Life is not a game, despite the rumours, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not in your best interest to play one and play one well. Now, the type of game you decide to play will is very important. It will ultimately determine how much marrow you will be able to suck out of life, and how happy you can become.
James P. Carse illustrated this most beautifully in his book Finite and Infinite Games. Many us tangle up our lives playing finite games. We spend tremendous efforts to get on the honour roll, chase scholarships, promotions, and chase a puck around to lift a Stanley Cup. We fight with each other, compete, hold grudges, plan, scheme, and relentlessly, try to win at life. But you can’t win at life, and James P. Carse suggests that we need to spend a lot more time playing infinite games, games that don’t end.
We need to participate more wholeheartedly in activities that are worth while on their won and are not just a means to an end. Being a parent is definitely an infinite game. It doesn’t concern itself about raising or creating the most genetically perfect child that will one day go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, but instead focuses on sharing and seeing what happens.
We should play infinite games more often. Every time we wake up from our slumber we have an opportunity to go to work and fight for something finite, or to build and play with someone else, a game that begs to be infinite.
It has to be infinite because infinite games never end. They don’t have a finish line. There is no end credits and you can never get enough. Our life needs to resemble more what we feel at a great concert. Our life needs to be a Bruce Springsteen concert. It can’t just be a set of hits and a forced encore, but a three hour performance that leaves you somewhat tired, but you don’t want to leave, and you won’t leave, not if Bruce play one more, and another, and another.
Let’s play an infinite game. Let’s have a conversation that is not designed to solve a problem. Lets just talk, listen, and exchange our lives for the sake of being human. Let’s write some short stories so that we can share what we see. Let’s write a song so we can hear what someone else hears.
Let’s play infinite games each and every day. Let’s paint and struggle to capture the infinite number of colours that beg to be remembered and put on display. Let’s think of others as a dignified end, and not a means to an end. Let’s value work, and not prioritize one’s person’s effort as more valuable than another.
It won’t be easy. Not when most people are resigned to play to win. I’m not sure they know what they will win, but they shuffle their feet blindly in anticipation anyway. It won’t be easy. Not when people will do almost anything to get ahead, because they think that where they are going will make them happy. But they are mistaken. Finite games won’t make them happy. Winning won’t make you happy.
Being Super Bowl Champion on Sunday may be the greatest feeling in the world, but unfortunately everyone will get back to their other games on Monday, and that intensely happy feeling will ultimately disappear, leaving the athlete in a dark place. They will find themselves forever chasing, and measuring the rest of their life against that one solitary Super Bowl moment. Or it might even be worse. You might be the fan watching that night, having never played the game, fooling yourself that you had something to do with the victory, when in fact someone else held up the trophy. And you too will spend the rest of your life living out that one moment, but in time you’ll be moaning and complaining how imperative it is for your team to get back to the finals once again.
We should not stop playing games. They are fun and worth playing. But before you spend your life becoming good at something, make sure you know what game you are playing.
Cover photo generously provided by photographer Chuttersnap via unsplash.com