Playing Your Own Game

Aug 16, 2023

It’s dark out and you’re driving home on the stretch of Juniper Sierra Boulevard that bisects Stanford from The Dish; everything is perfect until something tiny breaks your focus and a within the same thought that rare moment of bliss has reverted into wondering why you’re not happy enough and when you’ll get off of whatever road you’re on find the on-ramp that puts your life in high gear and makes you the next Steve Jobs so that you can finally get home and hit the garage door opener and feel okay about your life and the path you’ve chosen to take.

I was talking to a startup a couple of months ago and something they said really stood out to me. I asked them how everything was going and they, predictably, said that recruiting engineers was their biggest bottleneck and, here’s the part that really stood out - that “all [they] need is to find their Greg Brockman.”

It made sense on the surface, but I think if they succeeded at finding their Greg Brockman, it might actually perpetuate an even bigger problem: trying to live the best version of someone else’s story. Founding stories are the stuff of legends for early stage tech companies, but the downside of trying to compete with something in the past is that you’ll never win because you’re trying to play someone else’s game. It’s more insidious than being the away team - it’s like trying to beat someone at a game where they’re coming up with the rules as you try to play.

So, why play someone else’s game?

Either you don’t realize that you can play your own game, or, you know you can but living someone else’s life seems like a more sure fire way to succeed. If it’s the latter, you probably don’t realize how good your game can actually be. When you’re comparing your inside to someone else’s outside, you’re always going to think you’re losing because you’re only comparing the things that you find positive about their lives, but also, because you haven’t decided what is valuable to you.

Take a little bit of time to think about it. How should my game be played? Who do I want to play with? And what does my life look like when I play my own game well?

But I don’t know which game I should play, and I’m afraid of time passing and it turns out I played the wrong game.

Time is going to fly by it’s not going to pause and ask you if you’re ready. You’re already on the ride. For a while my biggest fear was waking up at 30 without having accomplished something meaningful. Then I blinked and woke up and I was 30 and my worst fear came true: I still felt like a fuckup just like I did in the many mornings before, and also after that.

If my life were a ship, I’d changed almost every plank of wood but I kept ending up in the same miserable port. I made money, I bought the fast car, I got married, and I became a dad. Turns out what I was missing was my will to navigate and chart my own route.

The thing that worked for me was the simple idea that the best version of my life would be way more interesting than a second-rate (at best) imitation of somebody else’s.

Don’t spend your time trying to re-enact someone else’s stories. Go write your own. Take the success of others as a sign of what’s possible, and fuse that into something that is uniquely yours.