Throughout my life, I have been exposed to an increasingly stressful and demanding expectation to perform. This expectation has not only been dictated by society in which we live, but also by deeply ingrained beliefs from my own upbringing, educational experiences, and my efforts to integrate and connect with the world around me. Wherever I lived, learned, or worked, the winner‑takes‑all mentality, characterised by hypercompetitive and performance-based accountability, has always been present. Over the years this has often led to a pattern of self-doubt, stress, and mental ill-health.
The net result was a steady decline of my mental resilience and creativity – ironically key assets for academics. However, in recent years something has changed. I discovered that I was the keeper of my own medicine and could counteract this fear of failing, avoidance of risk and goal‑oriented behaviour. I discovered play. Let us pause here for a minute and think about it. What does play mean for us from childhood up to now? What visions, smells, feelings, and memories do we recall when we let the word play linger in our consciousness?
For me, excitement comes to mind, friendships, board games, endless football in the street, smells of grass and mountain air. My body responds instantly with a smile, a sparkle, itching muscles and a whirlpool belly. However, as soon as these reactions appear they start to dwindle. My brain is firmly bringing me back to its ‘happy place’ of deliberating and planning – not allowing the distraction of frivolous concepts like play. It is trying to sell me an old message, concisely expressed by Descartes: “I think therefore I am”, with the mind as supreme ruler of giving direction and meaning to life, strongly defending its dominion.