Chapter 9: Rule Five: Find Games Worth Playing

See your career change as a game? That’s just another metaphor, isn’t it? Maybe. Pretend your current career choice is a kind of game and then answer these eight questions:

1         What are the rules?

2         Who made these rules?

3         What position are you playing?

4         Can you change position?

5         What’s the score?

6         How do you win?

7         Who’s the referee?

8         How can you change the game?

Stretch this metaphor as far as you want – it offers great material for doodling with pen and paper, drawing a mind map or personal journaling.

I know of people who achieved a successful career change on the same team by simply changing positions. And for as long as they’re judged fit and talented enough to play, they’ll probably get to stay on that field. (Questions 3 and 4 above were the most relevant to them). For the most part, they discover their own answers over time.

However, other folks figured out that not only was changing the game a burning desire – they also wanted to own the freakin’ stadium, be the manager and select their own playing and support staff! Sounds like you? Then step forward your entrepreneurial and business owner self. (The career anchors self assessment may also provide valuable information about this.)

The more clearly you can answer these eight questions, the more likely you are to move from ‘vision to roles to goals’, and then onto direct and sustained action. This is the sweet spot of successful career change – the arena in which it fuses with goals, coaching and mentoring as a collection of positive feedback loops.

And Your BIG Goal In Life Is What?

Does your big goal in life never even make it onto your to-do list? That happens to me occasionally and when it does I am reminded of what the late John Lennon, reportedly once said:

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

So, even rock superstars, who on the face of it might seem to have all the time and money in the world, can get caught up in ‘stuff’. That’s reassuring for the rest of us because the saving grace here can be a greater awareness of what these plans of ours actually are. For example, have you ever sat down for an hour or so each month and listed out all of the roles, activities and requirements you are somehow fulfilling week in and week out. It can be quite a shock to realize how much of the 168 weekly hours we each have is subsumed in ‘stuff’. And a lot of it is other people’s stuff.

Some of this ‘stuff’ is not to be trivialized and discarded. There will be many important and urgent tasks that you feel must be done each and every day to afford essential stuff:

  • Earn a wage.
  • Feed a family.
  • Pay for somewhere to live.
  • Pay for holidays?
  • Pay for Cable TV?
  • Pay for more stuff?

We all need food, water and shelter to get through the days in a comfortable manner. Some of us are also lucky and privileged to live in mostly peaceful and free societies where there are ample opportunities for education and advancement. Beyond that, what are the necessities and what are the luxuries?

When I decided that I had spent enough time buzzing around the corporate honey pot, I looked carefully at all of these things. But once my big goal in life became wrapped around the rallying vision of being independent, it was a lot easier to focus on being excellent in my existing career until the necessary plans were in place to make a safer exit approximately five years later.

Exercise 19: And your big goal in life is what?

What is it? Take your time.

You Can’t Have Anything You Want And You Can’t Have Everything!

There’s an old goal setting maxim that goes:

“You can have anything you want but you can’t have everything.”

This is one way of saying that if you focus on a specific desire, then with determination and effort, you can achieve it. Sounds good but there’s just one major problem – you can’t have anything you want! This section explains why and what to do about it.

Look at it this way. A famous success guru, Napoleon Hill, once said:

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

I think Mr. Hill was hinting at the multiplier effect of mass consciousness as much as at the goal setting of individuals. Take the US Space program in the 1960s. Once President John F. Kennedy made his electrifying speech about the goal of putting a (hu)man on the moon before the decade was over, many people probably began to believe that with a concerted national effort and a lot of money, it was indeed possible that the goal could be achieved.

I experienced a similar phenomenon on a much, much smaller scale when I was part of a running group in the 1980s. We were of different abilities and trained hard together up to six days a week, under the watchful eye of a wonderful coach. And we each improved our personal best times over several years of hard work – of literally blood, sweat and tears. This was the reality of what it took to make progress in an athletic discipline. (There were a lot of fun times too!)

One runner in our group was gifted with outstanding speed, endurance and mental toughness. He trained as hard as any of us, in addition to keeping up with his university medical studies, and went on to win some national and international titles. A memorable achievement was his selection for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Wow! A track and field Olympian came from our small group of runners. We were as pleased as punch.

It would be a fairytale ending to tell you that he did something amazing at those Olympics. But that wasn’t to be and he was eliminated in the first round of his event – with the eventual Olympic champion also running in the same race!

Athletes have dreams and set goals but are also very grounded in the reality of results and of the limitations imposed by natural talent. Yes, results don’t lie, and with hard but careful training, plus a dash of luck, it’s possible to make big improvements over time. But this is always against a backdrop of natural ability. My coach loved to say, “You can’t put in what God left out,” and he meant it. He also knew you could work with whatever abilities you did possess and go way beyond what you thought possible.

So, let’s rewrite that goal setting maxim to be something more useful:

“You can have anything you want and are capable of – but you can’t have everything.”

That speaks true to my experience and doesn’t set unrealistic expectations that are later dashed on the rocks of reality. I do still believe that you should set BIG goals in areas of your life you truly want to make major changes in – goals that will stretch you but not so much that the fabric of your life will tear apart!

Exercise 20: Anything You Want

What if you can have anything you want but you can’t have everything. What would that be?

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