Life as a Game

Chris Brogan had an interesting blog post about Levelling Up, or how to get your business game or life to the next stage, the next challenge, just like in a video game.  As I read the post, I realized my comments were enough for a full blog posts, so you may want to read Chris’s post first before reading further.

3 Things I Try To Remember when Life is a Game

1. Accepting Failure as part of success.  When we think about life or business as a game, it can help frame your mindset about not taking everything too seriously, and reminding you that making mistakes and getting do-overs are possible.  Having kids who sometimes seem afraid to be wrong or to fail despite having plenty of gaming experience, makes me think that I need to emphasize these points to them, so they may become a little braver at stepping out of their own comfort zone and stretch themselves a bit in order to progress, rather than paying it safe all the time.  Failure leads to learning, and while the quick and non-catastrophic failures in video games, followed by small and frequent rewards, is exactly what makes them so addicting and rewarding, we need to transfer more of this experimental attitude into our daily lives.

2. Pacing. Not everybody plays a game at the same speed.  There are those that try to master it in one day, others who take detailed notes and create guide maps and walk-throughs for others, those that ask for help, seek cheats and short cuts, and those that slowly persevere, doing it their own way, solving each puzzle on their own, no matter how frustrating.  Going at your own pace, the one you are comfortable with, is perfectly fine.  You don’t have to go or do the same things as everyone else- there are multiple pathways to victory, and each has its own virtues.  It can be hard to maintain your own sense of pace when others seem to be doing more, going faster, maybe even reaping rich rewards.  But your pace has its own benefits, and if you are constantly comparing yourself to others, it’s easy to lose a sense of where you are going.

For example, I’ve signed up to walk the Philly Half-Marathon.  This is a big fitness goal for me, and I have a training schedule I’m trying to stick to, and often walk with a few friends.  Their pace can be quicker than mine, but I am confident that by taking my time, worrying about putting one foot in front of the other, working up in distance and then worrying about time, is what feels right to me and will get me to the finish line just as well as people who are worried about time and pace from the very beginning.  The focus is different, the path is different, but we’ll each walk that 13.1 miles and get to the end under our own power, despite having taken differently paced journeys to the goal.

3. Cheats and Shortcuts can be helpful- ask for help.  My kids frequently want to buy “cheatbooks” or code books, that contain secrets within games they own, to make things easier along the path.  I regularly object to these, in part because taking short cuts to finish a game that costs $50 seems like shortening the lifespan of this investment considerably.  But sometimes, we all need help.   There’s a puzzle we don’t understand; we lack some experience that would shed light on our problems; we’re frustrated and clearly getting in our own way on the path to success.

It can be difficult to ask for help, from friends, families, teachers, mentors- it can make you feel inadequate.  We can’t rely on others to rescue us all the time, but when you’re stuck, reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and self-insight.  When I feel boxed into a corner in my thoughts, often a quick call or email to someone like Chris Penn or CC Chapman can help me put a new spin on my problems, and at least take a look at them from a fresh perspective.  Even calling my mom or dad can help tremendously- if it’s a kid issue, they certainly have more experience than I do when it comes to raising teens, and will laugh at me and with me about the crazy stuff we go through.

Knowing when to call for help, and when you are relying on help is often tricky.  In school, it was easier to ask for help, and the deadlines and project specifications are often much more precise than in real life.  Heck, my kids get rubrics for everything, but I have yet to see a rubric for being the perfect mom, or creating a successful business.  Part of this is because no matter how many How To books you read, success is defined internally as much as it is externally.  No one else can set your path for success, because what that means is different for everyone.

That’s the biggest obstacle to using game theory in real life, actually.  Life does not come with a “You’ve Won!” graphic and a place to enter your initials.  The rewards and punishments creep up on you from time to time, they’re not always predictable or evenly spaced.  They can be cumulative, from decisions made long ago, by you, or even by your family.  Randomness plays a big factor- are you in the right place at the right time?  Can you recognize opportunity when it comes knocking?  Have you overlooked valuable opportunities because you thought they seemed small and insignificant at the time?

Life is a much more open-ended game, where the journey is as important as the ending.  It’s all about how you use your experience and your assets to level up, if you want, or stay at the same level, looking for mastery before racing ahead.  For me, while I can envy those getting to their destination before I do, moving at my own pace, at my own comfort level, has had its own benefits.  While you can’t forget to challenge yourself to extend your skills and to grow, more important is that you do it when you’re ready and prepared for the challenges ahead, and give it all you got.

What do you think?  When do you accelerate or decelerate your pace?  How do you get to your goals?  What does success look like to you?

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  1. Pingback: Links for Oct 4 2009 | Eric D. Brown - Technology, Strategy, People, Projects

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