Whose Game are you playing?

“The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” — Kalpana Chawla

In all likelihood, you are playing someone’s game.

You are most likely trying to live up to someone else’s aspirations. Your priorities in life are set by someone else. Your goals are set by someone else and you may be doing things that you do not like or enjoy, in order to achieve goals that you truly do not care for or downright hate. The design template of your life may have been adopted by default. You may not care for that promotion but may be working extra hard for it, nevertheless. Worse, you may be straining your personal/family relationships in the process, may even be giving up on your personal hobbies.

That prohibitively expensive vacation to Maldives may not be a thing you necessarily enjoy — you may probably enjoy a trip down to your parents/siblings/childhood buddies and spending time with them. But you spend those extra hours making money to fund those expensive goals while things cheaper and more importantly, lot more meaningful are being ignored.

“Life is not a multiple choice test, it’s an open-book essay exam.” — Alan Blinder

This rather bizarre but common behaviour is quite likely rooted in our education system where we are all measured using the same yardstick. We get conditioned to adopting and automatically pursuing standard goals. This, no doubt, increases the likelihood of us being able to assure a minimum standard of life for ourselves. But at this altar of minimum standard, passion and vitality are being sacrificed. I do quite a bit of counselling — largely in the areas of career and personal finance. Most people I interact with are senior, highly accomplished folks, earning seriously good salaries but almost, always, they are not happy. There seems to be a thread of frustration running in their mind all the time — sometimes, passively and many times actively. We seem to be competing with people for things that we may not really care much about. We somehow attach significance to things that may not be as important to us. We try to be live up to the stereotype of success and in the process lose our identity. We start living someone else’s life and play someone else’s game — this is a great travesty.

In our various pursuits in life, it may seem like all of us are seeking the same result but when you look closely, each one of us value and seek different outcomes.

Examples of people playing different games in what seems like the same game

  • Stock market: When a sale of a stock is done, the seller and the buyer are playing different games. One may be selling due to need for money or out of fear that the stock price may fall or because there is a better stock to buy or for any number of other reasons. A trader tries to ride the momentum while an investor tries to ride the value creation capability of the underlying business. In their respective pursuits, many times they stand at opposite sides of the transaction (one selling to the other) but both with the same goal of making money and many times, both end up making money. That’s the key: playing our respective games does not mean any of us has to lose…. All of us can win
  • Vacation: There are tourists and then there are travelers. From the outside, both may come across doing the same thing but one of them derives pleasure from seeing things and other by experiencing things. One drives to the top of the mountain to enjoy the majestic views and the other, treks up the mountain to get up close and personal with nature.
  • Careers: Few of us work to support life’s priorities and for few of us, career is among the biggest priorities. Few of us like to progress in our careers horizontally craving for knowledge and learning, while few like to progress our careers vertically craving for power and stature
  • Start-ups: Many start-up founders are driven by the motivation to create wealth (“unicorn” has been a buzzword for some time now), while many to create a lasting legacy (hubris) and many more to solve real problems in society

Irony with the prevalence of playing others’ games is that remedying it is simple. Not easy but simple. As simple as playing one’s own game.

“One must know oneself. If this does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves as a rule of life and there is nothing better.” — Blaise Pascal

What does it take to play your own game?

First, one should assess critically and understand what their game is. Each one of us is made differently. Spending that extra time understanding what gives you enduring satisfaction — what excites you, what makes you forget passage of time, what lets you not hinder the flow of life though you…… this line of thinking can give ample clues to figure your game out.

Remember that this need not be around a big passion — in fact, most of us do not have big passions — we just want to have a pleasant enough life. Passion is over-rated anyway. Quite often, what manifests as passion is just discipline of execution to fulfil a goal that serves a personal purpose. There is very little glamour in it for the person demonstrating “passion”.

However, there are significant hinderances too. Playing your own game can get lonely particularly in the initial years. As you start on your own path, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) may emerge naturally and it can pose a significant threat. And this probably is why, we see very few folks living their natural lives. Fulfilling one’s familial obligations (funding retirement, kids’ education etc) could be another big reason holding people from playing their own game.

“Choosing a path means having to miss out on others.” — Paulo Coelho

In conclusion, expressing your unique personality through a path that suits you is perhaps the smoothest and happiest way to live life. Whats more — you do not need to compete with anyone else in this game — you are your only competition. Your only focus is becoming a better version of yourself and this way, you are engaged and motivated by default. Who would not like that!

For those who are not able to pursue a path of their natural inclinations for whatever reason, just a clear recognition and acceptance of their constraints could reduce tension in their daily struggles. Each one of us has the ability and opportunity to follow our curiosities, at least in a small way. Over time, these baby steps could lead to something substantial.

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Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.

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