Some of us are born with a competitive spirit. Some of us are not. Then others among us are born with a double-dose of it.
I got the double dose.
When you grow up with a competitive spirit, you view the world as a game board to be dominated.
You don’t care about the game. You only care about winning.
That kind of spirit to win will drive you to win at all costs. But it won’t help you figure out which games are worth playing.
Because, it’s true, some games are not worth playing at all. It’s only the games that are worth playing that are worth playing well.
And figuring out which games are worth playing is perhaps the most important game of all.
If you’re anywhere near as competitive as I am, eventually you’ll come across games that bore you.
Perhaps because you’re not naturally gifted at them. Or perhaps because you encounter a worthier-than-usual foe who absolutely decimates you to the point of forfeiting all future exhibitions in a particular domain. Or probably more likely because you grow bored in some games as your interest in other games expands.
When any of the above happen, if you stand any chance at achieving longevity as a competitor in any domain of interest, it’s worthwhile to discard some games – in the interest of increasing your fitness in the new game.
Because you can’t be “the best” at everything, discarding games that you no longer care to play (for whatever reason), allows you to allocate your attention and resources to higher-priority games. This reallocation of resources will allow you to compete more seriously.
And in fact, becoming a more serious competitor in one domain often increases your fitness in other domains, as well.
So, you should take seriously the idea of discarding low-priority games. In the interest of winning more games overall. Make a game of it, if you must.
Games Worth Playing
As you grow older, you’ll carry with you an internal sense of your win record.
On net, you’re either a winner or a loser in your own eyes. (If you view yourself the latter, I’d encourage you to find a domain you can win in fast.)
You’ll also likely have a good sense of the domains you excel in – and a particularly strong lingering soreness about those domains which you do not excel in.
But hopefully, you’ll also gain a sense about those games which carry the highest stakes.
Therein lies the first clue about which games to play.
Games carry different stakes.
High-stakes games can be thrilling. They often present major upside for winners, too. But be warned. Because some high-stakes games offer minimal upside (if any at all), though certain major downside for losers.
Which is the second clue.
Avoid high-stakes games with minimal upside and major downside risks.
For instance, grabbing an uncaged tiger by its tail is a form of a high-stakes game with major downside risk. And unless you happen to be attacked by a tiger, you’re probably best avoiding the encounter altogether. If it’s unavoidable, then fight like hell.
You’ll receive many invitations to many games in many different domains. You can’t play them all. But you can’t avoid them all forever either.
So you’ve got to choose. Here’s another clue.
Figure out which games you certainly want to avoid.
Here’s a short list of examples.
If possible, avoiding playing games with the criminal justice system. Or with the legal system altogether. And the IRS. Don’t play dice with war lords, drug dealers, or loan sharks. Avoid boxing matches you can’t win. Don’t challenge a cheetah to a footrace. And never, never battle wits with a Sicilian when death is on the line.
It’s also worth taking inventory of the games you’re A) already playing and B) cannot avoid.
Which is the next clue:
Some games are unavoidable.
You’ve got to learn how to stay alive. That is maybe the most fundamental game. Though there’s really no winning in this game so much as there is only losing. And it’s a game we’ll all inevitably lose. But best to play as a worthy competitor while you can.
Still, in order to avoid losing (for as long as you can), you’ll also be forced to engage in other games. Like learning how to provide for yourself, how to earn an income or to hunt, kill, grow, and prepare your own food. And so on.
Some games are absolutely necessary in order to continue playing at all.
Which brings up the last clue (for now):
Some games necessitate others.
If you get married, for instance, you’ll have to learn how to co-exist peacefully. If you go into business, you’ll have to figure out how to manage finances. (Of course, you could avoid both of those. But recognize that some games necessitate others.)
As you go continue through the game of life, it behooves you to learn the fundamentals of the games you’re aware of. And always be mindful of the games within the games – the new domains you’re forced into as a result of necessity of other games you’ve engaged in.
Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
Games People Play by Eric Berne, M.D.
The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey
Metaphors We Live By written by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson