Playing a Bigger Game

Photo by Click and Boo on Unsplash

Two years ago, I was feeling stuck.  

If you’ve never felt this way, it’s really hard to describe.  It’s the feeling of everything being okay but not great.  Of mediocre satisfaction.  I felt like life wasn’t bad, it was pretty good, but there could also be a lot more.  

I had the sense that I was playing a small game.  In my twenties, I had pushed up against the edges of my boundaries, defied a lot of conventional norms, and felt like I was constantly pushing towards bigger things.

But as many older people will tell you, life has a way of grinding against you like waves slowly destroying mountains, and if you’re not vigilant, it’s easy to get the edges worn down and start to settle.  

Let me be clear – I think there’s a distinct difference between settling and finding contentment.  Being content is awesome, and if you’re feeling content, then by all means, keep doing exactly what you’re doing.

But if there’s a sneaky feeling of discontent lingering, I might assert that you’re settling rather than finding contentment.  The only cure for that feeling of settling is not settling.  

This means potentially jumping into a larger pond.  It’s playing a larger game than you might think you’re capable of.  It’s embracing the challenge that the game will probably not be as easy as it used to be.  It could be new, fraught with hidden dangers and new pitfalls, but understanding that the greatest challenges yield the greatest rewards.  

Playing the largest game you can is scary work.  It’s stepping into the light to be judged.  It’s fighting against established norms.  It’s innovating, exploring new territory, and navigating uncertainty.  It’s moving from being number one in your local competition to number one thousand in a world-wide competition.  It might feel like a backslide, but it’s really just a reframing of who you’re playing with.  

Yet this is where the biggest gains all lie.  The largest hordes of gold are always found in the lairs of the strongest dragons, right?  

You don’t need to be trying to slay the biggest, baddest dragon of them all, though.  Especially if you’re just starting out on your journey, that doesn’t make sense, as you’ll just get eaten alive.

However, if you’re feeling like you’re settling in complacency, you also don’t want to hide.  Being scared to level up and fail is more detrimental to your feeling of success than jumping too far ahead and failing.  

Like most things in life, it’s finding the balance between pushing yourself past your limits, and breaking yourself against barriers you were far from ready for. I’m going to assert that it’s better to go for broke and shoot for the stars than hide in the slow progress of baby steps.  Most of us naturally pull back when faced with challenges anyway, so would you rather pull back to the game you’re currently playing, or pull back from level 100 to level 90?  

All this talk about playing a bigger game is great, but what really pushes you towards a new future is taking action.  As I said earlier, you don’t have to suddenly go and start a revolution, even though I wholeheartedly encourage you to.  

Think of the most actionable thing you can do, right now, with what you’ve already got, that you could do today to move forward?  How might you do that uncomfortable thing you’ve been avoiding?  What does it look like to choose courage over complacency and move even one inch closer to your full potential?  

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