Why Did You Start? Why Do You Stay? The Power of Asking People What Matters To Them

Last night, I spoke to an organization about the importance of play for their physical cognitive social, and emotional health, and how that connects to creating diverse and inclusive environments.

For many the concept is unsettling, it might make you feel uncomfortable, having to navigate a space you have not before, and it might be so unfamiliar that you dismiss me and move on. When I talk about play, many people’s faces and bodies say to me

“I do not play anymore”.

But what if I asked you “why do you do the work you do? What made you choose your line of work?

People will tell me about, moments when they felt drawn to a purpose, wanted to make a difference, and that their work made them feel alive, capable, and confident.

Their work was their play.

Our assumptions and judgements about the word “play” are strongly held, I believe in order to be able to invite diverse voices experiences, and ideas into our spaces we need to acknowledge our strongly held judgements about many things, including play, imagination, and creativity.

How many people do you know who still talk about their work with passion, and engagement, they feel valued and valuable in what they do and it reflects on how they feel about themselves and others?

How many organizations do you know that ask, and listen for the answer to this question “What does inclusion look, feel, sound like to you?” (Without check boxes that give you 4 choices) NOT people like you or whole groups of people you lead – you personally?

We write policies for diversity and inclusion to direct behaviour, but often we are not asking the right questions.

Like play, inclusion is personal and dynamic.

Ask yourself, what part of your work would you do if you didn’t get paid? It can be lunch with colleagues, or 5 minutes in the morning to drink your coffee in a quiet space.

Educators tell me about students.
Health care providers tell me about patients.
Community leaders tell me about connection.
Business leaders tell me about relationships

When you know WHY you do the work you do you and why you stay, will find your play. When you find your play, you will find your physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health.

But we are losing some of our best people because we don’t value them enough to find out what really matters to them.

If we don’t start to invest in people, they will find places that give them purpose and allow them to be themselves and play.

People are so much more than their resumes. Take the time to find out.


Brandi Heather
Brandi Heather
I have always played outside the lines. With a Master’s degree in Physical Education and Inclusive Curriculum development. I've taught 1000’s students at colleges, universities, community organizations, schools, and businesses the value of inclusion, most often by helping them find first the value in themselves. I was often considered the quirky college professor who taught the "soft subjects" alongside the serious academics. I was known for showing up to a class with carts full of “unusual tools” including playdough and plaster to teach kinesiology, communication, and human service principles. I thrived in spaces where people didn’t quite fit because often, I also did not quite fit. My goal is not to make every space and person the same but to demonstrate the strength of difference. I am a Therapeutic Play Specialist, I speak locally and internationally on the power of play for growing from diversity to inclusion and igniting innovation and engagement in all levels of education, business, and community programming. In 2018 I left the world of “college professor” to start a journey into entrepreneurship. I have fallen down many times to get back up and do what I love. In the past 10 years, I have founded award-winning not-for-profit and for-profit businesses grounded in diversity and inclusion, mental health, and play. I am now my own company, Brandi Heather Consulting, helping to build organizations where people want to be by unleashing the extraordinary potential of people. I unpack the aversion to playing and unstructured play by utilizing the science of play to change the way we take care of ourselves, connect with others, and solve some of the greatest social challenges of our time. I wrote Return To Play, Rebuilding Resilience, Risk and Reconnection in 2021 to share my lived experience, passion, and dedication to getting the world back “in play".

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  1. It is indisputable that working with passion allows us to live better and that is why we feel tremendously wise the idea that each of us should do what makes us happy, because the passion in what we do allows us to wake up from the torpor of mechanical work. in favor of a creative work that realizes us and allows us to reconnect with what is most significant for us.

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