We all are playing it, whether we accept that or not. The game is Life and how well it goes isn’t just a function of luck. And no, I am not talking about the Milton Bradley board game.
Real life–what goes on for each of us all day every day–is better or worse depending on how thoroughly we engage with it. The two obviously bad strategies are dwelling on the past and obsessing about the future. But there’s another, more subtly bad idea that deserves some scrutiny.
You can’t live life well if you don’t get involved in it. Staying on the sidelines and watching is a pretty sparse version of living, but it’s easy to take that road because it’s looks like it’s the safest route. But it’s a shortcut to a desert of frustration, not the wisest way to Nirvana.
Get in the game. Take personal action about what’s going on in your life. Waiting for someone else to make you happy is silly–most of us are already well aware of that. But so is waiting for someone else to trigger what you need to happen or for someone besides you to make things exciting.
There’s a balance to the game of life. If you don’t see that and learn to achieve it, things will be out of whack for you emotionally most of the time. We do need to put ourselves in the center of our own lives. But that doesn’t mean ignoring a loved one when they need help. What you get out of helping is different, but it is still about helping yourself be really alive. That helping may give you a sense of connectedness and the softness of compassion rather than a good night’s sleep–or an interrupted workday, but you still gain from getting involved in what’s going on around you.
It’s not always about meeting someone else’s needs instead of your own. Sometimes, it’s being willing to do things a new way. Take haggling for example. Much of the world does business with this technique. The first few times I tried it–after being coached by the travel professionals running the trip, I felt like I was bullying the person I wanted to buy something from. It seemed like a heavy-handed way to prove I was a more savvy bargainer than my “adversary” on the other side of the shop table.
Eventually I realized that those who do business this way see it as part of the fun. It’s definitely a more engaged way to purchase than simply taking something off a shelf, running it through the self-serve checkout, and leaving the store. I was at the bazaar near the New Mosque in Istanbul after I’d gotten comfy with this aspect of the Game of Life when I learned an important lesson about making it work.
On one of the less-travelled alleys, we found a vendor with a table of knit and lace ladies tops. They were beautiful and much as I really didn’t need one, I wanted one with more passion than I typically have for clothes. I asked the vendor how much he wanted for one I liked best. He ignored me. A younger vendor nearby said something to him in Turkish and then asked me in English to ask the question again. I did, and the older vendor traced “15″ on the palm of his hand. His friend said “That is American dollars.” That was reasonable, but I wanted to do it right. This was a haggling situation. So I said that was too much and offered half–just like I’d learned. When his friend translated, he shrugged. After a few minutes of just looking at each other, I turned to leave.
His young friend gave him a quick flurry of instructions in Turkish and called me back. He explained that the older man was just starting and asked me to try again. I again offered half of his asking price.
The way it’s supposed to work is that he then counters and we reach a price between his high and my low. Instead, he shook his head “yes.” I turned to his more experienced friend. The younger guy sighed. “It is yours for that price.”
The shirt I bought was lovely–a deliciously soft, heathered knit with pretty lacework dyed in the same gentle teal blue. I loved the shirt when I saw it. But once I owned it, I felt bad wearing it. We hadn’t played the real game and I had accidentally stolen it.
I can see now that it was a round in the Game of Life where I’d come to play and my vendor had not. I felt gypped even though I’d gotten the “deal.” More often, I am on the other end of that fulcrum. Either way, when you don’t ”get in the game,” everyone loses. That moment in life is less because of your reluctance to play an active role.
Engage in life. Roll up your sleeves and get involved. Give. Take. Try. Make a difference. That’s the only way to be really alive.
Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website.