This might work if you’re training your golden retriever to pee outside rather than on that wedding gift rug, but the same conditioning also causes countless people to find themselves marching down the wrong path to success – sometimes for years. That path may have looked like a good idea at the time. It started well, it paid off, so they kept going. But years down the line, although the pay-off may still be high and there’s abundant affirmation that it was a good move, they may begin to wonder: “How did I get here?” The most frustrating part is that it has the makings of success (money, security, praise, opportunity), but it doesn’t feel like it. In other words, they are winning in the wrong game.
After working 1-on-1 with over 200 people, I learned that my clients typically have one of two desires:
A) They want an upgrade. They are on the right path and want to move from OK to amazing, to truly succeed in life.
B) They are already “winning”, having reached the shiny thing through hard work over time, but they feel like this wasn’t the “success” they wanted from life. They want to succeed in something that would be more true to them – what I call their desire to win in the right game.
Winning in the wrong game in life comes in many forms, and a typical case is a wrong career. Since having moved to Canary Wharf, the financial hub of London where big money is made, I’ve met many people who I could tell were winning in the wrong game. A top 1% salary is not rare around here, but a top 1% salary clearly doesn’t mean a top 1% happiness. In 2015, research by Investors in People on job fulfillment and satisfaction in the UK revealed that 60% of employees were considering changing jobs. That’s more than half of working professionals in the UK unfulfilled in the role or industry they were in! To more clearly understand these numbers, imagine being in the Tube or train at rush hour on a Monday, and consider that 6 in 10 people are going to a job that leaves them dissatisfied and that they could continue to do it for weeks, months or even years.
Could you be one of those six people? Are you winning in the wrong game? If you are, you could be wondering how you’ve gotten to this point. Here are some reasons on how this may have happened, and a few questions you need to ask yourself.
1. Investment trap
Once we commit to something and invest our time and resources into it, we find it harder to let go of. It’s human nature. You may have gone for (XYZ) because it either genuinely looked like a good idea at the time, or it was temporary, “just for now”. But you now feel you’re in a bit too deep, and have invested too much effort into it to just throw it all away. So you stay, and invest more of yourself into it and make it even harder to let go.
QUESTION FOR YOU: Are you pursuing (XYZ) because it’s what you really want, or just because it’s what you’ve always done and what you’ve been told you’re good at?
When something is part of our lives for long enough, it becomes a part of who we are. It’s woven into the fabric our life and separating ourselves from it would leave a big identity hole – or so it feels. This may be work, relationship, a place we live, etc. So we prefer to stay tangled in it because walking away from it (even if it’s not what we really want) would take away the sense of who we are.
QUESTION FOR YOU: Who are you? Are you your job, relationship, the life you’ve created? If it disappeared tomorrow, would you be any less of who you are? What really makes who you are?
“Everyone knows that I’m a banker/dentist/etc. What would they say if I just stopped?”
The fear of what others think of us must be one of the most prevalent and paralyzing fears out there. The fear of others disapproving or laughing at our decisions, actions and potential failures is one of the main reasons why people don’t make the changes they want in life.
QUESTION FOR YOU: What’s more important to you: you living the life you want or the one others approve of? Are you going to be okay with your decision 20 years from now?
When in one place for too long, to the point that we lose sight and accurate interpretation of what the rest (of the world) is like, we dramatize and demonize what’s “out there”. It’s a natural reaction to avoid the unknown because it could be dangerous. While this thinking may help avoid dodgy dark alley and scams, it also stops us from going outside of our comfort zone and of what we know, keeping us running in circles. So if what you know is not making you happy anymore, the only opportunity to find some happiness is beyond the comfort threshold you currently have. What are you going to do?
QUESTION FOR YOU: Think of the changes you’d love to make in your life. Do you feel fear when thinking about them? What are the chances of things unfolding in the way you “dramatize” them in your head? What’s more painful to you: trying something new or staying the same?
These are just some of the typical reasons why people end up winning the wrong game. Maybe some of them seem familiar to you. Maybe you screamed, “That’s me!”
But how do you change it?
Some choose to make minor adjustments and gradually transition, while others go for a 90-degree turn. Do what you can, but be sure to do something.
When you choose to step on a more authentic path in life, it comes with no guarantees of it being easy. In fact, it often isn’t. But easy doesn’t always mean happiness, just as hard doesn’t always mean struggle. Some of the happiest people in the world work very hard because life is play to them, not a drag. Those people are winning in the right game – and you can be one of them.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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