Picking Your Game

Last night I had a great chat with an old friend from college. She was a couple years younger than me, so she's still enrolled.  

We were  discussing the absolute cut throat competition among Yalies. It's a sad story.


All over the country, high school students work their tails off for four years, try to make the right decisions about extracurriculars and summer programs, load up their schedules with insane amounts of work, strive to be the best, sacrifice everything for the sake of academic excellence - all in the hope of getting picked by a famous college.


When May of their senior year finally rolls around and an obnoxiously small percentage of those students, mostly just by sheer dumb luck, get picked by Yale.






Four months later those students matriculate, and what do they do?


The only thing they've been taught to do. They start the same old game all over again. Competition, exhaustion, and frustration.


Time to apply for summer internships. Same game.


Time to apply for those special, fancy, exclusive classes. Same game.


Time to pick majors - maybe you can get into one that requires a special, separate, extra application? Wouldn't that be cool? Same game.


And now finally graduation, now maybe we can rest, find some new way of measuring success. But of course ...


Time to apply to a famous grad school! Same game.


And then maybe get hired by a famous company? Same game.


Or tenure as a professor at another famous school? Same game.


Or maybe I'll be cool enough that they'll let me speak at TED? Same game.


The question my friend asked was, "When does it stop?".


It stops whenever we decide to make it stop. It stops when we step off the treadmill.


If you're playing the game called, "I'm going to be better than everyone else.", then you're never going to stop playing. That game does not end - there are never any winners.


The only antidote is to do the hard work of creating games for yourself that are actually worth playing for their own sake. Find work that you love, and get better and better at doing that work. That game does have winners.  That game is worth playing.