Drop Your Work
( Originally Published 1906 )
MANY bring into their recreation hours so many burdens from their working hours that their sport is only half sport. They try to play leap-frog with a bundle of unlearned lessons astride their back. Their tennis racket is weighted down with unanswered letters. Their bicycle joints are rusty with unmet engagements. The bright story they are reading to relieve the mind from business worries is black with them on every page.
Recreation can never be recreation thus. As well might the consumptive box up the air of his sick-room and carry it to Colorado with him. If you meet in the road a barrier over which you must leap, you run back half a dozen yards to get a fresh start. But your running back will do very little good if you carry the barrier with you. Recreation is to get this fresh start, and if we are not silly enough to carry our obstacles with us to our sport, when we come up again after our half-dozen yards of recession, all fresh and eager for the leap, we go with ease over a fence that seemed stupendous before, or often find the fence miraculously sunk out of the way entirely.
" Well," you say, " that's all right in theory, but in practice it's very hard to drop one's work and one's worries." You tell me that my metaphor is wrong, that these worries are not things that we carry at our will and drop when we please, but sticky things that adhere and things with hooks well barbed that cling and will not let loose. There is much truth in this, because none of us is complete master. of his mind. Yet it is possible so to drill our-selves to play that when the time comes for the renewing hour we shall strip off for it every trouble and vexation of spirit, as a small boy denudes himself for a jolly plunge in the pond.
It is partly a matter of temperament, but it is chiefly a matter of will. If a man may have "a will to work," why may he not also have "a will to play"? We often hear it said, by work-drunkards, that they have no appetite for play. All games seem insipid, childish; they cannot "get up an interest" in any recreation. But one of the commonest experiences of workers is to begin on a distasteful task, force the mind to diligent application, and emerge from the toil not only triumphant, but actually longing for more of the same work to do. Laboring at first from a sense of duty, they came to labor from pleasure.
It is the same way with playing ; and though sport is a poor kind of sport when we " make a business of it," yet for many men no other entrance to the delights of recreation is open to their toil-hardened hearts. At first, certainly, and possibly forever, they must take their amusements sadly, as the English are said to do.
The same stern quality of mind that enables a worker to cast aside his play and all thoughts of it when he enters his workshop, will enable him, when he drags his unwilling soul to the playground, decisively to abandon his toil. Both work and play are spoiled if this is not done ; and important as it is to concentrate the mind on one's task, I certainly would not call it a less important matter to concentrate the mind on one's play.