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Structured play of our generation

My friend Sarah, who is going through a very public third life crisis (turning 30), put up a wonderful post on “structured play for grown-ups.”

According to her friend, structured play is what many of us have been doing in our 20s, and it’s “enjoying life and having adventures while making sure it looks good on our CVs.”

I think this is indicative of our generation. As I wrote in the past under “The mark of our generation,” we don’t want the same as our parents, who lived stable lives and chased stable careers. At the same time, we still do want some security, and the sense of achievement is what has been providing us that.

Will many of us continue the structured play into the future? I wonder this these days, seeing many of my friends get married and start families. I think you can pursue structured play for life, but what you play with changes. It gets much more difficult to jump around countries year in and year out when you have a family, but I recently met an Ultimate Frisbee player from the U.S. who decided to move to Germany as a family for few years to have the international experience. I think stable careers are a thing of the past and like it or not, people will keep changing jobs to satisfy their ever shortening attention spans.

What I’ve been doing can be explained as structured play as well, although I think I’ve kept some kind of continual thematic thread through my adventures in my 20s, even if most of my life shifts were unplanned. My philosophy is a little different:

Do what interests me at the moment while making sure that I don’t jeopardize my future in doing so.

And I plan to keep living life this way, in a continual cycle of prototypes.

Is structured play all about minimizing risk? Yes and no.

I wrote above that structured play does give us a sense of security, but it’s nothing more than that, a sense. Risk is an opinion. It differs from people to people. I once met a serial entrepreneur from Paris who believed that starting a company is no riskier than working 9-5 jobs. In his opinion, a job in a company could become obsolete and disappear just as easily as a start-up company failing, and at least when you’re your own boss, you have control over your fate. Fifteen years ago, studying journalism would have seemed much safer than learning some html and joining a web company. The future is inherently unpredictable.

So what will happen to all the structured players? Of course I have no idea. However, I do believe that there will always be jobs for smart flexible people who can adapt, and good structured players are just that. At the same time, the future could just as equally be about specialized skills and deep expertise developed over years of experience. If so, many of us may regret all the years we spent in our 20s chasing their interests of the moment. I know plenty of people who would think structured play is an incredibly risky endeavor.

In the end, structured play isn’t genius or a crutch. It’s a way of life many of us have come to pursue given the existing circumstances, a world of limitless opportunities with incredible mobility, social, professional, and geographical.

(This post is a semi-response to Sarah’s original post, which raised the questions about structured play being risk and genius or crutch)

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One Response to “Structured play of our generation”

  1. June 14th, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Sarah says:

    I agree that risk is about perception and that’s why I think structured play can be a bit of a crutch. Shouldn’t we, in our 20s, try something just because we want to try it? Go way out on a limb? Experience pushing ourselves beyond our own sense of security and see what happens?

    Even if structured play is a crutch, and maybe there are benefits to going off course from time to time, I personally think it’s the smartest (and most fun) way to live in your 20s (and maybe your 30s – I’ll report back).

    P.S. I don’t think I’m going through a third-life crisis! I’m just 30 and thinking about it. Although, if thinking about life trajectory is the sign of a crisis I am probably be a constant state of crisis.

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