Men at Work

Standard Work Signage
Standard Work Signage

I know you’ve seen it.   The long line of traffic, and when you finally get to where the blockage is, there is usually one or two guys working, one guy holding a sign,

“Slow! Men at Work”

and 7-10 other guys standing around trying to look useful.

First, in this day and age, why aren’t signs made,

“Slow! Persons at Work” ?

Or, since apparently literacy is in a downward spiral, a picture of someone, digging a ditch?

I’ll take it one step further – why doesn’t the sign read,

“Slow down – Watch People at Play”

Because the new cultural phenomena is that if you do what you love, the money will follow.   And this phrase has been bandied about for so many decades now, shouldn’t we all be done “Working” and be earning our living by “Playing”?


This musing was brought back on my radar this morning by You Can’t Hide the Spark’s glorious experience of Playing Productively.

I had to comment on her post, because I know from the personal experience of both working and playing that working hard is the least enjoyable of the lot, usually not as productive and how horrible my life was when I actually thought being a “Hard Worker” was laudable.

One of my most cherished writing mentors never told me I was a hard worker – even when she paid me bonuses to stay up all night to help her meet a production deadline when I’d rather be sleeping.

She always just said, “You’re a Producer.”

I liked that, because I produce many things – some are marketable and some are not, but I rarely produce anything that isn’t of some benefit to someone, even if the only someone is me.

Even unemployed, I’m still a Producer.

I really, really endorse the Playful Producer lifestyle.

Sometimes, if you spend your life playing, or adopt the lifestyle of a player (not the kind you’re thinking – get your mind outta the gutter!) there will be those around you that disagree with this lifestyle AND will inform you of the error of your ways.

And usually not in a constructive critiquing manner.

I’ve decided they do this, because they aren’t really happy being hard workers,  maybe they secretly know they aren’t that productive, even when working hard and damned if they want to see anyone else enjoying themselves.

Other times, if you produce while playing, there will be those who mistake you for a hard worker.

That’s okay because that perception is about them, not you.


Remember how the hour-long process improvement meeting lasted a year, and you begged to be allowed to leave early – but how time flew by while you spent 32 straight hours writing code to turn a database into a one-click-productive wonder?

Oh wait, that was me, not you…

Maybe that example is your own private description of hell.

That’s why this system is beautiful – if we all produce while playing at something we love, somehow, everything gets done.

Except for useless paperwork – – nobody loves useless paperwork.

And before you Admins get your nose out of joint, remember I said “useless” paperwork – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.   I may just not know what the heck it’s useful for.


If you can’t play while doing that which earns your living, then stop – right now – and do something different.

Yes, yes, I know it’s a recession with high-unemployment, bear with me…

This is not as scary as you think – I’ve only had one person that actually took this advice at face value.   Everyone else just approached their current position with a different attitude which made it bearable until they found they did love what earned their living or they found that which they were better suited at playing.

My favorite story of this school of thought depicted in books is the woman who learned to love her job because she knew she was never going to get the great insurance benefits she had anywhere else.   Her husband was ill, this was her priority and identifying it helped her to fall in love with her job all over again. – if I could remember which book, I swear, I would tell you…

The one exception who  took this advice literally was a waitress – stressed out during lunch rush, nearly in tears, she finally told me that she had just started, hated, hated this job and wished she could quit.  I hung around after my meal because I was intrigued to see how someone who did the mechanics of the job fair, but was a totally lousy waitress, could make it through a whole shift.

I’ve been known to spend my days off in strange fashion…

I tipped her $100 and left a note stating I hoped it would help her to feel more secure while finding a new playing field.

(That was back in the days when I played hard at two waitressing jobs and had more money than offspring to spend it…)

She caught me as I was pulling out of the parking lot, informed me she had just quit and thank you ever so much.

I could see her being a librarian or antique book dealer – no doubt about it.  She was smart, organized and well-read – loved books and almost cried when she told me about the latest book treasure she had saved from a garage sale and was trying to restore.

Why let her waste away working hard at what I considered an honorable and needed profession, when she could just as easily, with a little support and encouragement, be somewhere where she got to play all day long while earning her living?

I figured my outlandish tip was my contribution to making a society full of Productive Players.

I’ve made other such contributions over the years, whenever I could afford it – I hate seeing wonderful talent go to waste – or the human spirit wasting away.


This is not to say there aren’t challenges in playing.  Or that playing is a substitute for ‘easy’.

I’ve never heard my son complain about all the practice hours he spent to get better at basketball.    Or the sore muscles, bumps and bruises.  He’s “working” at improving, but since he’s enjoying himself, it’s classified as playing.

My brother, the sod farmer, thinks I’m nuts for wanting to waitress or stay awake 24 hours or more working on a website.

I think he’s nuts to live a life of watching grass grow and running a business that involves 20 hour days from March through October.

He tells me, “Everyone secretly wishes they could be a sod farmer.  It’s the best life.”

And I tell him, “Everyone wishes they could be me – work 30 hours in a row and take the rest of the week off.”

We each have our blind-spots.


I hope you get to play often and well.

I hope you earn your living by playing.

If you’re in the position to support the person who’s starting their Journey as a Part-Time Productive Player – do it.

And remember, while there is no shame in being a Playful Producer, being a hard worker is just nuts…

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