The Game of Life
When I was young, I needed a lot of guidance. And that was perfectly fine.
As an innocent kid, who knew what kind of weird stuff I would’ve gotten into - if my parents and teachers hadn’t put me on the “right path.”
Education was important. Math. English. History. Even gym! All of that was good stuff. And quite frankly, I excelled in it.
I remembered getting a triple A plus on a book report that I did about Sasketchewan with my good friend back in 5th grade. It was one of the many highlights of my time in elementary school.
It was so easy back then.
They would give you a system to follow and you just follow it to a tee. Success was defined. The game was clear and specific. This is what you are supposed to do to win. And this is what you do to be considered a good student.
And this type of clarity continued on from elementary school, into junior high, into high school, and all the way up to college.
I was good at this game they called education. And my parents had enough resources to send me off to some prep classes on Saturdays - to learn how to take the SHSATs and the SATs the right way.
I got into Stuyvesant High School, one of the top specialized schools in NYC. And then after 4 years of more hard work in this system, I was able to get into Cornell University. An Ivy League institution!
It felt awesome! I had made it in life!
Success had been defined so clearly by the standards of society. And I accepted it, and I followed it, and it served me well.
But then, college rolled around, and it was a completely different experience. Struggle seeped into every part of my experience in this system of education. This system - which served me so well for my first 17+ years of existence - suddenly became incomprehensive and brutal.
I started realizing that I had my limitations. And I no longer felt like the unbeatable Hollywood hero so popularly depicted inside our theaters.
Don’t get me wrong. I made a lot of good memories at Cornell. But, that Engineering School was just so hard!
We learned about financial derivatives. Stochastic processes. Six sigma black belts. And Poisson distributions. I had to admit, they were all interesting concepts. And I deeply admire the geniuses that came up with these ideas and terminologies.
But I noticed that I would take a long time grasping these concepts - compared with many of my peers at the time whom had no trouble at all. I was surrounded by geniuses! And for the first time in my life, I felt insufficient - no longer the cream of the crop - within the system.
This game of education.
I remembered getting an "incomplete" on my optimization course. One of the pre-requisites for my Operations Research and Industrial Engineering major.
I remembered failing Psychology 101. Psych 101 of all things!
And it forced to retake both courses over the summer. Don't worry, I eventually did graduate. But after graduating, my confidence felt shattered. I was a bit ashamed, confused, and anxious about what to do next.
I was no longer the star. The Hollywood hero. The mythical TV figure that defies all odds to come out on top and ride off confidently into the sunset.
I was told that in order to be successful in life - you had to study hard, get good grades, and once you do that, you will have become a winner.
And this mentality worked. Until it eventually didn’t.
Nobody wanted to see me suffer. To fail. And to feel insufficient. And of course, society needs systems. Because without systems, we’d fall into chaos.
But these systems are nothing more than games defined by others. And games should be played for fun, not to be taken too seriously, and played at our own choice.
The game of love. The game of school. The game of education. The game of business. The game of sports. And the game of life.
Wall Street executives probably prefer success to be defined as how much money we make. After all, they’re good at this. So, why shouldn’t everyone play by these standards?
College professors most likely place significant value on the importance of a good education. And why not? They’ve dedicated their careers towards the craft of teaching.
Philosophers probably want you to play the game of seeking wisdom and truth. And why not? It’s fun, and I’m sure this has worked for them, so maybe it could work for all.
Even good Samaritans would ideally like success to be defined as how much you give back to society. Because this is what’s meaningful to them. And on and on and on it goes.
Everyone kind of wants you to play their game of life. The game that’s worked for them. The game that’s brought them happiness. Brought them wealth. Brought them knowledge. Brought them purpose. Brought them whatever it is that they perceive as success.
And that is completely fine!
But ultimately, it’s up to each of us to decide which games we want to play (and which games we would kindly not). If we want to invent our own games, then more power to us!
It took me a while, but these days, I don’t let the game of education define who I am anymore. I still see the importance in school and in educating our youth. But success (I believe at least) in life should be defined by more than simply who gets an A+++ and who does not.
So whatever game it is that you are playing at this moment, just do it on your own terms. Define success on your own. Define failure on your own.
You are the driver. You are the pioneer. This game of life is in your own hands.