For the Fun of It

If you’re feeling stuck in a rut or frustrated by what seems like a stagnant career, maybe you need to play around a bit.

Seriously. Think back to why you became a photographer. You experienced the pure joy of creating images. You experimented and found inspiration all around you. You were having fun.

Somewhere along the line, you stopped playing. You started building a career, making clients happy, managing numbers, and worrying about all those real-world concerns that go into establishing a sustainable business.

Maybe it’s time to start playing again. Jeff Harry, a consultant recognized in 2020 as one of America’s top human resources influencers, says that entrepreneurs can address some of their biggest challenges with a play-based approach to work. Harry, who has worked with organizations including Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon, and Facebook, points out that we’re all more productive when we reach a state of mental flow by embracing play and by taking creative risks to tap into our fundamental sources of inspiration.

“It’s time to challenge ourselves about the risks we’re willing to take to not only stay relevant but to rise above the competition because the status quo doesn’t cut it anymore,” he says.

To establish this play-based approach, Harry suggests creating a psychological playground where you can have fun and are free to make mistakes. In many cases, people have an idea they want to act on, but they need a figurative space where they can pursue it without feeling overwhelmed. He recommends a set of steps to create that space and to take advantage of the benefits it provides.

  • Relax. Give yourself time to feel at ease. It’s important to calm yourself because you can’t play when you’re angry, stressed, or anxious.
  • Get bored. No, really. Turn everything off, stop filling your consciousness with tasks and stimuli. You need space in your mind to create.
  • Reach out. Contact three to five close friends or clients and ask them these questions: What value do I bring to your life? When have you seen me come most alive? Specifically, what am I doing when I am most creative, playful, and am functioning at my best?
  • Explore your origin story. Think about why you started photography in the first place. Tap into that original inspiration.
  • Recall your best moments. Think about your last phenomenal photography experience. What were the aspects that made it amazing?

  • Assess your state of play. Consider how you played with photography when you began. Do those same aspects still exist now in what you’re doing? You could be functioning efficiently but not allowing yourself to play and experiment, which can lead to dissatisfaction and creative stagnation.
  • Get back to your roots. Often, finding a place for productive play means reconnecting to values of the past, to a time when you pursued your craft purely for the joy of it. That doesn’t mean you have to go backward in your career. Sometimes finding a new direction can spark fresh inspiration. Recapture the feeling you once experienced when you made images for the love of creation. 
  • Look at it as an experiment. Photography was an experiment when you first started. Tap back into that feeling. Try new things. See what works and what doesn’t. Allow yourself to fail. Be messy. Recognize it’s a slow process to reconnect with your love for the art.
  • Keep moving forward. You don’t need to drop everything, go broke, and start over. Keep your business going. Continue the work that pays the bills while you give yourself time and space to experiment with other things that invigorate you. “The story people tell themselves is that if they start experimenting, they’ll love it, and they won’t be able to go back to the comfort they’d previously experienced,” says Harry. Push past that fear and go beyond your comfort zone to move forward.
  • Be yourself. “Depression comes from trying to be someone else,” says Harry. “You’re playing a role. That’s why play is so important—because you’re being yourself.” When you’re playing, you’re tapping into who you really are, and you’re more engaged and productive as a result.


Why is the freedom to play important? It goes well beyond being more successful in your job. Photographers take on the responsibility of sharing people’s most significant life events. “When you think about it, you are portraying the essence of who someone is with your photography,” says Harry. “You’re capturing them in their best moments, and when you can do that, people are truly grateful for what you’ve done for them.”

To understand the value of play, ask those grateful clients what your photography means to them. Hearing the impact your art has on people helps remind you that this work is important. It reminds you why you do what you do.

“We see our work as so much about us and not always about the ripple effect it can have on other people and even other generations,” says Harry. “This is so true for photographers. You’re catching magic and history. And if that doesn’t create a joyous, childlike essence, then I don’t know what will.” 

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.