“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Our youth is defined by hierarchies. We ask: Am I the fastest? Am I the coolest? Am I the smartest?
From the basketball court, to the high school cafeteria, to the SAT, we play a simple game. This game has clear rules — compete against others and climb up the social hierarchy. Be faster. Be cooler. Be smarter.
We compete for social status and we always know where we rank in the standings. We survey the environment, hoping to climb up the hierarchical status ladder.
This hierarchy dominates our thinking. It is our default setting.
Status is a zero-sum game. When we win, somebody else loses. When we lose, somebody else wins. While growing up, our actions are dictated by our place in the hierarchy — that is, until we leave high school, or graduate from college.
Then, we enter mass society.
We find ourselves stuck within the same game we’ve always played. All of a sudden, the hierarchy is infinite and the ladder is prohibitively tall. We lose track of our place and begin to feel helpless and overwhelmed.
Submerged in the abyss of society’s vastness, we feel anonymous. We combat our helplessness with superficial displays of status — jogging… running… sprinting… on the hedonistic treadmill, where we expend more and more effort but stay stagnant nevertheless.
But then, something changes. Hopefully.
The school of hard knocks slaps us in the face. We learn that the rules of the game aren’t etched in granite. Slowly but surely, we discover alternatives. Through hard work and dedication we can liberate ourselves from society’s stringent rules. We learn to create our own game.
The rules of this new game reflect our strengths and ignore our weaknesses. It’s like we own the home court advantage and even the referees are on our team. Armed with Thor’s hammer and surrounded by nails, we compete on our own terms.
That’s what the greats do. That’s why Stevie Wonder, who is blind, embraces the piano. That’s why Steven Hawking, who has ALS, passionately explores the universe. That’s why Michael Phelps, who has Marphan Syndrome, swims competitively and owns more gold medals than any other Olympian.
These greats have all doubled-down on their unique advantages. They have the self-confidence to play their own game and follow their own rules. They hone their strengths, champion their edge, and rule their own territory.
When we create our own game, we move from hierarchical anxiety to territorial domination. As a result, we march to the song of our soul and inch towards our North Star. We stop competing against others and start competing against ourselves. We become intrinsically motivated visionaries.
And when we love the process more than the outcome, we are free to win forever.