Playing the Long Game
Every generation for all of recent history has faced various forces in their work life — the speed of innovation and change, politics both internal and external, macroeconomic factors, etc. Each generation has faced different circumstances requiring different skill sets to thrive within them. But there is a single skill, or rather two separate skills packaged as one, that has a common thread throughout history. It helped people just as much in 1932 as it helps us now. The only difference is that it’s becoming much rarer (and quickly so) in today’s attention-deficient world.
That skill is what I call playing the long game, and it’s broken down into continually learning and working hard over long periods of time.
Being a continual learner is arguably more important now than it has ever been. With rapid change comes a need for a continual understanding of the change. It’s those that commit to personal growth, both in intelligence and skills, that stay ahead of the curve. Knowledge and information also happen to be more accessible than ever before, so any excuse to not learn is likely invalid. You can teach yourself how to code for free, get an MBA packaged in an online course or book for the price of a couple coffees, or you can take any number of free online courses from Ivy League schools.
The formula is simple. Change is happening quicker than ever yet the speed and depth at which most of us learn haven’t increased. This creates a gap between the new frontier of work and the workforce that is supposed to drive it. And in that gap there’s opportunity.
Hard work has historically been a commodity. It was the rule, not the exception, for most of recent history. For a number of reasons, this has changed. Hard work — the kind where you simply put your head down, absorb, learn, and adapt for years on end — has now moved from a commodity to a rarity. Get rich quick propaganda and stories of young entrepreneurs making millions of dollars in a short amount of time have created a “quick fix” mentality for much of the population, specifically the younger generations. Commitment to longevity has been replaced by quick jumps to trying this or that new thing. Much like the learning gap mentioned above, the hard work gap creates an opportunity for those paying attention to it. The person that is willing to work hard and commit to the long haul has a distinct advantage over those that will be in and out of various paths in six-month chunks.
The world of work has changed. Moving forward, the people that win will be the people that understand success is a persistent (wo)man’s game. Be as persistent as you are intelligent, and you will win in the long run. Hard work combined with the curiosity to never stop learning is an unstoppable combination. In a world where it is rare, those who commit to playing the long game will be the ones that shape history.