The pandemic exposed many beautiful parts of my life that I never had time to experience fully.
The most endearing among those, is to see my two sons at different stages through the day – and how the sun, moon, and stars seem to bring out various personalities in tides thru the day. Shades I mostly don’t recognize. Both in my teenage son and tweenage one.
Meanwhile, the sedentary lifestyle due to lockdowns was getting to all of us as well.
So decided to marry the two problems to produce an opportunity. Play tennis with my sons.
It started all fun and about father-son bonding. Got a lot more fun when we splurged in Decathlon to match the attire and possessions of pro-athletes (in spite of protests from my wife that there is the law of inverse correlation between initial spend and sustained enthusiasm for new passions in my life). It was fun. We were enjoying ourselves. I started to improve my game too. And, then I suggested let’s play for points.
Got trashed. And again. And again. Stealthily I enrolled in an online class. I got better. Won a few times. The fun disappeared. And my game stagnated. Made me wonder if there is bigger learning here. Does keeping score and engaging in competition too early take away the fun elements of the journey, as well as limit our ability to improve? While goal setting and tracking can be a powerful motivator, is it destroying the process of improvement?
The #1 problem with recreational tennis players is that they are all too tense and that they muscle the ball, which paradoxically doesn’t fly fast then. And this problem that I have spent over twenty years trying to fix daily originates in players engaging in competitive tennis playing matches WAY before they are ready for them. They experience pressure in matches, which causes them to tense up. They play in that tense state, constantly improvising their strokes. Their mind and body simply store that as a habit since that’s the state they play most of their tennis in.Tomaz Mencinger, Coach/Author (feeltennis.net, tennismindgame.com, beginnertennis.net)
Since reading that I have learned to value free hitting and deliberate practice. Ans then, I began to wonder if this applies to many people’s career choices.
I see many mindlessly chase the next reward – promotion, hike, job change or college degree – ‘muscling’ their way. Eventually most of them end up in a place they don’t enjoy being in, are totally out of depth with titles they can’t wield, or even worse, get stuck in an orbit they can’t break out of.
“Rewards can perform a weird sort of behavioural alchemy: they can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work, And by diminishing intrinsic motivation, they can send performance, creativity, and even upstanding behaviour toppling like dominoes.”Daniel Pink, Author of Drive
Many in our industry are in the midst of a perfect storm – annual appraisal conversations marries pandemic enforced remote mode that has gone on too long marries exploding demand all around. We see almost everyday, incredibly smart, high potential and young people allowing unidimensional scoreboards run their lives.
While it is important to regularly keep score and win. Doing that all the time and at every turn is dysfunctional. It is more important to see your career as a journey of learning opportunities – to explore, experiment and perfect your play.
When I look back at my life and career, it’s the moments of free play (unplanned roles, failed projects and going with the flow) led me to develop my intrinsic clarity, capability and motivation – all of which paid off in big game situations when I really needed to win.
If my point seems too sentimental and ‘fortune cookie-ish‘, let me make a deeper argument inspired by the philosopher duo – Calvin and Hobbes.
With the increased complexity in all our lives and rapid changes in a networked world – no game is static or defined. All careers, roles and paths are inherently dynamic, with rapidly shifting rules and evolving goals. The pandemic has tuned every rule on it’s head. Kind of like ‘Calvin Ball‘. The only rule of playing Calvin Ball being “you can’t play it the same way twice“.
Very philosophically Calvin quips once “Sooner or later, all our games turn into Calvin Ball” !! How true.
Beware if you are chasing unidimensional scoreboards. And you may end up in the Boomerang Zone with an Invisible Vortex before you know it 🙂