Lessons in Playfulness


The chanting of my name started with one person. And then it grew to two. And then before I knew it, there were 50 people with fists raised and smiles on their faces cheering, "Nancy, Nancy ... "

Someone asked me if it was surreal and I could only nod because I was still floating somewhat outside of myself. I was a sports writer for more than a decade and had been in many arenas where people were chanting and cheering, but this was -- absurdly -- for me in a quest to be the one person in a room filled with about 200 professional coaches who emerged victorious in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Yes, that's right. Rock, Paper, Scissors.

You see, Matt Weinstein, the man pegged by People magazine as "The Master of Playfulness," was the conversation starter on this day of the fifth Conversation Among Masters conference at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. Considered the foremost authority on the use of fun and humor in team building, he had us out of our seats immediately and didn't let up for two hours.

So here's what Weinstein -- founder and 'emperor' of the international consulting firm Playfair, Inc. -- instructed us to do. Pick a partner. Play Rock, Paper, Scissors with that person. The winner raises his or her arms in the air and the partner then becomes a cheerleader for the winner. The winners in the room seek each other out and draw on a count of three. As partners lose and drop off, they must join the pack of cheerleaders behind the person who keeps winning. This goes on until only one person in the room is left as the ultimate winner.

This was so completely out of my comfort zone, as my childhood time was mostly passed with Barbie dolls and Nancy Drew books. Rock, Paper, Scissors? That was for people who did actual sweaty, athletic activities. I was the person getting as far away from kickball as possible.

But I'm an adult now, one who signed up for a professional conference ostensibly to grow and learn, so what was I going to do? Join in trepidation, of course, and follow some person with a clue as we all cheered on someone cool and in the know about how to play this game.

Ready, set, go.

First I beat my partner and I thought it was a fluke. Then came another win. Oh, how funny. And then another. Hmmmmmm. I had momentum. About then, with my name being chanted by a pack behind me, it hit me that I kept throwing 'Paper' and it hadn't failed me. My opponents were throwing powerful Rocks, but my Paper was gently sending them away.

Next, I thought. Who's next? And the next one led to another. Within the span of five minutes, I had emerged victorious and I didn't even know what hit me. Yet the writer in me had the presence of mind to realize Paper had been my buddy for a long, long time and it had come up big for me yet again. What a loyal ally.

Weinstein told me to join him on stage and when I groaned at the idea of actually having to speak into a microphone he said, "You won't have to say much." Then he asked me what I'd learned and I said, "I've never played this before, so what it says is 'you, too, can do it.'" Then I revealed that I had just continued to throw Paper and everyone laughed, presumably at the simplicity of my "strategy."

For the rest of the day, people greeted me with high fives, big smiles and some even called me champion. Over the course of two hours, we had done secret handshakes and secret dances and shared birthdays and formed circles and by the end of it all the mood in the room was bordering on giddy.

This was about playfulness and fun and it served as a reminder to incorporate those things into our lives. Not just in our non-work lives but in our professional lives as well. Weinstein reminded us we can be serious without being solemn and challenged us to break into groups and talk about how we could be more mindful of that moving forward.

While I could always infuse more fun into my life, my bigger takeaway is to not be so resistant to the unknown, to believe in myself more, to ride momentum and to really hear the voices cheering me on.

Thank you, Matt Weinstein, for an illuminating afternoon.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.