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When Work Makes Learning Just More Working

A “work, work, work” mindset leads to no time for playing and learning about oneself.

Minda Zetlin over at Inc. has a great article entitled UC Berkley ‘Adulting’ Class College Is a Failure of Our Whole Society that articulates one of the larger systemic problems that we’re collectively creating as a society. But instead of being aware of what we’re creating and taking responsibility for it (so we can change it), we’re instead shifting the blame to those who are being hit the hardest by it, calling them “wimps” for being unable to deal with an entire societal force that is effectively working against them, rather than for them.

But I also believe that if you find yourself criticizing an entire generation, you should stop for a moment and consider that generations are made up of individuals. If all those individuals are doing the same wrong thing at the same time, it’s likely there’s some societal force pushing them in the wrong direction.

This is actually an easy way to determine when a narrative for a society (i.e. The American Dream) is no longer working. Instead of empowering people, it begins to disempower them.

What I find remarkable is how this societal force mirrors that of the narrative and culture within most conventional organizations. People are so micro-managed, down to the minute and second, that there is no room left for their potential uniqueness to emerge and unfold, as there is no time and space reserved for it.

I’m watching these forces play out on the young people I know, and what I’m seeing is super-serious, very hard-working young adults who hurry from class to job to study to class again. They have little of anything that might look like unstructured free time, known to be highly important for mental and emotional development.

It’s up to the rest of us, both young and old, to figure out how to change things. So that young people can have enough breathing room to figure out on their own what it takes to be a grownup and how to become one.

This all ties into this larger broken societal narrative that I’ve mentioned before. We are a society focused on “work, work, work” and nothing else, thinking that the more busy we are with our busyness, the more successful we will be. We’re learning the hard way that it’s actually making things far worse, not better.

Those exploring The Future of Work in the recent past have realized we need time for learning as well, creating an ongoing cycle of “learning & working”. But today we need to go beyond even this. Without the time and space for play on a larger level (i.e. the ability to question our existing reality and step outside of it into something new), we will never achieve the creative trinity—playing, learning, & working—necessary to live within this new world emerging.

In effect, it is play at this higher level which gives us the ability to be fluid and flexibly adapt to the rapidly changing times, letting us unlearn and redefine ourselves in newer radical ways we haven’t even fully imagined as yet. Without play, we will remain stuck within these social constructs of the past, with them becoming disempowering prisons of limitations, rather than empowering platforms of possibilities, as they once were when created.

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