April 19, 2023
“Dad, why do grades matter so much?!?”
My 14-year-old daughter is gifted — especially academically.
But the pains of industrialized schooling are clearly getting to her, as they did to me.
I remember feeling disdain for school during my early years in high school — a time when sports and girls were all I cared about.
Academically, I was cruising by with a cool “B” average.
Nothing to complain about, right?
Well, fast-forward to the latter part of high school:
My world stopped, and my friends’ worlds were taking off.
So, in panic mode, I went all out…and somehow pulled off straight A’s during senior year (clearly, I was capable).
But too little, too late.
While my friends were soaring, I was staying.
I hadn’t learned to play the game.
At that time, getting good marks was the game, and I had neglected it.
There are games all around you:
These are all games to be played. Games have learnable “rules” and expectations.
And, as exemplified by my bonehead approach to high school academics, there are foreseeable consequences in choosing to NOT play the game.
Listen, you don’t have to like the game. You just have to know if it’s a game worth playing.
And I’m talking about sprints, not marathons.
For example, you can fixate on winning the short-term game of a corporate promotion, not a decades-long corporate path.
Don’t lock yourself in or get caught on a hamster wheel.
Bottom line question: “Will ‘winning’ this short-term game open exciting long-term opportunities?” (e.g., money, relationships, life partner, reputation, skills, emotional health, professional opportunities)
If so, it’s likely a game worth playing.
Playing games is about leveling up in life — creating more freedom to be and do what you want.
You want to play their game only as long as you have to.
From there, you graduate and create your own game.
Here are 4 steps to playing (and graduating from) short-term games:
1. Understand which game you need to play right now
Fixate on ONE primary game at a time. You’ve got finite time and energy, so clarify which game you need to surge on. If it’s income, surge on that promotion or job search. If it’s personal health, obsess over some element of self-care.
2. Learn the rules (and how to win)
Everything is figureoutable. I don’t care what your challenge is; others have successfully walked in your path before you. Discover what made them successful and then commit to playing the game with similar intensity and strategy. And set your bar for what constitutes “winning,” because we must know when to stop.
3. Play the game in a detached manner
You don’t need to like school, corporate promotion paths, or strength training. Give yourself permission to emotionally detach from the game but physically do the work in an efficient manner. Stay emotionally fixated on your dream, not the game you’re playing.
4. Earn the right to leave the game and make your own
Soon, you’ll graduate. You’ll “succeed” per your criteria. Realize that you’ve bought yourself freedom and opportunity. So say goodbye to that past game and choose the next one.
Back to my daughter.
I talk to her about treating school as a game.
While her high-achieving friends make school their identity, she can sit back and see it all as a game to be played — like a chess grandmaster.
Win. Graduate. Repeat.
I’ve played tons of games over the last couple of decades.
And now, she sees how I’m playing my own game.
That “lightbulb” look in her eyes is priceless.
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