Three Big Lessons I Learned This Year

What does a 20 year-old video game have to do with the meaning of life? Well…

Let’s Be Honest…

Look, 2016 probably wasn’t what you expected it to be. As I sat down to sum up a year that was filled with epic highs and lows, I was buoyed by three year-end thoughts that are sharpening my focus as 2017 begins.

It’s Not What You Say

Wanting the world to be better doesn’t make it better.

Wanting to improve yourself isn’t improving yourself.

Wanting to do something isn’t doing it.

If you want to make a change, accomplish a goal, “fix the world,” or just find your balance, you have to take action.

Maybe this sounds obvious, but I think it’s not. At least, acknowledging it doesn’t magically lead to a change of habit. Because I think a lot of people were blindsided by the negativity of 2016, and the stunning realization that not only do bad things sometimes happen to innocent people, but sometimes bad people win. Especially when people take positivity and progress for granted.

If you want to create good things, you have to take action. If you want to learn new skills, you have to take action. If you want the world to resemble the idyllic vision in your dreams, you have to take action. You can’t just rely on common sense, idealism, or a well-meaning but ineffectual belief in the greater good of humanity.

Why not?

Because the people who disagree with all of your visions are out there, every day, working to make the world look more like their version of utopia — and if you’re not working to push your own ideals forward, you’re losing through inertia, attrition, and the normalization of their POV.

Wanting a better future for yourself, the people you love, and the world at large is a good goal.

But you have to put in the work.

Figure Out How Much Is Enough

How much of what? Of whatever it is that’s causing you stress in its absence.

For me, my big three recurring issues from 2016 (and, really, the 30+ years before that) were:

  • I’m tired of not feeling like I have enough money.
  • I’m tired of not feeling like I’m doing enough with my life.
  • I’m tired of always feeling like I’m one minor incident away from economic collapse.

Case in point: my laptop crashed in December, and for a week I felt the dread of not knowing if I just lost all my files. The good news was, my files were salvageable. (And this was a great reminder to always back up into the cloud, which… I know, I know, we all say we’re going to do it, but…)

In order to keep working during the week my MacBook was on the DL, I had to rush out and buy a cheap PC. And the whole time, I’m thinking, “If I didn’t have a spare $300 in my bank account right now to buy this PC, I’m screwed.”

My world shouldn’t be so precarious that the absence of $300 could spell the difference between success and failure, much less $100, or $20.

The underlying causes of all three of these issues boil down to: I’m spending my time on the “wrong” things. It doesn’t really matter what those things are; what matters is that doing them hasn’t alleviated my three concerns. Thus, it follows that I must either do something else, or do what I am doing differently.

To that end, I’ve already begun experimenting with my daily workload, the order in which I do things, and what qualifies as a “must-do” vs. a “nice-to-do.” Maybe this will be the year I figure out how to solve these three stress-inducing mindsets.

And maybe the most impactful realization I had (which, again, may be completely obvious until you try to apply it to your life in a functional way) is:

Your Entire Life Is Really Just Resource Management

One of the upsides to my MacBook crashing is that I now own a functional PC for the first time in a decade — which means I was able to download a bunch of old video games I loved in the ‘90s but haven’t played in forever. (I know, super productive, right?)

My favorite from that era is Heroes of Might & Magic 3, a turn-based strategy game where you control a small group of adventurers on quests for resources or buried treasure or kingdom domination. (It’s also the game in this post’s feature image.)

With the benefit of nearly a decade of distance since the last time I played HMM3, I realized something about it that I’d never really understood before: you think it’s all about solving quests or winning wars… but it’s really all about resource management. At its core, you need to control cities in order to earn taxes so you can hire armies to defeat monsters and other players… which provides you with more wealth and real estate… which you have to keep maximizing in order to keep your empire solvent and well-defended.

In other words, everything else you want to accomplish in HMM3 is really just a byproduct of the primary game mechanics: effectively maximizing and allocating your resources of time, wealth, and experience.

As I thought about this, I realized pretty much every game — from Super Mario Bros. to Resident Evil — is also just resource management. Whatever you’re doing, you have X life and Y time to accomplish Z tasks… and accomplishing those tasks will give you more experience / skill / wealth… all of which you reinvest in the pursuit of loftier goals that you earn by overcoming ever-harder challenges.

And that’s when I realized… holy shit, real life is just resource management.

Which means life really is a game.

I don’t know why it took me almost four decades to figure this out. I feel like it’s something we all know on some level, but all the abstractions and aesthetics and philosophies that we adhere to about “the meaning of life” obscure the very simple wireframe that holds this whole “reality” thing together. This little perception shift has absolutely changed my perspective on… well, pretty much everything.

Looking Ahead

I’m not much for publicly announcing new year’s resolutions — but, ironically, one of mine for this year is to say less and do more.

So, instead of talking about things I want to do, or announcing what I intend to do… I’m just going to work on getting things done. When I do, you’ll hear about them here. (Or over drinks, if we know each other in reality.)

And to that end, here’s an open offer for all of January 2017:

If we’re not connected on LinkedIn, add me there. (I’ll accept all reasonable requests.)

If we’re not connected on Facebook, friend me there. (You may want to also message me so I know you’re not spam.)

(If we’re not connected on Twitter or Instagram, you’re welcome to follow me there too, but I use those channels differently so I’m less likely to follow back. Don’t take it personally.)

Why would you do these things? Because the larger your network is, and the more people know who you are, what you love to do, and what you’d like to do more of, the more opportunities you’re likely to have to expand your own skill set / network / revenue streams, or help someone else do the same.

Cheers to a year of new adventures — and may this be the year that you solve some of your old problems too.

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