Using Childhood Play
to Find Your Joy

When I was a child, I loved to play with jigsaw puzzles. It was my joy. It was my escape. It was my tranquility.

When I sat down to play with a puzzle, nothing else mattered. The world slipped away. The spread of pieces on the table consumed my attention. My blood pressure dropped. The problem at hand was my only focus. Does this blue piece go with that blue piece? Try it. Fail. Try again. Try some more. Success! Next piece...

That description is only the beginning. Organizing the pieces was gratifying. Forming the complete edge of the puzzle was satisfying. Finding the right piece was exhilarating! Colors, patterns, shapes…my brain absorbed all that information, and continually sifted through it, looking for connections. I loved to survey the landscape of pieces and see that little bit of brown on a full piece of orange and know exactly where it went.

But that was childhood play. It can't possibly have importance to my adulthood. Or can it?

Every day, I am thankful for all those hours spent puzzling. Every since childhood, my brain has been training to survey a landscape of information and look for connections. I am an educational researcher. I survey a broad landscape of information and look for connections…every day.

But my puzzling gave me more than a critical career skill. My puzzling skills are skills that I developed under the guise of play. I didn't play with puzzles because I was told to. I played with puzzles because I was intrinsically motivated to.

My puzzling skills are deeply rooted in who I am. I am motivated to solve puzzles. That puzzle may be a picture of a lake and a tree or that puzzle may be a picture of what an exciting learning environment can look like. It truly doesn't matter. The same skill set is required and the same playful joy is activated. I am truly motivated to do my job, and I find great joy in it.

So yes, my childhood puzzling skills have a direct relationship with my adult work and the joy that I derive from it. What did you do in your free time as a child? I encourage you to think deeply about what you were intrinsically motivated to do as a child, and what skills you may have gained from that activity. You may find that utilizing those skills in adulthood will bring you great joy. And when work is joyful, it barely feels like work at all.