A reflection inspired by Dorie Clark’s latest book on “How to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world.”
Even though I would say I have been successful in my career I have never been much of a long term strategist. At least not intentionally I realise while reflecting on Dorie Clark’s latest book “The Long Game”. As many others, I have been looking for the instant rewards and gratification for all the things I focussed on.
When I was writing my novel, I only focussed on the process of writing, never thinking about wether there was anybody interested in publishing my work, never mind reading it. I have just assumed that the reader would show up and that a book is like any other product that can be marketed. I did find a publisher and when the novel came out I was so proud of myself. Not having a long term strategy as a writer back fired. Even though people read the novel and it received fantastic reviews, the rewards I was dreaming of (bestseller rankings, the novel translated in 5 or more languages and turned into a motion picture) never materialised. I stopped believing that people would be interested in my work as a writer. So instead of turning my learnings into a strategy and work on my next book, I pretty much stopped writing fiction.
Something similar happened to the me with my first coaching business about 10 years ago. Even though I worked hard, established a regular blog with readers, got an article published in a local newspaper and had lots of passion I failed to attract enough customers for me to being professionally satisfied and to make a sufficient income. I told myself, that I am just not the right person to work for myself and reverted back into a corporate career after only 12 months in business.
On the other side, in my corporate career I had to show up consistently. I had to keep using my skills, competencies and experiences to deliver the objectives and so I did. While in my free time I was thinking about what else I want or could do, in my work time I was indeed developing my career. When I accepted my first management position I didn’t realise how far I have come. And even when I have been recognised as an effective leader and manager by the executive team, business parters and colleagues I was way too busy thinking about what else I wanted to do with my life.
In hindsight, playing the long game is not necessarily a conscious strategy but the discipline to be consistent with what you do and how you show up. Being successful has, in my experience, little to do with passion but with following through on your commitment and delivering on your promises. Unfortunately, the long game can be playing us as well. This is when we are committed to things, jobs and people that may sound great but are not necessarily good for us. Let me explain what I mean.
We scroll down our social media feed even though we know we lose too much of our valuable time. We know that it is bad for us, yet we are committed to our phone and keep scrolling day in and day out. Over time, we resign to the fact that we don’t have enough time to do all the things we want to. We have become very successful wasting our time by scrolling through our feeds. In the long run, we may develop an addiction, feeling unfulfilled or even worse. This is also a result of playing the long game, doing the wrong things consistently. Same is true with the people who we allow to take advantage of our kindness and willingness to help. The long term effects will be harmful if we don’t find a way to take control.
Looking at my career, it looks like it developed in a good way. I have had the best chances, great mentors, respectful bosses and fantastic colleagues and I enjoyed using my analytical and people skills. Nevertheless, my interests were not in insurance or financial services and the stretch between entertaining my interests in social science, personal and professional development to fill myself up after work and, on the other side, doing a good job was too big to be sustainable in the long run. One had to go either the job or taking care of my interests. It was a matter of gaining control in my long game and taking a leap of faith versus continuing a career that took all of me.
Knowing that playing the long game is about consistency, about being committed to showing up, even when we don’t feel like it, we can develop a discipline to keep doing the things we are interested in and reduce doing the things we are not. We can use our knowledge, skills and experiences that are transferable and bring them into the area we are interested in and slowly over time we can transition into a career that is more aligned with who we are.
What I have realised after reading Dorie’s book is that playing the long game is something we all do already. However, a lot of us are being placed onto the play ground and pushed around by others. I believe it is time to level up and take control of the game that we want to play in the long run. A long game in which we can observe the rules and still play an active role of us as the protagonist in our lives.