreviated version. Check it out. I did that story for a story show in Toronto. I’ve never been to Toronto, but a friend of mine was running the True Lives Story show where you share embarrassing stories about yourself and that’s where I did it. I was twelve years old. I just wanted to play Four Square. That’s all I wanted to do all the time. I remember the first day I arrived at school, no one wanted to play Four Square and I didn’t understand why. I was like, “Why does no one want to play Four Square?”
I remember going up to Jimmy and Matt and being like, “Do you want to play Four Square?” They’re like, “No, but do you know that Ryan is dating Stacy right now and Samantha is dating Charles?” I’m like, “Yeah. Do they want to play Four Square? If they don’t, I’ll just try to figure out who wants to play.” What I had realized what they were doing now is they had all bought into the story of being cool. That was the new game that people were playing at twelve, at my junior high, and I tried my best to fight that. I didn’t want to do that at all.
No one would play with me so finally, I succumbed to it and was like, “What do I need to do to be cool?” I remember going up to my friends and being like, “What’s the first thing I need to do?” They’re like, “You’ve got to get better clothes. You’ve got crappy clothes.” I remember they got these Girbauds and then they were like, “If you want to date a girl, you have to have bangs.” I’m like, “I’m this Caribbean-Filipino guy with this huge fro. I can’t have bangs. How am I going to have bangs?” I stole my sister’s Vidal Sassoon Mousse. I put it all in my hair and shoved it down. It froze so I had frozen bangs.
No one told me by the fifth period that mousse dries up, and then all of a sudden, I had this raccoon’s butt coming from my head as I was trying to talk to the lady. I’m doing all these freaking things to please people and it’s frustrating. I remember near the end of the year, they were like, “Are you going into Ryan’s pool party? Anyone is going to be there.” The whole time, I’ve been like, “I need to be cool. How do I be cool? I’ll go to this party. If I go to this party, then I’m finally in.” I remember they were like, “You have to have someone to bring you. It’s an invite-only.” I’m like, “I’m twelve years old, dude.”
I remember begging Antonio and Joey if I could go with them because I knew they were going and they said, “Maybe.” What I had to do was buy their lunch, carry their notes and their bookbag around, or whatever I needed to do to kiss up to them, so I could go. It leads to the day of the party. Tony and Joey are like, “You can go.” I was like, “Yes.” I’m in their car driving and I’m dancing because I’m like, “I’m going to go to this party.” I am amped and excited because I am going to be cool as soon as I walk through these doors, I’m at the pool party of the century. I remember getting there and we all got out. We were all walking cool and I’m like, “I’m going to be at this party and I’m the coolest person ever.”Expectations are the thief of joy. Click To Tweet
I remember seeing Ron, Jake, and a bunch of other people that happened to be black that were in the front of the entrance of Ryan’s pool party and there was a scuffle. They were pushing and shoving each other, and then Ryan says, “We’re not letting any niggers in this party.” I’m black, so I was thinking, “Am I a nigger? I’m a nigger. Am I allowed in this party?” I froze and people walked away. Antonio enjoys and still walks in that cool way. I’m like, “I’m not going to get in.” Tony turns to me and he’s like, “Come on in.” I remember I felt like my feet filled up with water up to my knees and it froze there and I couldn’t move.
He’s like, “We’re going to be fine.” I was like, “No, you’re going to be fine. I’m going to be left outside and I don’t even know how to get home. I’m twelve years old.” I remember going up dragging myself to the entrance and Ryan looked at Antonio, looked at Joey, and then looked at me. They were like, “He’s cool. He’s Latino.” I’m like, “I’m not Latino. Am I going to say anything?” “No, don’t say anything. Just do whatever you can, so you can get in.” They gave me this nonchalant, “Alright.” It was nonchalant for them but for me, it was everything. It was like being accepted into the world.
I remember we all walked in and this wave of relief flowed over me. I was like, “This is going to be great. I can’t believe I’m going in.” I remember as I walked across the threshold through the door that I always dreamed of walking through, I felt like I left almost all of myself back there. I was the shell that happened to be at the party and I hadn’t felt lonely in my life up until that point. I remember no one was playing. I remember going into the pool and no one was there because no one wanted to play. Everyone’s being cool. I remember sinking into the pool and saying to myself, “I don’t ever want to feel this way again. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m giving myself up for someone else.”
I remember making a pact with myself that day that I’m done with being cool and I started making games up for myself in the basement and I would play games by myself. Eventually, some of my friends heard that I was making up these nerdy games in my basement and started coming to my basement, and we would play all these games. That was the one safe place where people could just be their nerdy, true, authentic self, and not be cool. I kept doing that until more people came. What’s ironic is that is the work I do now. It’s the exact same work of, I create a safe space for people to be themselves, and that happened because of that situation.You have the best answers that anyone else does. You are the expert of yourself. You should be trusting yourself more. Click To Tweet
I understand when people are like, “Should I do that? Should I not do that?” They’re trying to fit societal pressures of what you should do or what you’re supposed to be or how you’re supposed to be cool or doing all these things. I feel now it’s all bullshit. You have the best answers that anyone else does and you are the expert of yourself. You should be trusting yourself more. I realized that by playing more that I was able to trust myself.
The thing that I want to take away from that story is that Jeff explained each and every one of us to each and every one of us. Whatever your particular version of that story is, you’ve stood there at some point knowing that you left a big part of yourself at the door. It doesn’t matter what heritage you come from, your ethnicity, race, and religion. There’s been a time where you’ve sold a piece of yourself to impress someone else and you knew it. Most people, unfortunately, repressed that and they keep that hidden way deep down. In some ways, I suppose Jeff that we justify that and that’s what’s killing us. Successful Thinkers, let’s all learn from Jeff’s bravery here and say, “If I choose, I don’t ever have to do that again.” I am proud of you. Jeff, tell the Successful Thinkers out there how we can learn more about what you do, how we can find you, and how we can connect with you.
Successful Thinkers, I want you to join me in thanking Jeff for sharing some super insightful, tremendously valuable information here. I want you to open your eyes and say, “What would my life be like if I was me? What would this world be like if everybody in it was like me?” Make some tough decisions and decide who you’re not going to let speak into you anymore. Decide how you can be more of that wonderful person that you are. I always say this at the end of the show, but I want you to know that I mean it. I believe in you. The real, true, authentic you that’s done leaving a piece of themselves at the door. Successful Thinkers and Jeff, have a great rest of your day, and thanks to all of you.
- Jeff Harry
- How to Deal with the A-Hole at Work Through Play
- Start With Why
- Gwen Gordon
- The Successful Thinker
- The Ohana Way Book
- @JeffHarryPlays – Tiktok
- Instagram – Jeff Harry
- Twitter – Jeff Harry
- YouTube – Jeff Harry Plays
About Jeff Harry
Jeff Harry shows individuals and companies how to tap into their true selves, to feel their happiest and most fulfilled — all by playing. Jeff has worked with Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon, and Facebook, helping their staff to infuse more play into the day-to-day.
Jeff is an international speaker who has presented at conferences such as INBOUND, SXSW, and Australia’s Pausefest, showing audiences how major issues in the workplace can be solved using play. Jeff was selected by BambooHR & Engagedly as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020 for his organizational development work around dealing with toxic people in the workplace. His play work has most recently been featured in the NY Times article: How Do We Add More Play To Our Grown-Up Life – Even Now. He has also been featured on AJ+, SoulPancake, the SF Chronicle, and CNN.
While we spend most of our time pretending to be important, serious grownups, it’s when we let go of that facade and just play, that the real magic happens. Fully embracing your own nerdy genius — whatever that is — gives you the power to make a difference and change lives. Jeff believes that we already have many of the answers we seek, and by simply unleashing our inner child, we can find our purpose and, in turn, help to create a better world.