Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Posts Tagged ‘Life Advice’

The Point(s) of Life

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

One of the most important features of all games, and especially the game of your life, is a good reward system. You need ways to keep working on your game plan, and good rewards help you stay focused.

The stakes and the rewards for playing the game of your life are as high as you make them.

What’s the Point?

You are HereIn my Master the Game of Life blog, I talked about running your life as though it is a role-playing game. But sometimes the stress of daily life doesn’t seem very fun. Maybe we just don’t get rewarded enough in real life, and that’s why we run to games where the rewards are easier to see and achieve.

You work very hard to accomplish your goals and it would be nice if someone recognized your efforts. How about yourself? Just as games use point systems to reward accomplishment, try tracking your own “Life Points.” They can add up fast!

Does that seem a little arbitrary? Most game rewards are just as intangible, but still highly addictive. We are hard-wired to get pleasure from rewards, kind words, and winning in any way. Keeping track of your life points will make you feel good. You will also be able to look back and say, “Wow, I really accomplish a lot!” Sometimes we forget just how much we do and achieve every day.

The Achievement Grid

Start out by creating some Achievement Categories. You can base some of these on the goals you laid out last week in your Life Plan. Haven’t started on that yet? There is no time like the present!

World of Warcraft has this set of Achievement Categories:

  • Summary
  • General
  • Quests
  • Exploration
  • Player vs. Player
  • Dungeons & Raids
  • Professions
  • Reputation
  • World Events
  • Feats of Strength

This is really a remarkable list in that so much of it applies to real life. I’m not so sure about “Dungeons & Raids,” unless you’re in the police or military, but the rest really work. “Player vs. Player” covers competitive activities such as sports and any sort of multi-player gaming. Yes, games are part of your real life – Their consequences reach outside the game worlds.

Now think about some things you want to accomplish – near-term and far – and fill them in to the appropriate grid categories. You can start out on paper, but I recommend moving your grid to a computer spreadsheet as soon as possible. This will make it easier to add new achievements and to change their categories. More importantly, you can use formulas to total up your points so you can watch them grow over time.

Doing the Right Thing AwardI’d probably add a “Health & Wellness” category. Want to lose weight? Don’t just say it – Track it in your Achievement Grid and award yourself points every time you lose a pound and keep it off. When you reach a goal, such as losing 10 or 20 pounds in a year, mark off a special achievement and give yourself a reward (hopefully not a hot fudge sundae!).

Don’t neglect the “Summary” category. That’s where you will keep the totals and track your most recent accomplishments. One way to do this is to copy any major achievements into the summary section and date them. (“Promoted to store manager 2010 Aug. 29 for 5 points.”) It can serve as a log book tracking your life changes and accomplishments.

Quests – One-Time and Daily

All role-playing games feature quests. You take on many quests in your daily life too. Do you need to get a report ready by Thursday? Treat it as a quest! First decide what you need to acquire to complete it, then begin gathering your quest materials – research and other data that you will need for your report. Work on each of the steps you need to complete – the sections of the report – and track each accomplishment. When you have checked off the last part, you will have completed your quest. You’ll have had more fun and probably finished it ahead of schedule. Not only that, but you can check off (or add) your completed quest to the Achievement Grid and rack up more points!

World of Warcraft and other on-line games offer daily quests to reward players for accomplishing useful tasks. Life has many daily quests too – Report in to work or school, prepare regular nourishing meals, clean your room, and so on. Make sure you include points for daily quests in your achievement system so that you can reward yourself each day for accomplishing them.

Create achievements such as, “Brush my teeth every night for a month,” and do your best to fulfill them. You might want to make these a little flexible so that you don’t “fail” by missing one night. Quests give you goals; they aren’t there to punish you because it took you two or three tries to accomplish them. One noteworthy feature of on-line games is that you can’t really “fail” – If you don’t manage to complete a quest or achievement on the first try, or on the first seven tries – you can keep trying it again until you succeed.

Building Your Reputation

Most online games such track your reputation with various factions. We all know the importance of maintaining a good reputation in real life. In the Reputation section of your grid, list some areas where you want to build and keep a good reputation:

  • Clients
  • Co-Workers
  • Community
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Teammates

Let’s say you volunteer to help clean up a local park. Give yourself a Community Reputation point. Did the dishes without anyone prompting you? That’s sure to gain a Family Reputation point. When you start seeing people smile everywhere you go, you know you’re racking up the Reputation points! You will feel good about yourself and you will find you have a lot of friends you can call on when you need help with a more difficult quest.

Feats of Strength

Feets of StrengthSome achievements are so special, you may not be able to fit them into any ordinary category. Getting a new job or a promotion is certainly worth some achievement points, but founding a company and helping it go public is a milestone that few people ever accomplish. You should give yourself a trophy for a major life milestone to help you remember the achievement points. This is your personal Hall of Fame for accomplishments you will always remember.

For me, these might include each of my computer game releases, my national bridge championship, the opening of The School for Heroes, and a handful of other events. I give myself an Achievement Point every time I complete a blog article or file my income taxes, but some events are special enough that they deserve their own category.

I find it interesting that World of Warcraft assigns the same number of points to most achievements, the trivial and the incredibly difficult alike. The important thing is to know you achieved something. For a truly impressive task, doing it may be its own reward.

Unlock Greatness

Many games allow you to “unlock” special achievements and more challenging game modes. To do this, you must first accomplish easier goals. Add some unlockable achievements to your life plan. If one goal is to get a job, achieving that should unlock the “Get a Promotion” goal. If you are starting your own business, next you need to unlock “Have a profitable quarter,” then “Have a profitable year,” and so on. If your goal was to cash in a poker tournament, your next goal might be to make the final table, then to win one, then to win three, and so on. Of course, if you win a bracelet at the World Series of Poker, that feat of strength belongs in your Hall of Fame.

You can also do this in reverse. Choose one of your more difficult and challenging goals, then come up with some less ambitious steps that will help you achieve the larger goal. Treat each one of these as a goal to achieve, and “unlock” the big goal as you accomplish the smaller ones. Make sure you add each little quest to your Achievement Point Grid so that you can track and reward yourself when you complete it.

Sharing the Glory

For now, your achievement points will just be a personal motivation and a way of keeping track of what you’ve done. But maybe in a few years, if the idea catches on, we’ll find ways to share our achievements. Maybe it will be a Facebook app or on its own Web site. Maybe you’ll get together with some friends to form a local Achievement Club. Businesses can start rewarding their “Achiever of the Month”.

Until then, the rewards are up to you. Track your achievements and rack up the points. Every time you hit a milestone – 100 or 1000 points – collect a reward to recognize your achievements. All you have to do to live a rewarding life is to recognize that you are worthy of it. You’ll have more point(s) to your life than you could ever imagine!


It Matters

Design a Better Life

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Readers often ask authors, “Where do you get your ideas?” Authors vie for original and clever responses to what is entirely the wrong question. Ask instead, “How do you go from an idea to a novel (or film or game)?” and you have a more interesting topic. An idea – or a hundred ideas – does not make a game. The development is what counts.

Steps in game development include:

  • Write a Game Proposal (Conceptual Design)
  • Define the Tasks for Developing the Game (Technical Design)
  • Create Game Assets (Code, Text, Art, Music, Sound Effects)
  • Integrate the Assets to Make a Playable, Fun Game
  • Track Your Progress as You Go Along
  • Test the Game Play and Quality

Game development is iterative, so the developers revisit each step many times during the process of creating the game. It’s usually a messy, uncertain process – more of an art than a science – so a good road map is important to keep it from descending into pure chaos. That road map is the technical design. An idea without a plan is just a dream; with a plan, you can turn it into reality.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama

The Panama Canal was not built in a day. The French spent 13 years trying to build a sea-level canal, but they had to abandon the project after more than 22,000 workers died from malaria and accidents. The French effort failed due to insufficient planning (among other factors).

You may be able to run your life without much of a plan. That will work fine as long as you stay on level terrain, you never become sick, and no black swans crash into your windshield.

There are just three little problems with this approach – Our lives are filled with ups and downs, illness and accidents happen, and the laws of statistics decree that black swans will affect everyone’s life. If you don’t allow for them, your life project may fail.

Know Your Goals

Start by listing your goals. What do you want to accomplish with your life? Which ones do you want to happen soon, and which ones might take longer? Write them down! Goals are a lot like negotiation. You need to clearly state what you want to do, when you need it done, and what you’re willing to pay to get it.

Blueprints for LifeThat’s right – Nothing worthwhile is free. You will have to pay for your goals in time, money, sweat, or blood. You may have to earn some of those costs by giving up other things you enjoy doing. By writing down your goals, and what you will pay to get them, you will become clearer about what you really want.

You might find it easier (and fun) to create a story around your goals. It could be in the form of the Wikipedia entry someone might write about you ten or twenty years from now. Most successful companies and product launches start with the story of what they want to create and how customers will relate to it. Your life is a new startup venture starting today. Telling the story of what you will become will help you reach the goals that most matter to you.

Get Technical

Now that you know your goals, you can begin the technical design of your life plan. Do it in writing so that you can refer back to it later, and because writing it down forces you to focus on the details. You may get stuck at times. That’s fine – Make a note and make sure you come back to it later. A good technical design is a living document that you will revisit many times as you learn more about your goals, failures, and successes.

What goes in a technical life plan? Start with your life goals and choose your highest-priority, most urgent desires. Write each one down and think about what you need to do to accomplish it:

  • When do I want this to be done?
  • What resources will I need (people, money, time) to accomplish it?
  • What do I need to get done before I can complete this goal?
  • What are some steps I could take to make this easier?
  • What are the greatest risks and obstacles? What can I do to minimize them?
  • How long do I expect this project to take? How much of my time will I need to devote to it while I’m working on it?
  • Once I have completed this goal, what should I work on next?

After you go through this process with several goals, go back over them and add:

  • Which of my other goals are related to this one?
  • How can I benefit by working on two or more of them together?

Now you can draw a time-line showing when you plan to start and complete each life project. Make sure that you are always working on at least one of your life goals, but that you don’t over-schedule yourself by trying to do too much at the same time.

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

You need a plan, but you will not have enough information to plan everything until you start working on it. Keep going back to the technical design and adding details and new ideas as you discover them.

Plan Your LifeI like to keep a notebook with immediate and long-term tasks. As I complete each task, I put a check mark next to it to show that I’ve finished it. I sometimes put an X next to tasks that I decide to drop and a circle next to ones I’ve started, but not yet completed. Eventually I put a check mark in the circle.

Lori keeps a log on her computer. She lists all the tasks she wants to complete that week and each one she finishes. This lets her focus on her priorities and reminds her of what she has done. Whatever approach you use, make sure you keep track of your progress and make changes to your plan as you learn more about how to accomplish your goals.

Life Is For Learning

“I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.” – Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

Carpenters like to say, “Measure twice; cut once.” Each time you start on one of your goals, go back to your plan and remind yourself of what you think it will take to succeed in that goal. Think about how your life has changed since you first made the goal; it may be easier or harder now.

Now is the time for detailed research. Use books, magazines, the Web, your friends, and experts to get more information about how you can accomplish the current goal. Take the time to plan your approach and how to deal with problems that may come up. Write down what you learn. Measure what you need to do, then measure it a second time to make sure.

Then get it done! If you find yourself getting stuck along the way, get your friends and family to help keep you on track. And make sure you reward yourself for every step of progress you make towards your goal. Reaching a goal is its own reward, but you may need encouragement to help you through the difficult challenges you will meet along the way. Game companies bring in pizza for the developers or have Friday night parties. They know that the rewards are cheap compared to the improvements in morale and productivity they will encourage.

Life Should Be Rewarding

In the next article in this series I will write about using game concepts to help you focus on accomplishing your goals. You will learn to design one-time and repeatable quests, award yourself (and your friends) points for achieving goals, and how to tie these into other types of rewards. Until then, keep on playing! The stakes in the game of life are as high as you choose to make them.

Rise Up


Master the Game of Life

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Last week I talked about “serious games” – games with a real-world purpose. I am a bit cynical about them. While games can teach useful lessons, a good game can also be addictive. Players escape into games because their real lives suck. They get feelings of control and success in the game world that they lack in the mundane world. Jane McGonigal suggests that we channel those positive feelings into real life accomplishments.

I have a different idea – If reality sucks, and games are more fun, change the rules! Make your life into a game, and find ways to make it a game you love to play.

Who Makes the Rules?

“Who makes the rules? Someone else.” – Oingo Boingo, “No Spill Blood”

GamemasterMost of us think of gaming as, “Someone else made the rules. We play by them.” That seems obvious and sensible. But that’s no longer the only type of game. Role-playing games have a “game master” (GM) who has special privileges. The GM can interpret and even modify the rules. The GM and all of the players are responsible for using their imaginations to create original stories that go beyond the rules.

And that leads to a strange truth about role-playing games: The rules don’t really matter!

I have seen similar campaigns based on wildly different role-playing game systems. And I’ve seen wildly different scenarios within a single game system. It is the imaginations of the GM and the players that make a good or a bad game, not the rules they use.

Of course, that’s just gaming, not real life. Or is it?

Life Is a Role-Playing Game

“Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret!” – Liza Minnelli in Cabaret

Read some personal column ads and you’ll soon find the words, “No games.” Ok, so they don’t like Monopoly. Of course, what they really mean is, “Don’t play to win in a way that makes me lose.” Most people think of games as having a winner and a loser.

Role-playing games are different. The players win or lose together. The GM sets the scene, and puts challenges in front of the players, but is not “playing against” the other players. A good GM wants the players to succeed, but for the success to be challenging, memorable, and meaningful.

A good life should also be meaningful, challenging, and memorable. Coincidence? I think not! A life lived with creativity and passion is a lot like a good role-playing game. Instead of trying to use games to make our miserable lives better, why don’t we turn our lives into games? Maybe they already are.

What is a job? That is where you earn game currency to make investments and pay your expenses.
What are taxes? They are game penalties. You need to earn more game currency to pay for them.
What is school? School is training to help you gain levels and skill points.
What are relationships? They are cooperative mode game play; you join with other players to help all of you reach your goals.
What are regular tasks such as cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and filing? They are the daily quests you perform to support your character, build your reputation, and support your friends.
What are accomplishments? They are the Achievement System of life. You work hard to achieve goals that you give yourself or get from others. Sometimes you earn Achievement Points for doing them.

Who Is To Be Master?

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

Humpty DumptyLife is a game. But what kind of game is it? Is it one of those relationship “games” where someone always has to lose? Is it a game where someone else writes the rules, and we don’t like them very much, but we have to play by them? Or is it a role-playing game, where the rules don’t matter nearly as much as the creative stories we weave around them? In other words, who is to be the master?

If we treat our lives as part of a role-playing game, we can all have a lot more fun than we may have allowed ourselves in the past. We can also use some of what we know about game play to do better at playing the game of our lives. But first we have to decide who is the game master.

I’ve played in some fun role-playing campaigns where the players took turns being the game master. Each player took responsibility for a particular area. When the players moved into that area, the “owner” of that area became the game master for a few sessions. That was how Gygax, Arneson and friends played the “first fantasy campaign” that spawned Dungeons & Dragons.

Do you feel out of control in your life? Maybe you keep skipping your turn at being the game master. Or maybe you’ve put way too many “Skip a Turn” cards into your collectible life card deck. The funny thing is, most of us think that someone else decides who gets to be the game master, and who just plays. But nobody is making those decisions for us. In a role-playing game, a player gets to be the game master by saying, “I’ll be game master.” It works pretty much the same way in life.

A game master has a lot of responsibility, and it is hard work to run a game, but it is also amazingly rewarding. The GM has total freedom to create an experience for the other players. That, by the way, is the most important key to being a good GM – Your job is to help all of the players have fun. Fortunately, the GM is a player too. If you play the game right, life is better for all of you.

The rules do not make the game. They are just the context in which you define the experience of your life.

Guiding the Game

“The code is more ‘guidelines’ than what you’d call actual rules.” – Pirate Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Lori and I have some guidelines we use for every game we design. For example:
1. The players must have fun. This is our #1 “rule” for every game.
2. Make choices clear, meaningful, and interesting.
3. Creating the game must be fun – We are playing a “game” too.
4. Don’t frustrate the player with dead-ends or stupid responses.

These all apply to a good life just as much as to good game design.

Who are your players? Remember, we aren’t “playing the game of life” right now – We’re creating it and being the game master. Your players are the people around you – your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students. When you work out the rules for your game, make sure that the people around you will have fun and a chance to earn their own achievements. Fortunately, Rule 3 says that you get to have fun too. Just don’t do it at the expense of your other “players”.

Clear, meaningful, and interesting choices keep players involved in a game. They’re even more important in life. Invest in the quality of your life by consciously making choices. Think about your goals and how you can achieve them. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish, places you’d like to go, and experiences you would like to have. You probably make lists like this for work or school. Why not take the time to plan the things that really matter to you? You can let things just happen to you, or you can decide on what you want to do and take the time and effort to make it happen.

Dead-ends, stupid responses, and frustration are part of life. You will have times when you feel that the game is rigged and that the world is actively trying to keep you from your goals. But here’s where life has a big advantage over games – With the exception of a few laws of physics, the rules aren’t fixed. If you are frustrated in one place, go somewhere else. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Games are limited to the imagination of the designer and the time constraints on the development team. Real life has no such restrictions; you are limited only by your own imagination.

There is one category of “dead ends and stupid responses” you should definitely design out of your “game of life.” That is the set you impose upon yourself. The stupidest dead-end response you can give yourself is, “I can’t do that.” Take the phrase “I can’t” out of your vocabulary. Practice saying instead, “That may be hard, but I’ll give it a try.” If something seems impossible, think about how you can make it possible. Break the hard problem down into smaller, less difficult, tasks. Or redefine it to something that meets the spirit of the original goal, but that you can find a way to achieve. But don’t give up on anything that you really care about.

If you try, but fail, that isn’t the time to quit; do more work and preparation, then try again. Players fail a lot in World of Warcraft, but they keep going back and trying again until they succeed. Life and games are both about conflict and resolution. If you run into an obstacle, look for the solution – You could destroy it, temporarily move it, go around it, find a way over it, dig under it, or use it to redefine the problem. If you haven’t tried at least three solutions, you’re giving up too easily.

Mmm, Chocolate!

“Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

Meepsters of the GalaxyBeing the Game Master of your life is hard work, but that just means you are overcoming challenges. Challenges are the key to making games fun and rewarding; you get a lot more achievement points for doing hard things than easy ones. And there’s more!

As both the GM and as one of the players, you get to create the tale of life’s adventure together. That collaboration means that a well-played life is always a mystery. Until you bite into each experience, you never know how it will taste. You may just find that some of those “impossible” goals will be fulfilled in ways you could never have guessed.

When you make your life into a role-playing game, and take on the responsibility of being the GM, you turn your life into a mysterious box of chocolates. Will you taste them, or settle for someone else’s empty wrappers? The choice is up to you.

Being A Warrior

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Guest Article by Fleetwood

A few weeks ago, Private Fleetwood submitted this answer to a Rank 2 Warrior assignment, “Describe Yourself.” This was intended as one of the easier assignments – Pick five keywords that describe yourself, then discuss how they fit you and what they mean for your future. Fleetwood turned it into something much more, and we thought it deserved a wider audience. Here is the story of one Warrior Hero. We hope it will inspire others as it inspired us. – Corey and Lori

Noun – What Am I?

  • I am a Leader. I am bold and brave and take action when it is needed.
  • I am a Listener, seeking to understand.
  • I am a Teacher and want to help others learn.
  • I am a Follower if you can show me a better way.
  • I am a Friend and will be there when you need me.
  • I am a Free Spirit and seek my own way.
  • I am a Loner and need time to myself.
  • I am a Student, always ready to learn.
  • I am a Lover and will Fight for what I love.
  • I am a Gamer and love to play.
  • I am a Writer and need to create.
  • I am an Artist and want everything perfect.
  • I am an Innovator, seeking new things, new ways, and new ideas.
  • I am a Slacker when I’ve lost inspiration.
  • I am a Provider and bring home the bacon.
  • I am an Explorer and want to look around and see.
  • I am all of these things.

This was by far the most difficult assignment that I’ve had. I’ve been coming back to it and pushing it off again for the better part of the year. It all boiled down to the fact that I could not describe myself using only on noun. I thought about it and finally, after much soul searching, sat down and started to choose one. But I realized that I could not pick simply one. In the past I have received praise for changing the nature of the assignment and doing what is right for me. While in school I was often penalized for such actions, the Way of the Warrior has encouraged me to follow my own path. So that is what I ultimately decided to do for this assignment.

Adjective – What Drives Me?

The Adjective that best describes me is Curious. I love learning and understanding how things work. This is the fuel for my desire for Adventure and Exploration. I am a warrior and not a wizard, however, because I like to do things with my knowledge, and because I have a broad, rather than deep and focused, range of skills and interests. This is why I decided against a Ph.D., and a career in research. I had to pick one part of one topic and spend my time doing research. I wanted to learn a wide variety of things that would be useful in everyday life.

My Greatest Skill

By far, my greatest skill is my resourcefulness. I am a problem solver by nature, and I get my greatest joy by solving problems, especially those problems that can help others. When faced with a problem, my mind, almost automatically, begins to think of ways to tackle it. I get great pleasure in figuring out and then implementing solutions. This is one of the reasons I am thinking of not pursuing a career in management consulting. Too much time spent on analysis and recommendation, and not enough time spent on implementation and execution.

My Greatest Fears

When I was younger, I never would have believed that I would sort out as a warrior. As a child, I would have thought I would have been a wizard. As a teen, definitely a paladin. But as an adult, I am not surprised that I sorted as a warrior. Leadership is very important to me, but more important than that is the struggle I face to be honest with myself and maintain my integrity. I have fears, that as a boy I would have thought would have excluded me from the ranks of the warrior class: fear of confrontation and fear of success. But as a man, I have come to realize that it is not your fears that define you; it is how you deal with your fear.

WarriorDespite being a warrior, I am afraid of confrontations and I tend to avoid them. This fear has caused me great hardship in the past, as I avoided breaking up with girls I did not like, avoided talking to my parents and avoided situations where I would have been much better served to act with boldness and integrity. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value the importance and necessity of confrontation, but I still get nervous before a difficult conversation. And every once in a while, I put one off longer than I need to. Luckily, my internal integrity/guilt regulator comes on and pushes me to do the right thing.

Unlike many people, I am not really afraid of failure. I am not afraid of making mistakes, nor do I fear failing. I understand that we learn best through failure, and I have gained most of my life experience through doing things incorrectly. Being willing to take some risks and accepting that failing is a normal and natural part of life has pushed me and shaped my character in ways I can’t even imagine. I know that as long as you keep trying, you haven’t really failed. What I do fear, however, is success. For whatever reason, I am unwilling or unable to let myself be really successful. Time after time after time, I get to a level of success, only to self-sabotage myself and fall back down to nothing. This cycle has repeated itself over and over during the course of my lifetime. But each time it happens, I allow myself more success than I did the last time. Each time I see that I am capable of success and I am capable of achievement. Each time I learn skills on how to deal emotionally with success and how to manage the fruits of my success. This past year was quite difficult for me emotionally, but I believe I am back on the upswing. On my last cycle, I achieved more success than I ever thought possible, only to realize that I had based some of my personal philosophies on unsubstantial things. This time through, I think I am on a more solid base and I have a partner to tackle the journey (my fiancee). I am going to try again to get a career in the space industry and see how it goes. I don’t know if I have quite gotten over my fear of success, but I am definitely not as afraid as I used to be.


My greatest weakness is procrastination. I push things off that I think are going to be uncomfortable. It is a very bad weakness, the contrary force to that great warrior trait, initiative.

I have, however, been able to overcome procrastination to a certain extent. I’ve found that motivation seems to be one of the key drivers to help me overcome procrastination, as do reminders from my fiancée about things that need to be done. However, it seems that the best way for me to overcome my procrastination, is to just do it and not think about it.

Motivation and Goals

Goals have been a great way to overcome my procrastination. Stating clear goals and them breaking them down into manageable chunks (a skill I learned in MBA) makes it easier to take care of business. Indeed, one thing I realized during this assignment is that if I turn my goals into problems, I can think of creative ways to solve them. I did this recently when I was trying to help a friend work on her resume. I really had no idea how to even begin. Then I thought about the problem as an opportunity for creative problem solving. I turned the problem into a “creative problem” and thought about what steps I had to do to solve it. I came up with a good plan and worked it until completion. Since I started this assignment, I’ve been thinking of all of my tasks, as mini-projects. I’ve been doing a fair job of getting things done, but I still see that there are tasks I’ve been avoiding. After reviewing this section, I’ll try again to think of my tasks as problems that need to be solved.

Confidence from my MBA

One of the best things that I learned during my MBA was how to work. There was always far too much to be done, but you still had to do it. During the last week of the first quarter, I had three exams and two essays due in 5 days. After that week, I realized that I can just sit and work and get things done.

That skill/feeling/knowledge has helped me out time and time again, not just during the rest of my MBA career, but every time I have a difficult project to accomplish. If it wasn’t for the discipline I learned at school, it is doubtful if I would have advanced as far in the School for Heroes as I have. I am very grateful for the pain that I suffered, because it has made me a better warrior.

Slicing and Dicing

One reason I tend to put things off, is because the job seems too hard or difficult. That’s when cutting it up helps. If I can’t do the whole thing, I slice a piece of it off and do that. I am in the middle of a project that I figure is 3 hours – calling back leads. In order to apply some motivation, I pulled out the best leads and made a mini project out of it. I still have the bulk to call, but at least the most important ones have been taken care of. I’m in the middle of another project now, also callbacks, and its really dragging. Its only an hour project, but maybe I will apply the same logic, and cut it down into two or three mini projects to help me get it done.

Reminders from My Fiancée

Nothing helps like a friendly reminder from my beloved. She helps me keep on course. I love her very much.

Just do it!

Nike said it best. Sometimes, the best thing to do is just do it. I pinch my nose, and just dive right in. I often find that just by starting a difficult or uncomfortable assignment, I become motivated to continue. I try this now when I wake up in the morning. Instead of deciding whether or not I want to wake up, I just get out of bed. Instead of spending time feeling how difficult it will be to call people on my list or deciding what to say, I just dial the number and put the phone to my ear. Once they pick up, I start talking. I just do it.


I think what this means is that I have problems and difficulties, but I have the means to overcome them. I have never taken a systematic analysis of myself in this light. In school, we would often conduct SWAT analysis of companies – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, but this is the first time I’ve ever done it to myself. I see now that the problems I have are actually quite common in most people. Weakness and fear usually hide in the dark places of our mind, but airing them out in the light lets us see them for what they really are.

Warrior - Unconventional LeadersIn truth, I didn’t realize that I could use my skills to deal with my weakness. Part of my procrastination is due to the fact that I think I can’t do something because it is too hard (lack of confidence), or because it seems too painful (fear of confrontation). But through completing this assignment, I realize that I have far more personal resources and personal strenght than I ever though possible. I think that I will be okay from here on in.

I have been working on this one assignment in some form or another, for almost exactly one year. It was the first Private assignment I started, and the last one I completed. I began actively working on this assignment about a month ago, and in that short time I have experienced a personal revival. Thinking about my strengths and weaknesses together has allowed me to use my strengths to combat my weakness. In the last month I have accomplished a great deal, both at work and in my private life. I’ve turned all of my tasks into problems that needed to be solved. Instead of worrying about what a bad planner I am, I turn plans into problems to be solved, and then solve them. I had the answer all along. I just had to be willing to find my own way.

Personal Best

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Personal BestThe Winter Olympics are among the few sporting events I make a point of watching. Since I don’t have a TV, I was able to catch all of the action on the internet. To me, the Olympics are about much more than gold, silver, and bronze medals. The Olympics are a chance for each of the athletes to step out on the biggest stage of their careers and try to put on the best performance of which they are capable.

So I was very happy this year listening to the commentators on various performances, because they focused on what really matters to these competitors. Time and again I heard them announce a score, then say, “That was a personal best,” or “That was her highest score this season.” Only one person or team can win an event, but all of the competitors have the chance to transcend themselves when it most matters. They have that one chance to show the world their personal best.

One Moment in Time

“Give me one moment in time, When I’m more than I thought I could be, When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away, and the answers are all up to me.”

Whitney Houston performed the theme song for the 1988 Summer Olympics, “One Moment in Time,” by Albert Hammond and John Bettis. All of the quotes in this blog are from that song; I still can’t listen to it, or even read it aloud, without tearing up with emotion. When I find myself being ordinary, or lazy, or not giving 100% to a task, I try to remind myself that I could be wasting the one moment in time where I had a chance to excel.

Much of life seems to come down to a few defining moments. We remember the truly special “bits” from feature films and from our own lives. It might be a few lines of dialogue, or the moment when you fell in love, or a few seconds when disaster struck. Those few moments are the ones where we go beyond our daily patterns and rituals to be part of something extraordinary. And those are the moments – good or bad – we most remember.

No Pain, No Gain

“I broke my heart, fought every gain, to taste the sweet, I face the pain.”

Nike sold a lot of shoes with their slogan, “Second place is the first loser,” but I think that’s a… well, loser philosophy. If you don’t win, you’ve failed. And failure is devastating. Or is it? Maybe there’s another way of looking at the notions of success and failure.

I’ve written before about Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” in which she talks about fixed and growth mindsets. A person with a fixed mindset thinks that they are either talented or not, and that no amount of work will change that. Those with the growth mindset see each challenge as an opportunity to grow, learn and improve.

For people with the growth mindset, being the first loser is a stimulus. Those athletes will recommit themselves to the hard work, practice, and study that they need to improve. At the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I saw countless examples of athletes dedicated to the growth mindset. When Apolo Ohno was disqualified in one of his last races, he said, “I guess I just need to skate faster.” Ohno is the most decorated athlete in Winter Olympics history with eight medals, but he knows that he needs to keep working and keep improving to stay one of the best.

The Best to Be

Each day I live, I want to be
A day to give the best of me

I remember watching previous Olympic skating competitions and seeing skater after skater fall during their programs. Some of them became contests of making the fewest errors. This year was different; there were some minor errors, but few falls that I saw. The results were based on difficulty, skill, and beauty of the performances rather than on who survived.

I particularly liked the attitude of Mirai Nagasu of the U.S. In her short program, she attempted a triple lutz / triple toe loop combination, but ended up doing a triple-double instead. When asked about that after the performance, Mirai stated, “I think I made a wise choice.” She knew that she didn’t have the speed to pull off the second triple jump, so she downgraded it and went on with her performance… beautifully. Many skaters in the past would become so upset at failing one part of their skate that it affected everything else. This year, the skaters seemed immune to self-doubt; if they made a mistake, they made sure they skated everything else perfectly.

One MomentWhen Mirai completed her long program and moved up to fifth place, she seemed as delighted as if she had won the entire competition. Her object at this – her first Olympics – was to skate the best she could and let people know that she is the future of figure skating. She certainly did that with a personal best score. Mirai Nagasu did not need to stand on the award podium to be a winner – She was the fifth winner, not the fourth loser, in that event.

Figure skating has always been an event in which who you are matters as much as what you do. In that sense, Mirai might not have had any chance to win the gold medal. But she came to Vancouver to show what she can do, to gain some recognition in the eyes of the judges and the audience, and to experience the thrill and the pressure of top-flight competition. She succeeded in all of those.

And, by the way, the event winners all deserved their places on the podium. Their performances were fantastic – Kim Yu-Na flawless, Mao Asada successfully doing the first three triple axel jumps in women’s Olympic competition, and Joannie Rochette of Canada skating a beautiful, sultry program that was both artistic and athletic.

Speaking of pain, Joannie’s performance was all the more remarkable in that many competitors might have cancelled their entry. Her mother passed away from a sudden heart attack just two days before Joannie’s first program at Vancouver. Rochette considered dropping out, but said, “All my life, my mother wanted me to compete in the Olympics. She was a very tough woman, and taught me to be tough.” Instead of giving up, Joannie Rochette performed in her mother’s honor and did so magnificently. She found a way to channel her sadness and turn it into two strong, joyful performances.

No Time for Less

“I’ve lived to be the very best, I want it all, no time for less.”

Shaun White came into the Olympics as the favorite to win the halfpipe snowboarding competition, and he came prepared to win. In an interview, he talked about the many times he fell while practicing his tricks for the event. Snowboarding is scored on the best of two runs. Shaun fell during his second qualifying run, but it didn’t matter since he had the highest score of all competitors on his first run. In the final, his first run again beat both runs of every other competitor, so he didn’t even have to complete his second run.

So how did he react? Did he back off and do a relaxed, casual victory lap in his final run? Not at all. Shaun White came to Vancouver to show that he was the best – and the hardest worker – at his sport. In his final run, Shaun did a 3-1/2 revolution – 1260 degree – stunt that no other snowboarder has even attempted. He did it perfectly, but that’s almost beside the point. White showed what he can do under Olympic competition pressure, his fall in the preliminaries completely forgotten.

What about you? Are you willing to settle for second best? Somewhere back in the pack? Those might be realistic short-term goals as long as you treat every race as a chance to do better, to extend your personal best. The lesson I see in top competitors in every game and sport is that they keep coming back. Whether they win, place, or fail in a particular competition, they keep coming back, and they keep trying to improve. Yes, even the winners consider their victories to be just one more milestone. They want to do even better the next time and to win more often than anyone else. Winner, bronze medalist, or back in the pack – They know that there is always more to learn and more chances to grow, improve, and excel.

Winner for a Lifetime

“You’re a winner for a lifetime, If you seize that one moment in time; Make it shine.”

In the end, it is not whether you win or lose, nor whether you come home with a medal or empty-handed. Each moment in time is defined by whether you can show the world your Personal Best. Few of us have the opportunity to perform in the Olympics, but we all have many opportunities to put on the performance of our lives and to find the best within ourselves.

Are you up for the challenge? It lasts a lifetime.

“Then in that one moment in time, I will be free.”


Personal Best

Tearing Down Walls

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Last November marked the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Coincidentally, it was also the 20th anniversary of the first Hero’s Quest (aka Quest for Glory 1) release. One was a world-changing event, and one was “just a game”, but both had personal significance to me.

You see, I was in Germany when the Wall still stood. And I cried with joy when it came down.

There are walls around cities, and the walls we build around ourselves. We spend a lot of time hiding behind walls because we think they will protect us. But we forget that the walls that keep others out also trap us inside.

Taking a Chance

Back in 1971, I had a rare opportunity. My high school (Abington High near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) had an exchange student program affiliated with AFS. Each year one or two students from Abington went to school in a foreign country. I applied and became one of the finalists, but I felt I was outclassed by some of the other candidates.

Corey's PassportThen a funny thing happened. Abington broke off its affiliation with AFS and decided to run their own program. Abington had a “sister school” in Berlin, Germany, so chose that for their exchange program. But a wall stood in the way, and that wall was the memory of the Holocaust. Every other top candidate was from a Jewish family. They didn’t trust that their children would be safe in Germany without a major program like AFS behind the exchange. One by one, the parents of each of the other finalists withdrew their children’s applications until I was the last one standing.

I felt as though I had “won by default”, but the selection committee assured me that I was fully qualified and would be a great representative of the school. By the way, my father was also Jewish, but believed that his children should have the chance to follow their dreams. He did not let fear get in the way. Many of the opportunities in my life have worked out that way – A door opens briefly, and you either step through it quickly or watch it shut in front of you. This time I went through the door.

A City Alone

Berlin in the 1970’s was a unique city. By the armistice that ended World War II, Germany was divided among the Soviet and other Allied forces. Berlin, the former capitol, was also divided, but it was in the middle of East Germany. All trade with the West had to pass through Soviet-controlled territory. By 1961, an estimated 3.5 million people took advantage of the open border in Berlin to leave Communist East Germany.

East Germany came up with a unique solution – They began to build barriers, and eventually the actual Wall – all around the Western sectors of Berlin. We’re talking a literal wall, several yards high, with a 100-yard “killing zone” on the East Berlin side. It was like the “Escape from New York” film – a major city completely separated from the rest of its own country and all of its allies.

King Solomon supposedly solved a dispute between two women, both of whom claimed to be the mother of a baby, by proposing that the baby be cut in half, with each woman getting half a baby. In the case of Berlin, the Allies literally did “cut it up”. Fortunately, cities are more resilient than babies, and Berlin survived the surgery. I think this is unprecedented in history. West Berlin became a unique place, cosmopolitan, thriving, yet always isolated and under the shadow of The Wall.

Which Side Are You On?

Corey's PassportThe building of the Berlin Wall was not the first act to divide the German people. One of my instructors at Kant Gymnasium had been a Lieutenant in the German army during World War II. One day he stopped to talk with me on a stairwell, and he said that he sincerely regretted having supported Hitler’s government, and that many of the soldiers and officers had felt the same way.

I asked him – naively, I suppose – why they hadn’t found some way to protest or resist. He told me that they had no choice. He knew that if he did not follow orders, and ensure that his men followed orders in turn, his family in Berlin would have been hurt or killed. He could see no way to break through the wall of rules and laws that constrained him.

It is never easy to break from the norm, be different, or work to bring about change in a hostile society. Most people, most of the time, go along with the rules we are given. We live our lives according to a pattern and rarely stop to examine whether we could do better by breaking down the walls of habit.
We also create our own mental walls. Once we make up our minds, we have a lot of inertia towards continuing to do what we have been doing. We like to be “right”, and the easiest way to do that is to ignore anything that might force us to change our opinions. It’s ok to be wrong sometimes. We learn far more from our mistakes than when we get things right the first time. Minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.

Walls Between People

The destruction of the Berlin Wall was a life and world changing event. It had stood for almost 30 years, dividing friend from friend and family from family. When I visited Berlin in the early 1970’s, the Wall seemed a permanent, unalterable fact of nature. As an American, I could cross over with some slight risk, but to a Berliner, East and West Berlin were two different worlds. One was Democratic, one Communist; one Capitalist and commercial, the other Socialist and relatively impoverished. Germans could not move freely back and forth, and there seemed little common ground beyond the language.

November 1989 changed all that. The Wall began to come down, piece by piece. Families were reunited. Friends old and new found they had much more in common than they could have realized. Less than one year later, the two Germanies became one. And now it’s hard to imagine they were ever separated.

We build walls all the time. Whether the construction materials are political affiliations, gender, social or religious differences, educational background, or standards of hygiene, we make quick decisions about other people and then base our relationships on those first assumptions. Those instincts are often “right”, in that our subconscious minds use a lot of hidden details to make choices. But they aren’t flexible. When evidence comes in that contradicts our initial assumptions, we are usually poor at adapting and adjusting our beliefs. And that builds walls.

If you want to have more friends, or to be more effective in life, you need to learn to tear down some of those walls, or at least find a way to climb them. Learn to role-play, empathize, and understand what drives the people around you. Don’t assume you know what they’re thinking; start a real dialogue and ask them. You can find things in common with almost anyone if you open yourself up and work at it. And if there’s nothing in common, that just means you have an opportunity to learn and perhaps to teach.

Take Down the Walls

We can all benefit from the lessons of the Berlin Wall. Our lives are made poorer by the separation we create between ourselves and others. Our rote day-to-day patterns keep us from seeing the richness that life has to offer. Our “party line” political decisions lock us into an “Us vs. Them” mentality that benefits none of us.

The walls that keep others out also lock us in. Make some new friends, try some new things, and tear down the walls that separate you from other people. You will find a new sense of freedom and joy beyond those walls.


The Fall of the Wall

The Fall of the Wall
Wikipedia Creative Commons