The Myth of Separating Work and Play

I should have taken his advice. He was a millionaire. Not the kind that was born into riches, either — the kind of millionaire who earned every dollar.

“I want you here full-time,” he said. Bent on finishing college, I said “I’m not ready to enter the work force yet.”

He sat up straight, wheeled his chair closer, and asked “Do you really think that what you do here is ‘work’?”

Yes I did. What else could it be called? He was the millionaire boss, I was the college intern, and I worked for him. That was our summer arrangement: Paid staff showed me the ropes from nine to five each weekday, I contributed when I knew how to, and for my time I would receive four credits toward my bachelor’s degree. More importantly, I received three months of experience. Wasn’t this supposed to be work? Was I missing something?

Apparently I was, and he knew it. He started to elaborate:

“I don’t ‘work’ here,” he said. “I play here.”

I could tell he was being honest. He spoke with a blend of excitement and pride that was too sincere to be faked. He explained how his staff members felt the same way, saying “I don’t hire people who don’t love this industry.”

In other words, he and his staff believed that work should be play. Using this single concept, he turned his love for computers into a multi-million dollar consulting firm in under ten years.

He attributed the success of his business to his staff, who he described as a “team of people who feel lucky to be in a career where every day involves hours upon hours of playtime.”

He went on to describe his method for identifying potential hires. In his mind, there is a fundamental difference between people who are successful and people who aren’t: “It all comes down to attitude. If your heart is into something, you’ll be exceptional at it.” In other words:

If you love what you do, you’re bound to be successful at it.

He loved computer work. His staff loved computer work. He was now asking me if I loved computer work. I said that I did, and thus secured a full-time position with his firm following graduation. What I failed to realize was that he didn’t ask me as a test of my loyalty — he asked me because he honestly wanted to know if my heart was into it.

It wasn’t. This was proven when I quit within one year of my starting date.

Six years, four job titles, and three apartments later, I’m finally beginning to recognize the truth in what he told me. You shouldn’t choose a career based on what it pays or how practical it seems. If you do, your life is reduced to a vicious cycle of work and play. You should do what interests you.

So when it comes to choosing your career, follow your heart. (And if you ever find yourself talking to a self-made millionaire, listen carefully to any career advice they offer you. Chances are, they know what they’re talking about.)

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5 Responses to “The Myth of Separating Work and Play”

#1 Jonathan Atkins on 09, Oct, 2007 at 11:47 pm

I couldn’t agree more, if you love what you do, going to work is enjoyable… and you are getting paid for it! My boss regularly asks me what I am up to and I’ll reply that I am “playing” with whatever I am working on. He always thinks I am kidding, but I am literally just playing around in a manner that is productive and beneficial the enterprise.

#2 Dalia on 10, Oct, 2007 at 4:38 am

True… so true… otherwise you and everyone around you end up being miserable…

#3 John Seiffer - Business Coach on 10, Oct, 2007 at 9:54 am

Ah Shaun. Too bad you didn’t have a better science teacher. You don’t learn about success by looking at successful people. Otherwise you’d conclude that the thing they all have in common is that they eat sleep and poop on a regular basis and all put their shoes on one at a time. Well guess what? So do failures.

You learn about success by comparing what’s different about successful people than failures. For every person who gets rich following their bliss there are quite a few who get poor the same way. Ever heard the term “Starving Artist”?

By success I assume you’re talking some degree of financial success (we’ll leave other definitions for another blog). It turns out that self-made millionaires have some passion in a field that happens to be profitable and part of their passion involves watching the numbers and other financial bits. That’s why your play-date has people working for him and not the other way round.

I agree working at what you love is fun but check out

By the way – I am a self made millionaire. My work is my play. I semi-retired at 50 (only semi because of the play). Now got back and see if knowing that changes your impression of what I said.


#4 Marina @ Sufficient Thrust on 12, Oct, 2007 at 2:10 pm

I’m self-employed as a corporate efficiency consultant, and it’s easy for some particularly needy clients to take up a large portion of my time. The moment I have to fight the urge to keep a client task off my main Next Action list is the moment that relationship needs to be phased out.

There are certainly tasks that *need* doing that aren’t all that fun. (Doing taxes, for example.) However, those unpleasant tasks should be directly supporting your ability to live your passions. I wish more people could free themselves of the drain of a 9-5.

#5 Neil on 25, Oct, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Reminds me of a saying I wish I had learned much earlier:
“Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

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