Yes, the long game. And, the short game.
How to find value in both the journey and the destination.
How often have we heard the phrase "it's about the journey, not the destination"? I've heard it many times. But, I also find myself hearing advice to make decisions with the future in mind, to play the “long game” with my life by always reaching towards a goal.
I'd been wrestling with this idea for several months by the time my National FFA Officer teammates and I arrived in Indianapolis at the beginning of January. I didn't expect that a quote on the wall on the first day of training would be the clarity I needed, like a ray of sunshine splitting through the sky after a week of cloudy days. I walk into the John Deere room at 6060 FFA Drive and there it is, casually written out in permanent marker on a green sheet of construction paper: "the future is just a bunch of what you do right now strung together." I read it again, and it clicked. Yes, I'd read or heard similar ideas before, but something about the way this quote was phrased just hit differently. (If it sounds like an inspirational coach quote from a football movie, it absolutely is. Shout-out to Coach Hand from Touchback.)
It took me back to a conversation I had with one of my best friends back home when we got coffee over Thanksgiving break. Emma and I had been lamenting over our mutual fear of long-term commitments, and how we often let that fear dampen our enjoyment of the present. She looked up from her coffee and said somewhat matter-of-factly, "but, Miriam, when you think about it, the long game is really just a series of short games." That, too, hit differently.
What if we could find a way to do both—to live life in the present but with the future in mind? To find value in both the short game AND the long game, the journey AND the destination? I think the key here is, you guessed it, to embrace the complexity.
The destination makes the steps meaningful, and the steps make the destination meaningful.
Take running a 5K—the point is to hit the finish line, hear the cheers of your friends and family, and feel the joy of completing a distance. That's the destination adding meaning to the steps along the way. But, the point is also to enjoy those steps; perhaps you're running with a friend, and you enjoy the time together. Maybe you look for the rush of adrenaline along the route as a source of compounding motivation. Regardless, it's the joy you find in each step that ultimately makes the finish line that much sweeter.
And, in life—say we want to graduate from college. The degree is the destination, the classes are the steps. If we hate every class we take, the degree won't mean much to us. At the same time, if we aimlessly take courses with no end in mind then we'll find ourselves five years down the road, likely in debt, and no closer to any goal at all. I think we can take this to another level and think in terms of higher ideals, not just concrete goals, in a way that will help us better achieve both.
One of my favorite authors, Jordan B. Peterson, often talks of the importance of taking aim by picking some far-off dream and then aligning every day-to-day, moment-by-moment action with that dream. The aim can start off relatively vague, even something like "I want to make a positive difference in the world." If we simply leave the idea there, we often get the notion that we have to be a political leader or Fortune 500 CEO in order to do that. When we break it down, we find that's not actually the case. Put another way, when we play the short game within the long game we have the greatest impact.
Do the smallest meaningful thing, first.
Instead of looking at the aim and wondering how to run for president, Peterson would look at the aim and decide the first "short game" is to clean up the kitchen. No one likes a dirty kitchen, and now his family is just a little bit more content. Maybe the next step is to cook a genuinely good meal for his family. Maybe in your life it's sticking to a morning or evening routine, whether that includes running, yoga, journaling, or calling a friend. When we align every choice we face with that far-off aim, we move in a direction that takes us closer to it.
The nifty thing about thinking of our paths in terms of both the long game and the short game is that we get the benefit of the higher ideal from the long game, but the more finite reward of the short game. If we're only thinking about how we want to revolutionize the world, we're probably going to feel like washing the dishes is a waste of time. If we think of the smile on our roommate's face when they come home to a clean apartment, we'll start to realize that there's value in the day-to-day, too. Because, it’s really not just the day-to-day; perhaps because our roommate was happier today, she’ll be more herself in her job interview tomorrow, and she’ll be heading down a more fulfilling career path, and she’ll end up influencing more people, perhaps even revolutionizing the world, simply because you washed her plate without her asking. It’s not a stretch, really. Small, meaningful steps compound like good interest rates in a savings account.
It's human nature to want to make a big impact on the world; that's why the long game appeals to us so much. It's also human nature to want to enjoy our lives as we live them; that's why the short game is appealing, too. Let's seek to say “yes, and…” to both the future and the present by playing the short games within the long game. As we do so, we’ll inject more value into both.
What’s the small, yet meaningful, action you’re going to take in your life to aim towards the long game? Let us know in the comments or on social media by tagging @miriamrosah and @nffaevp and using the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.
Curious about why I push for “yes, and…” in so many areas? Check out my intro post here.