April 27, 2022

The game got the best from you, not the best of you


Success isn’t winning, it’s knowing what game you’re playing and why you’re playing it.

About ten years into my career as a writer, consultant and public speaker, the ground beneath me started to shake. Far too many of my colleagues and I were spending our time competing in someone else’s game that we had zero chance of winning from the start.

Every time we’d get together, we expressed increasing fury at the stupid unfair spirit of the whole thing. We felt inferior and beat ourselves up for not making any progress at mastering this game.

From the dying industry to the struggling economy to the evolving technology to the next generation of creators to the new media landscape, it was as clear as a polished mirror.

Change was not coming, it was here, and things were only going to get changier.

Personally, I had to take a hard look at myself. Maybe it was time to make peace with the fact that I had my moment, but my brand novelty as the guy who wore a nametag everyday was starting to run thin.

The nametag itself wasn’t going to come off or anything. But the economic reality of the business behind was undeniable. Despite my best efforts to drum up new clients and generate business opportunities, revenues just weren’t coming in like they used to.

Because this wasn’t the early two thousands anymore when companies were just peeling off piles money for third party trainers and consultants. Now it was a different game with different rules and different players.

It reminds me of a fabulous song lyric. Maynard Keenan sings:

Clever got me this far, then tricky got me in, and I’ll take just what I came for, then I’m out the door again.

Sounds like the theme song to my career.

The challenge, then, was figuring out a way to create my own game. One where the rules were mine to invent. Where playing wasn’t about winning points and getting approval, but creating value and achieving fulfillment.

That’s the thing about reinventing ourselves. Complex entities like ego, identity, belief and history get in the way. Because human empathy rarely extends beyond our own line of sight. Our assumption is that our current way of playing is the only game in town.

And we feel noble that we’re unemployable and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with our lives, but then we close ourselves off to new career strategies that are different from our own.

It’s one of the reasons being a dual citizen was so attractive to me. Taking these full time jobs as an employee that let me continue to expand my journey by day, while also underwriting my personal brand project by night, it was the best of both worlds.

A game worth playing, regardless of whether I succeeded or failed. And I’ve been playing it every day, ever since.

Have you recognized the components that are needed for the game you want to play? How might you rearrange your life so that the game got the best from you, not the best of you?

Remember, reinventing yourself is labor intensive, time consuming and emotionally exhausting.

But it’s nothing if not sustainable. And it’s a hell of lot better than trying to play and understand a game that doesn’t even interest you anymore.

Are you so in love with the game that you’ll keep playing even when the marginal utility from winning declines?