The Times: Fed up with work? So play!

Earlier this month The Times did a 2 page spread on Screw Work, Let’s Play and myself (John Williams) as the author. How did they represent play? By photographing me sitting on a space hopper (sadly the space hopper is cut out on this online version).

It’s actually rather a good introduction to the book so if you’re trying to decide whether to buy it, read what Times journalist Fiona Macdonald-Smith wrote:

Do you have a sane work-play balance?
Had enough of your job and want to change your life?
Here’s how to do it

John Williams Screw Work Let;s PlaySitting on a Space Hopper in his Converse trainers, John Williams looks like the world’s least likely careers adviser. His advice isn’t conventional either: his No 1 rule is summed up in the title of his new book, Screw Work, Let’s Play. A bit of a risky proposal in a time of economic uncertainty, you may think.

Hundreds of his followers, however, have done just that thanks to his workshops, mentoring and semi-social events called Scanners Nights, where people seeking to change their way of working gather to swap ideas and advice (“scanners” is the expression coined by the US careers guru Barbara Sher to describe people who love to explore new things but don’t want to focus on just one job or business).

Williams, a 44-year-old former consultant at Deloitte, aims to revolutionise the way we think about work. “The rules are changing,” he says. “My mum’s belief was that work was to be endured, not enjoyed, and her generation didn’t really have a choice. But we no longer need to be driven by the old work ethic; we have entered the era of what the author Pat Kane calls the Play Ethic — ‘placing yourself, your passions and enthusiasms at the centre of your world’.” Even the term “worker” is outmoded, he says. “We need to reclaim the word ‘player’ as an alternative. We want to play all day and get paid for it. The player’s ultimate career goal is to ‘get paid for being me’. There’s never been a better time — all the tools are there on the internet for you to get paid for what you enjoy. Previously, setting up a business needed premises, funding — but today you could set up your own eBay shop in an afternoon.”

Williams makes it clear that he’s not advocating doing the thing you love and just hoping that the money turns up. “Aristotle said, ‘where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation’. You need to find the sweet spot between the things you love to do and doing them in a way that solves people’s problems for them — and there is your means of earning a living.”

It worked for Williams himself. “Many years ago when I had a job as a computer programmer I realised the only way I was really going to work out what I wanted was to imagine I could have anything. And what I wanted was not to work. I didn’t want to sit on the sofa all day, I wanted to play — to do whatever fun stuff I love doing and get paid. At the time this seemed unrealistic, but then the company announced a chance for voluntary redundancies and I took it. In 2003 I publicly declared I never want another job for the rest of my life.”

And now? “Now I have a portfolio career consisting of mentoring, corporate creativity workshops, copywriting, blogging … I set my own hours, choose my own co-workers and alternate my place of work between my home, my garden and the local café. “One of the most tragic people I’ve met while running career advice workshops was a woman nearing retirement,” he continues. “She said to me, astonished, ‘Do people actually change career then?’ I often hear ,‘You can’t change career at 30 — or 40, or 50’. But I am utterly convinced it is never too late to change your life. Stop asking yourself if it is possible to do something, and decide that you are going to do whatever it takes to make that thing happen. Don’t waste another minute.”

That’s all very well, you may be thinking. But how do I know what I really want? The answer is to follow your instincts. Imagine someone handed you a year’s salary and said you didn’t have to go back to work for 12 months. What would you do? Sit on a beach? Go travelling? But after the first three months of pleasure and idleness, what would you do then? That, says Williams, is the clue to what you should be doing with your life right now.

He suggests that you get yourself a notebook “Write down everything you discover — what you like, what you don’t like, people whose work or lifestyle you’d like to emulate, ideas for contacts to talk to, projects to try. This is now your playbook.”

You should also make like Columbo — the detective with the famous line, “Just one more thing”. “You can learn a lot from Columbo,” he says thoughtfully. “No clue goes unnoticed by him, and it shouldn’t by you. What part of a bookshop draws you in? What did you enjoy doing as a child? It doesn’t have to be something that immediately seems ‘creative’, just driven by a genuine interest — I had a client who, it turned out, wanted to be a City trader: one of the clues was that he always turned to the business section of the newspaper first.”

Try to make every Wednesday a day when you get a little bit closer to your ideal life. “Halfway between weekends, it’s the ideal time to build a little play into your working week,” Williams says. “Even if you can grab only a few minutes out of your day, do it. If you want to be a poet, take a book of poems to read and a notebook to write in on your commute. Then find ways to free up more time as the weeks go on.”

The piece then continues with Five questions that could change your life taken from the book.

Read the whole article here
(Sadly The Times now require you to register to read their content but you can register for free to read this quite quickly.)

Buy the book here.

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