10waysplayWhen we think of play and personal development, it seems as if they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. On the surface, play is about engaging in interactive, fun activities for enjoyment and recreation where as personal development is about creating potential, enhancing quality of life and realizing dreams – big, hard (and often solitary) stuff.

What if they were to merge? What if play could not only be fun, but, put us in new spaces with a different set of rituals that also enhance our creative capabilities? What if personal development could be interactive, enjoyable or even … fun?

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Saying, “YES!” to play and personal development

“What if-ing” often turns into reality when we travel. The planning finally falls away and reality replaces it. Sometimes reality turns out better than the plans in the imagination – sometimes not. What can always happen, if we open ourselves up to the possibility, is the marriage of play and personal development enabling both to be fun and life enhancing.

Isla Mujeres – a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun – became my playground for International Women’s Day for the second year in a row. Isla is a small island – approximately five miles long by a half-mile wide – that contains more magic than many large cities I’ve visited. While the white sand and turquoise water certainly make for smiles all around, there’s more to the island than just the beautiful beaches and weather. For whatever reason … maybe because the island was home to the Maya goddess, Ixchel, or, maybe because the island hosts friendly natives, expats and visitors … it has the power to transform.

Here are 10 ways I played and personally developed this year on Isla:

1. I packed a humane cat trap along with my luggage.

Although carrying the extra weight certainly wasn’t fun, knowing the island cats will engage in more peaceful play once spayed/neutered made it more than a worthwhile effort. I was thrilled to support Dr. Delfino Guevara’s trap-neuter-return efforts for the island’s community cats because I worked in animal welfare for ten years and am intimately familiar with pet overpopulation issues. However, I honored my boundaries and didn’t engage in any hands-on work as I remember how that led to having 22 cats at one time.

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Local treasures from Isla

2. I shopped local.

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Living the best life at We Move Forward

I visited Isla’s monthly Artist Fair and came away with Jaded Diamond — Penny Burnham’s novel set on Isla Mujeres, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat – Lynda Lock’s children’s book also set on the island and an assortment of handmade lotions and bath gels to benefit Isla Animals. Later in my stay I visited the Women’s Beading Cooperative, in the residential neighborhood of La Gloria, where local Mayan women create amazingly detailed, intricate jewelry from beads, shells, Swarovski crystals and pearls. I left with at least four pairs of earrings and knowing the profits go directly to the artisans to help maintain their households and keep their kids in schools. All of these purchases were a lot more meaningful than stereotypical souvenirs and they came with stories of island life.

3. I said, “yes” to moving forward at We Move Forward.

As a 2014 attendee and a 2015 speaker of this annual women’s conference and retreat, I’ve be able to experience first-hand the power of women supporting each other in living their best lives. It was an honor to lead these amazing women through a playful journey of self-discovery. And it was a real treat to also be able to learn from their abundant life experiences. To reflect and to rejuvenate in a communal environment while celebrating International Women’s Day is the perfect example of play intersecting with personal development.

4. I led a laughter yoga session by the beach.

Leading laughter yoga is fun no matter where the location but when it’s next to the ocean (or in the woods) it becomes magical. With nature as the co-leader, a mindful movement activity takes on a different – and powerful – energy making for a heightened sense of awareness.

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Seaside laughter yoga

5. I listened to people’s stories.

Whether it was sitting outside of Casitas del Mar drinking my morning coffee, or, having a cocktail at my favorite open-air bar, I made eye contact and listened to people’s stories – and shared my own. In-person connections are richer than online communications and open doors to new opportunities, personal growth and new friendships.

6. I rode around the island in a golf cart.

There is nothing more fun than riding around the perimeter road on a golf cart. The wind’s in your hair and the ride is more laid back than in a taxi that zooms around. Plus, because it’s open air, the views are way better too. A perfect island day is jumping in the golf cart with no place to go, but being open to the possibilities of whatever unfolds.

7. I hosted an improv playshop at a local school.

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Unscripted play with the masters

I had the good fortune of being invited into a school to teach improvisation to a group of four to six year olds. I’m not sure who was actually leading whom as I learned a lot about play from the masters – kids. It’s a gift for an adult to be able to play with a group of kids as we often forget how much fun a child-like sense of wonder can be.

8. I had daily chats with the neighbors.

It doesn’t take long to settle into island life and once you’ve been there for a little while people start to recognize you. Sit in the same public spot every day and it gets to be a little bit like an episode of Cheers – only with a way more amazing view.

9. I taught English lessons via improv games.

Learning a language can be hard and intimidating. Playing cooperative games is easy, the stakes are low and it’s a lot of fun! Hosting improv games as language-learning exercises is a wonderful way to engage locals learning English, and as a bonus, I was able to expand my Spanish vocabulary while making new friends.

10. I watched sunsets (and a sunrise)

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An Isla sunset

Watching the sun set over the water is one of my favorite activities. It’s great to do it with friends to celebrate the day turning into evening. And, it’s also wonderful to do alone as it’s the perfect moment to reflect on life’s big questions. And if they aren’t answered once the sun goes down, they’ll always be another sunset tomorrow!

As you plan your next trip, whether it’s a weekend road trip or a long haul journey, how might you create your own play and personal development adventure? I invite you to try it and then share your experience with me!