”Did you ever have to make up your mind?” – The Lovin’ Spoonful
What is the Meaning of Life?
Through the ages, philosophers (and everyone else) have pondered the ultimate question of life, the Universe, and everything. According to Douglas Adams, the answer is “42”. Lew Brown wrote in 1931 that, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.” Erma Bombeck came back with, “Then what am I doing in the pits?” Pity, that.
Maybe they’re all asking the wrong question. Try this variation: “How can I give meaning to my life?” That’s a question you can answer, especially if you think of Life as a Game. In a game, you only have a few controls, and your contribution to the game comes from the decisions you make and how you use the controls. Life is the same; it’s all about the decisions you make.
The Way to Give Meaning to Your Life is by setting goals and making decisions that support your goals. Such choices are the only thing over which we have any control. We don’t decide our parents, our birthplace, or the time in which we live. But we are constantly confronted by choices, and how we handle each one has a profound impact on the rest of our lives. Indirectly, the ripple effects of each decision affect many other people in sometimes obvious, but often subtle ways.
Choice. Life is all about choosing.
For Better or For Worse, You Must Choose
If the Meaning of Life is about making meaningful choices, then what happens when you refuse to choose? Whether you call it procrastination or aversion to risk, failing to choose is making a choice. And it’s rarely a good one.
Now it’s ok to take your time and make sure your decisions are informed. After all, every decision matters. Just don’t let yourself get paralyzed to the point where you are afraid to decide at all. Every time you have a choice and fail to make it, you lose out on some of the “game play” of your life. You turn an interactive experience into a movie. And where’s the fun in that?
I’m writing this partially as therapy, because I have a long history of procrastination. And yet I know that most of the best moments I’ve had in life have been when I took a stand and made a decision. I took big risks in dropping a project to go to Sierra, in starting my own company to develop Shannara, and in many other life decisions. Not all of my choices have been wise, but choosing has almost always been better than waiting on the sidelines.
The Bridge to Success
Rose Meltzer, a five-time World Champion at bridge, said, “The thing about bridge is that you lose more than you win. You have to pick up the pieces and go on. I keep trying every day.” What a great attitude in gaming and in life!
How liberating is it to know that even the best decision makers often get it wrong… or get it right and fail anyway to the roll of the dice? The key is to make your choice and accept that you made it. As we learn from playing games, you can often recover from a bad decision. Maybe I shouldn’t even use the word “bad”; very few life choices really have clear-cut right or wrong answers. All you can do is make a reasonable choice each time. Each one gently nudges your life in a new direction, and the sum of all your choices adds up to the life you live.
Last week, a friend pointed out that the way to win a war is to have a clear objective and only do things that move you towards that objective. The catch phrase for Vietnam was, “Win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.” Every action we took that caused us to lose respect from the Vietnamese worked against that goal, and we took a lot of such actions.
So what’s your objective in life? Are you going through life without a battle plan? If it’s just to “stay alive,” I can tell you the odds are stacked against you. Not many people have managed to live forever so far. So maybe you should make some plans that you can accomplish in a normal lifetime. That might be to contribute to the world in getting us into space, or creating worthwhile entertainment, or in any of a number of other ways. It could be to enjoy yourself, to find time to spend with friends and family, or to explore the world. But make yourself a goal – or several goals – and use them to help you make choices that further your goals.
The Game of Life
Think about your favorite games and why you like them. It probably isn’t the great graphics or the license, or even the wonderful text. It’s the choices you make and how they affect the story. When Lori and I designed each of the Quest for Glory games, we often asked, “What meaningful choices can we give the player? What problems do our characters have that the player might be able to help them solve?” These questions became the heart of the game play and story lines.
All great games have decision-making at their heart. In poker, do you raise or fold? In bridge, do you take the finesse or try to find a squeeze or endplay? In billiards, do you try to sink the target ball or snooker your opponent by hiding the cue ball behind other balls? Without choices like these, a game stops being a game and turns into just an activity.
If making choices is essential to making games fun, then how much more important must it be for life? Our personal story lines and our “life play” are directed by the choices we make.
A Winning Team
Life isn’t a solitaire game. We play it with other people, and our choice of partners and teammates makes a big difference in our life experience… and theirs. Certainly a good part of my life has been shaped by whom I married and by friends I met along the way.
How we choose to act, work, and play with others has a huge impact on how our lives play out. Work on developing empathy – knowing how to deal with people based on their needs as much as on your own. If you want to play on a winning team, learn how to convince others that they should play with you. Consider their needs and desires and find ways to help people while they are helping you. Pick a win-win scenario any time you can, and you will soon have many friends and teammates working with you to achieve your goals.
Another important factor is self-confidence. That comes from knowing what you want and being able to visualize how to enroll others into helping you accomplish your goals. If you have trouble being assertive, try role-playing in front of a mirror. Remind yourself that you are a capable, competent person. Practice your communication and negotiation skills.
This isn’t about arrogance. You aren’t demanding special treatment just because you want it. It’s entitlement by competence. You’re entitled because you are doing the work and earning the respect and assistance of others. An attitude of “quiet competence” will be recognized by the people you work with. They will respect it and want to work with you.
It’s Your Choice
If you want to be a success, and to create meaning in your life, recognize that you have the power to do amazing things. All it takes is commitment, willingness to treat other people’s goals as almost as important as your own, and a lot of work to build up your practical knowledge and communication skills. Treat life as an exciting, engrossing game and choose the decisions that will help you win at it.
Find your dream and follow it!
The next time someone tries to confound you by asking, “What is the meaning of life?” you can look them straight in the eye and say, “I know the meaning of my life. Maybe it’s time for you look for your own.” We all have as much meaning as we allow ourselves to have.
- Choose Wisely – the Holy Grail of Decision-Making
- The Power of Uncertainty
- You Bet Your Life – Lessons from Poker Players