There are lessons that many of us implicitly know but cannot articulate. We come across statements or observations sometimes that makes us go “Woah” or “Aha!”
They’re very important because you tend to remember these lessons for a very long time. It’s also fun to see other people’s eyes light up when you pass on the statement to them.
They too, acknowledge the truth of the message but had never formulated the idea or even knew how to articulate it until you enlightened them.
I found this idea to be very helpful and practical, and hope that you will find it useful as well.
Life isn’t a singular game, it’s a set of games
This idea isn’t necessarily a novel one — there are different variations that deliver the same message.
I can think of one example:
“It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.”
The first person who articulated this idea in a clear way was Jordan Peterson.
“Life isn’t a game; it’s a set of games. And the rule is, ‘Never sacrifice victory across the set of games for victory in one game,’ right? And that’s what it means to play properly.
You wanna play so that people keep inviting you to play, ’cause that’s how you win, right? You win by being invited to play the largest possible array of games, and the way you do that is by manifesting the fact that you can play in a reciprocal manner every time you play, even if there’s victory at stake, and that’s what makes you successful across time.
And we all know that, and we even tell our kids that, but we don’t know that we know it.
And so we’re not adapting ourselves to the game and victory in the game; we’re adapting ourselves to the metagame and victory across the set of all possible games.”
Here’s a scenario where you might be tempted to win a singular game at the expense of your ability to play more games across time.
You’re playing basketball with your friends, but you get way too competitive and start berating your teammates in an unproductive manner whenever they make mistakes.
You insult them and take your anger out on them, which leads to them stiffening up and performing even worse, which leads to you lashing out more.
At this point, the victory or defeat does not matter to anyone but yourself. You have abandoned the pursuit of the meta-game, which is to have fun with your friends and increase teamwork and communication.
You became so obsessed with one victory that you failed to acknowledge the potential repercussion — your friends not wanting to play basketball with you next time.
Acting in a manner that breaks the meta-rule of the game will disqualify you from future games. And when you are not invited to play in future games, you cannot pursue victory anymore, which means in your desire to win one game, you have lost all possible future games.
Is that one moment of victory worth it? If you win by tyrannizing and rebuking your teammates, do you think they will want to continue to play with you? If they’re not having fun because of you, what makes you think you will be invited to play next time?
Rather than focusing on getting the win at all costs, you can think about how to improve your skills as a team.
You can help your teammates catch mistakes that they might not be conscious of.
You can help your teammates understand your thought process and what your motives are, rather than expecting them to read your mind.
You can hone your own individual skills, and help others hone their skills.
When teammates make mistakes, you can encourage them and teach them how to avoid making the same mistake next time. You can share encouraging words when they feel demoralized.
Synergy occurs when each teammate understands the subtle patterns of behavior of the other teammates. They can anticipate their teammates’ next move without verbal communication and will be able to help them execute it. A team that works well becomes a singular entity, thinking and moving as one.
A team that works well together has fun playing together and will continue to improve across time because they are winning the meta-game. The more they have fun with each other, the more they will want to play together, which means they will have more practice and experience to improve their skills.
This applies to other realms of life beyond competitive games like basketball.
In your professional life, if you’re productive, conscientious, and creative, your managers will want to include you in more projects and have to contribute to more interesting projects (of course, this may backfire if they start putting you in many projects and spread you too thin)
In your social life, if you’re friendly, funny, and interesting, you will be invited to social gatherings to meet new people. People will want to have you around and get to know you. You will be able to meet more new and interesting people who consider you good company and want to hang out with you as well. (maybe not the most desirable for introverts)
Winning the meta-game is more important than winning a singular game. You must approach each game with the intention of being a fun participant to play with so that you will continue to be invited to other games.
Don’t sacrifice the part for the whole.