Relatively meaningless sports and games — such as golf, football, and poker — have clearly defined rules and goals, while the truly important activities — work, family life, life in general — have much less clearly defined standards of acceptable behavior. Is cheating okay, or okay if you get away with it? What constitutes victory? Wealth? Fame? The love of your family?
Life really is a game, although a much more complex, difficult, and significant one than those played by athletes. To look at life as a game or sport may help you to set goals, and decide what trade-offs to make. Most importantly, a game mentality may help you adhere strictly to the rules you set for yourself. If your goal is to run a mile in six minutes or less, you know it would be silly, and only cheating yourself; to run three-quarters of a mile in six minutes and tell yourself you had accomplished your goal. Game-thinking encourages honesty with yourself; which is critical to the creation of value and leading a fulfilling life.
In sports and games, there are well-defined rules that all participants agree to abide by. And herein lies the greatest difference between the game of life and trivial games; when you play the great game, you must make your own goals, set your own rules according to your own values, and be your own referee. You keep score for yourself; and, in the end, you are the only one who can decide if you have won or lost.
For some people, climbing Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, is the goal: for others, sailing a boat across the Atlantic. As challenging as these goals may be, they are not nearly as challenging as making your whole life a game: establishing the goals, setting the rules, and then seeking to win. But you must win on your own terms. As a device for abiding by your own rules, you may find it helpful to compare your goal to some-thing easily defined, such as climbing a mountain or running a marathon.
On life as the longest, most challenging, most comprehensive, and most important game in the world.