Are You Playing or Are You Dead?

Playing Flickr ingermaaike2

James Altucher realizes that you either play or you die, the choice is yours. And his.


Go ahead, ask a kid what he likes to do. He says, “I like to play”.

No keeping score. No goals.

What do you do when you’re not playing?
“What do you mean?” the kid might say, “I play some more”.

A kid can take a ROCK and then play with it. “Kick the rock”.

I’ll tell you the rules. You’re on one side and I’m the other and we put a rock in the middle and we try to kick it past each other. That’s it. And it’s fun.

No keeping score. No goals. We’re pushing and shoving and kicking and getting dirty. Some kid might say, “Whoah, that rock is a mineral!”

Who cares! We’re kicking and playing.

Ask an adult what he’s doing and he says something like, “I’m doing something serious.” We have to make money. So we can rise up some ladder. So we can make use of our education and afford our mortgage and our kids’ college educations.

Ok, I am not going to judge. I need to do this stuff also.

Well, when you’re not doing something serious, what are you doing?

“I like to relax,” an adult might say.

A kid never says “I like to relax”.

I can just picture myself and my 100% four-eyed friends back in the days of bike riding, shoplifting, and McRibs.

Nobody ever said, “Listen guys, It’s been loads of fun today but I should relax now. Maybe listen to some jazz or opera.”

Kids only go “home” when adults tell them to.


Or if they have to go to school. Or a family event. And later on a job. Or a government event (a holiday like “Father’s Day” or voting or something really serious).

Gradually kids become adults. There’s a big standardized test somewhere.


Sex has a lot to do with this. Sex is still play. But then in order to get sex you have to bow down slightly to conformity and standardized tests in order to prove that your DNA more or less functions like everyone else’s.

Of course, there are exceptions. Rock stars. Sergey Brin, Scarlett Johanssen, etc. They get to still play when they want.

But you can be an exception also.

Being serious puts a clam on that magic. Puts limitations on what you can achieve.

You don’t need money to create the world you live in. Sergey Brin started off poor as shit. Scarlett Johanssen washed baby diapers for a living when she was growing up in that orphanage until that rich guy adopted her.

But they played. And they kept playing. It’s through play that you unravel mystery, invention, WOW!, and all the things that create passion, enough money to provide, and whatever else your needs are.

Being serious puts a clam on that magic. Puts limitations on what you can achieve.

You choose the world you live in. Right now you choose.

If you aren’t choosing, you’re excusing.


The sad thing is, I can tell you from experience, is that when you opt for “play world” (not as porn as it sounds), the rest of the world doesn’t like it. They spent a lot of time, effort, and money on being serious.

When you opt to find the play in the small events that add up to a day, a year, a lifetime, you will change. You will transform. You will read between the lines and see that it was all meant for play all along. With no exceptions.

I hope you choose to come out and play.

But I’m going to warn you now. The adults are looking for you in the dark. They will drag you home. They will punish you if you let them.

Ignore them.

Please don’t let them switch off your lights.

I write this not as advice. I write this because it is the advice I need to give myself each day. It’s always worked. I hope I follow this advice again tomorrow.

photo credit: Flickr/ingermaaike2

About James Altucher

James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written 6 books on investing. His latest book is Choose Yourself. You can follow him @jaltucher.


  1. Mark Greene says:

    This piece is exuberant, delightful, powerful and elegantly joyful. James, you have nailed it here. I will come back to this writing again and again. Here’s to play, the fountain of all things.


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