I love sports and spend extra time reading the sports page in the paper every day. I believe that life can be an exciting game, sometimes serious and sometimes fun. A well-lived life consists of creating personal games that are worth playing because they involve goals that mean a great deal to us.
From prehistoric times, when people competed at throwing stones, we have been drawn to the game. Games allow us to clarify our goals, learn new skills, cultivate our talents and focus our energies. When we see people playing their personal game worth playing – whether it’s building a nest egg or a better computer, find cures for disease or finding time to pursue a creative passion – we feel their sizzle and recognize their zeal and enthusiasm.
Turn to your own life, and think of an unrealized dream. To develop a new business, write a book, swim in the Caribbean, volunteer for hospice – whatever it is, look closely, and you’ll see that the goal asks you to stretch, develop skills and engage with life in new ways.
Engagement and dancing with your dreams go hand in hand. Haven’t you felt the best when you were involved with a project or activity that had significant meaning for you? It could have been as big as starting a community program for at-risk youth or as small as tutoring one child. In reality, none of this is small if it’s about expressing yourself and bringing what was inside you out and into the light.
This is what I mean by games worth playing, and this is how important they are. You choose these games, and they reflect who you are in a profound, personal and meaningful way. They focus your energies and cut your doubts and fears down to size. In a very real way you are shaped by the game, for as you develop needed skills, you come to appreciate your own capacities. You begin to define yourself apart from your old excuses, experiences and explanations.
It’s what athletes mean when they play “in the zone” as they play with clarity, focus, ease and grace. And “the zone” is not an extraordinary state to be enjoyed by only a select few. You too can define your game worth playing and play your way to success. Doing so will add purpose and passion and sizzle to your life.
Obstacles are the heart of every interesting and worthwhile game. We recognize this when it comes to sports, but in our own lives the single most important reason we never begin to play for what we truly want is fear of the obstacles we know or suspect we’ll encounter.
But what would it be like to play a game without obstacles? Imagine you’re on a basketball team, and before the game your coach announces that the other team couldn’t make it. You’re going to play anyway, but without an opposing team.
Pregame excitement gives way to confusion. On the court, you have the ball, you drive for the basket, and you score unopposed – easy with no defender blocking your shot. This happens again and again.
How long would this game hold your interest? Games worth playing contain the chance to win, and winning involves overcoming obstacles. There has to be something to push against, go through, and run around. There also has to be the possibility of losing. When we lose, we are called on to reinvent our strategy so that we might prevail the next time around.
Think back to the peak experiences in your life. Were you required to learn something new or otherwise stretch beyond your comfort zone? Do you have to anticipate and overcome a hurdle or two? Whether it’s learning to ride a bike, speak a new language, or solve crossword puzzles, everything we learn involves meeting a challenge.
The feature that most distinguishes a game worth playing is that it is personally meaningful or relevant to us. The game must call out to us and resonate with who we truly are; it must give us an opportunity to express our innermost intentions.
So, step up and play ball and play the game of life!