Ep#36 How to Heal the World Through Play with Jeff Harry
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Jeff Harry, Positive Psychology Play Whisperer and Founder of Rediscover Your Play. He combines positive psychology and play to help teams/organizations create psychologically safe workspaces through play and assist individuals in addressing their biggest challenges through embracing a play-oriented approach to work.
Some of the topics he covers include how to deal with toxicity in the workplace, how to address office politics, how to play with your inner critic, how to help your staff rediscover their flow, and how to navigate these uncertain times through play.
For his work, Jeff was selected by BambooHR & Engagedly as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers of 2020. His work has most recently been featured in the NY Times, Mashable, Upworthy, & Shondaland.
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Jeff: I still have a really playful spirit after such a crazy last two years. Also, in the last two days, I ran a workshop at Cal State University about playing with your inner critic, and I saw people crying in the chat! It was so special, so powerful, and so fun.
How would you describe your medicine?
Jeff: I lift the veil of BS, and I use play to do it.
How has your ancestral lineage influenced your path today?
Jeff: A study showed that, by the age of 18, you will have heard the word “no” 140,000 times. Adults—especially immigrant adults—are constantly shoulding you all the time, pushing their own insecurities onto you. The information we receive as teenagers is always about not being enough and that they need to act like adults. The one thing you shouldn’t do is play. When it comes to my ancestral lineage, my dad comes from a small island called Saint Vincent off the coast of Barbados. There are only about 100,000 people on that island. My mom comes from the Philippines and came here during the Vietnam War when they had an influx of Filipino nurses. Their life was all about trying to get accepted into this American culture. I was this black Filipino walking around and nobody knew what I was. For a long time, I didn’t embrace it. I stayed in my basement playing games because I didn’t want to be around anyone. I realized that play is a place where you can be safe. In a world where you are so easily replaceable working for the man, you might as well be you. I define play as any joyful act where you are fully present in the moment, in flow, where you forget about time. It is rooted in curiosity, awe, and wonder. Play is also the opposite of perfection which is rooted in ego, shame, and constantly being right.
How did you turn play into your medicine and career?
Jeff: I started writing toy companies when I was in 3rd grade after I saw the movie Big because I thought it was cool that you could play with toys for a living. I was obsessed with the toy industry and wrote to these companies all the way into college. When I finally got there, it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. It was all cubicles, no kids. I left my job there in New York and moved to the Bay Area and found a job on Craigslist where they were teaching kids engineering with Legos. I started doing it as a joke but I realized that it was really fun. We grew it into the largest Lego STEM organization in the U.S., and we did it all through play and no business plan. We got the attention of Silicon Valley and did team events for adults. I eventually created Rediscover Your Play to use positive psychology and play to help lift the veil on the BS.
How do you address issues like toxic masculinity or racism and oppression through play?
Jeff: I run a workshop called “How to Deal with A-Holes At Work Through Play” and the whole workshop is all about roleplaying. We embody what it’s like to be an a-hole and practice different scenarios. All the while, we address the underlying issues and how to solve them. We focus on addressing behaviors instead of attacking characters. We empower people to realize that they don’t have to tolerate these behaviors. That is super powerful.
When you’re able to bring adults back into play, what happens to their body?
Jeff: Adults are just scared kids who’ve been living longer. When they actually embody play, you see their inner child. You can feel that energy because they’re tapping into a place that they haven’t tapped into in such a long period of time. They’re seeing the world anew through childlike eyes.
How can play help us heal from our trauma?
Jeff: One thing that happens when your brain is at play is that it goes through something called “transient hypofrontality”, where you go from a beta state to a flow state. What happens is that your inner critic becomes quiet. It shuts down and you get a shot of dopamine which makes you highly curious and open to different possibilities. You allow yourself to recognize what the Universe is saying to you and you trust your intuition and your creativity. Whenever you take those risks, you expand who you are—it expands what’s possible. You’re now tapping into what your ancestors spoke of. There’s a magic there that you can’t even explain, and you feel like you’re being guided.
How is it possible for us to step into this frequency of play if we have a corporate job?
Jeff: You don’t have to quit your job. You just have to start small. Get three to five of your closest friends and ask them what impact you’ve had in their lives. A lot of times, we forget the impact we make in other people’s lives. Next, ask them when they’ve seen you most alive, most playful, most creative or most yourself. This will give you a lot of “nerve-xcited” ideas of where you can start exploring. Forget about following your passion. Just follow your curiosity and see where that takes you.
What do you say to those who think that those who play are always happy?
Jeff: There’s such a thing as toxic positivity. There’s magic in experiencing the lowest of lows in their fullness just as there is in experiencing the highest of highs. Things don’t always work out, and that’s okay. If you’re sad, feel all of your sadness. If you feel the whole feeling, that’s what will allow you to let it go. This is part of the roller coaster, so why not just enjoy the ride?
What has letting go taught you about being able to achieve even more in life?
Jeff: You know when you’re fully in the moment and things start to just click? And you fall into flow and get into the zone and forget about time? You’re actually not focused on the results at all. When I built that Lego STEM, we never knew what we were doing, ever. It’s crazy that people plan out their life in a linear way because when you look back, you realize that nothing has ever been linear. Some of the most magical moments in your life are moments where you never knew how you got there. A friend of mine once said: “Curious conversations create cash.” That’s because you connect with people that value your work. Let’s learn from the dying who tend to regret that they never lived the life that they wanted to live and instead opted for the one that others expected of them. Your medicine may be the most important thing that someone needs right now; so, stop judging yourself and live life with a certain level of curiosity and play.
What is a ritual, practice, or words of wisdom that you would invite us to embody so that they can reclaim this journey of play in their lives?
Jeff: Ask yourself, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day: “How can it get any better than this?” Ask it from a place not of yearning, but of curiosity. Emotions last for 90 seconds, and then you have the choice to continue that emotional loop, or not. You can choose to have more bad moments by ruminating about the first bad moment. But by simply asking the question, “How can it get any better?” with curiosity, you can change your hour; you can change your day; you can change your life.
If you could speak to yourself as a future ancestor at any time in your life, what would you say?
Jeff: Be exactly who you are. Do you, boo boo. Whatever you’re doing right now is amazing and what you should do is to do more of you. Anyone who tells you not to be you is lying. It’s not their life. It really isn’t. Everybody is waiting for you. If you want to change the world, you have to do the thing that makes you most alive. Go all out and be fully you.
Conclusion: Play lifts the veil of BS that many of us, especially those with immigrant parents, grew up in: the system filled with “should”s and “should not”s instead of encouragement to do what gives us the most joy without an expectation to do what we “ought” or to do or be what’s “right” in society.
Action Integration: Start exploring your curiosities and find what makes you “nerve-xcited”. Once you figure that out, dive into it and experience the joy of being fully creative, alive, and wholly you.
Learn more about Jeff and her offerings:
Visit his website: www.rediscoveryourplay.com
Follow him on Instagram: www.instagram.com/jeffharryplays
Maslow’s hierarchy connected to Blackfoot beliefs: