How to Win the Game of Life
John McCormack was a self made millionaire who went from riding around New York in the back of a limo to scraping change together to get something to eat. He fell from a great height, he crashed and burned, and ended up in Atlantic City where he would walk the beach in the mornings and wonder where he had gone wrong.
He’d walk in the summer sun and he’d stare at the ocean but he couldn’t really enjoy the beach. He was broke, he didn’t know what to do next and he felt like a complete failure. John would see the same familiar faces on the beach every morning and one day he got talking to a wealthy elderly man in his 80’s. The old man took an interest in John and he listened to John’s story and his worries. They became friends and they both enjoyed meeting on the beach for a chat.
One day the old man wanted to teach John something important so he asked him if he thought he’d win a race if they competed on the sand. John said yes, of course he’d win because it wasn’t even a fair contest. Then the old man said, in that case would you bet money that you could beat me? John said yes and they placed a small wager. Then, the old man explained the rules, he said to even the odds John would need to put his feet inside a Knapp sack and run backwards. John complained but the old man reminded him they had a deal and John should still win.
They ran the short race and of course the old man won and John reluctantly handed over the few dollars he had. Then, the old man explained to him the point of the exercise was to teach John an important lesson — if you can set the rules you can win the game!
From that point on John turned his life around and his future business success was largely based on that one key understanding. He started a new business and he became more successful than he had ever been.
And this is the secret to winning in life, don’t play a rigged game, don’t play a game if someone else decides the outcome and never play a game you can’t control. Of course this is not what most of us do. We apply to go to college and hope to be selected, we apply for a job and hope to be hired, and we spend our lives playing a game set up by someone else.
The limitation of this conditioning is that we forget we have tremendous power to think for ourselves and to chart our own path in life as long as we wake up and choose self determination over conformity. We learn obedience to superiors, subjugation to authority figures and that security comes from playing the same game everyone else is conforming to. This used to work but in today’s business environment it’s a fools game to expect loyalty to be rewarded with pay rises and great opportunities for the rest of your career.
Even entrepreneurs make the same mistake, they set up their own operation and then copy what the leaders in their industry are doing. They fail to acknowledge they can learn from others and still express their individuality and run with their own unique ideas.
Life has many rules that can stop you from winning until you wake up to the choices you have to win on your own terms.
There are at least 7 ways to win the game of life.
1. What You Really Want
We live in a cultural hypnosis that tells us what we should want and why getting it will satisfy us emotionally but we can easily end up chasing a dream that isn’t that important to us. When you can, unplug from the media and entertainment that bombards you all day everyday and think about what really matters to you and your family.
You might discover you don’t care about getting trophies and status symbols and that in fact what you really want is more quality time with the people who matter the most to you. You might find that cash in the bank gives you far more peace of mind than a new car or a bigger house you can only just afford.
Achieving clarity about what we really want is almost impossible until we unplug.
2. What You Don’t Want
It’s easy to get caught up in objectives, goals and long term planning and that focus on what you want is useful and helps to give you a life of defined purpose. However, it’s equally important to notice what you don’t want and to remove it from your life, that can give you immediate and lasting gratification simply by making small changes.
Consider your life in terms of the people you spend your time with, what you do in your free time and the daily aggravations that grind you down. Then look at each individual source of pain and frustration and either eliminate it or change it so your quality of life is better.
Then, look at your work life. Is your approach healthy and sustainable? Which aspects do you dislike that you can change? By dealing with the many minor irritations that cause you pain, you’ll make your work life more enjoyable and less stressful. Removing just a few sources of ongoing stress can do a lot to improve your peace of mind.
3. Define the Rules
The only way to win a game is to set the rules. This is empowering when you notice you are always either accepting rules made by someone else or making your own rules. Look at all the rules you comply with each day, rules at work, rules about what success looks like and rules about how to spend your leisure time.
You’ll often be shocked to notice you haven’t consciously chosen most of it. In fact, your life has a blueprint you didn’t choose. You just did what we all do, you followed the herd, you achieved some success and then you wondered why you still felt dissatisfied.
Wake up and look at how you are living then examine your rules about what matters and why you think those issues matter. This can bring a freedom few people ever have, the freedom to think for yourself and live on your own terms.
4. Popular Delusions
One of the best ways to lose the game of life is to pursue what is popular. If most people lust after the same job it doesn’t mean it’s the best job for you, if everyone wants to live in the same neighborhood it doesn’t mean it’s the best place for you to live. The same applies to how you dress, what you drive and where you vacation.
Popularity gives rise to higher prices that may reflect quality but the cost also reflects the cravings of the herd. And that stampede can fool you into thinking you should join the race to get the same prize. This makes life expensive and requires you to earn more to pay for what you’ve been encouraged to want.
Again, the answer to this dilemma is to aim for clarity about what you really value and the wisdom to know what really makes you happy. Maybe you do happen to want what everyone else aspires to and if that’s the case good for you but most of the time it’s highly unlikely that everyone happens to want the exact same thing.
5. Chasing Approval
We all want to be liked and even loved depending on who we are talking about it but ultimately the need to be liked by everyone at all times sets us up for disappointment and anxiety. No matter how wonderful you are, not everyone will share your viewpoints, not everyone will be supportive of your wishes and some people will even try to prevent you from getting ahead.
For this reason we need to accept people as they are, we’ll get along well with most people but not with everyone, the only sensible approach is to accept that and to do our best to be agreeable. Even if we know this, we may still aim to be a people pleaser in the hope that everyone will like us but that means playing a game we can never win.
It takes a degree of independence to acknowledge your self esteem is self determined and not in the hands of friends, colleagues and complete strangers. But this distinction must be understood if you are to win the game of approval.
6. Success Clarity
Success is the ultimate game. What exactly is success and how do you know when you have it? That’s the difficulty with examining success because no two people define it in exactly the same way, so we often reduce it to a simple measuring tool — money. If you have more money then you are assumed to be more successful even if you don’t like what you do or who you’ve become to make it big.
Peace of mind, health and happiness are the price many people pay to achieve the elusive and ill defined success they crave. But it’s always a moving target, there’s always something else to achieve and someone else to beat. For these reasons we can conclude you can’t win the success game unless you set it up to play on your own terms.
Define success in terms of your values, happiness, peace of mind and satisfaction of developing your strengths to mastery. Do that and you’ll live a successful life and be a person of value.
Finally, define the financial number that truly represents success for you based on how you want to live not based on some externally imposed and marketed ideal.
7. Money Games
Money is not success. It’s the ability to live a lifestyle you aspire to and it gives you choices. It’s great to have options and it’s good to be rewarded for your hard work but you still need to differentiate between accumulation and having enough.
If you don’t know what enough looks like you’ll never get it. If you don’t know and you don’t distinguish between what your family needs, wants and could have you’ll always compare what you have with an idealized financial future that won’t improve your quality of life, it’ll represent a better standard of living but not necessarily a better quality of life.
Reduce everything in life to a price and you’ll always be poor no matter how much money you have, you’ll be a sucker to aspirational lifestyle marketing and you’ll always feel like you’re failing even if you have a great life. That sense of dissatisfaction will drive you to make more money but it’ll never be enough because there is always a more expensive house, boat, plane or car to buy.
To win the money game you need to define your life in terms of quality of life not money. Be clear about what gives your family satisfaction and focus on making that happen.
To sum up, the game of life comes with no rules so we all copy what everyone else is doing but ultimately as a unique and creative individual it’s highly unlikely you want what everyone else wants and it’s likely your unique contribution to society will never be expressed until you think for yourself and express your individuality with courage.
You can be the one who sets the rules and defines how you live so as to enjoy a happy, successful and meaningful life on your own terms. It’s a choice we each make everyday between self determination and following the herd. Be yourself and you’ll win the game of life!