To achieve mastery is to do it for free

As they say, money makes the world go round. It is precisely because of this that most people chose to keep mentioning money as the most important thing in the world.

They are not wrong. Without money, there’s a lot of things that you can’t do. No food for you. No access to water. No house. No clothes. And you can’t even get anywhere on public transport if you are utterly broke.

But if you are an idealist like me and someone who put emphasis on the experience and lessons learned more than anything else, you can’t help but feel that the people around you are sick. Sick in the mind. It’s especially so if they mentioned that everything you do should give you money in return.

Let’s put this into practice.

If let’s say all your writings are behind a paywall. By that I also mean the very first article that you ever wrote to be published. Not only that, you have just also just graduated from school with a Degree in Creative Writing and have no working experience publishing a piece of writing for another person but yourself. And submission to the professor as part of your coursework is not counted.

What do you think will happen to you?

It would be very obvious that as a writer, you won’t be able to grow because no one will pay to read a newbie’s stuff. Not only that, the market is full of contents created by other writers and they are mostly free. So why should anyone pay to access yours?

For me, there’s an example I could use. For those who follow me long enough knows my day job is a software creator. My Honours Degree in Engineering (Computer Science) could get me through most doors of companies based in Singapore. But how did I graduate in the first place? Before entry, I spent time creating software, doing my own pet projects to experiment with something new. That was how it made me better than most of my peers when it comes to programming. If I hadn’t done that, I could honestly tell you I will struggle through the course. Even after graduating and working, I continue to spend time to read up on some of the latest development in technology and software.

And just over the weekend, I setup Docker on my Macbook and run a container inside of it. The container is host to the Microsoft SQL Server. And why did I do that? I wanted to understand what is Docker all about. Been hearing all about it but never used it anywhere during my work. And if I waited for my company to finally used Docker in one of their projects and have me onboard, do you think they would want me to play with Docker considering I have no experience?

Besides all that, do you know that I also mentor some of my colleagues in coding despite them being way more senior than me in terms of age and work experience. Auditing their code style is also something I do without really being “paid” for it.

Now, the big difference between them and me is the passion in software creation. To them, it’s just a job. To me, it’s part of who I am since I see myself as a creator. And to be any good, I have to continue to improve by learning anywhere and anytime I can. Same goes for my writing. Don’t even need money to push me forward.

With this, I hope you can see that to even be any good at what you do, you can’t expect to be rewarded now with money. You’ve got to have the interest and passion for the thing you are doing. Furthermore, life is all about playing the infinite game; to continuously grow and be better than who you are before. If you want to wait for money to spur you to do anything new, well, you will become stagnant very quickly.

And that is you playing the finite game.

Give yourself permission to experiment

As humans, we have always prefer what’s familiar over what’s new. It’s just so ingrained in our psychology. After all, new means unknown and that automatically translate into scary.

Now, we could probably draw on our past experiences to make some decisions to approach what’s new. However, there will be times when we don’t have enough data points to make that decision.

When that happens, there will be a couple of scenarios that could happen. For some of us, we will hesitate or freeze up completely. Then there will be those who is able to overcome their initial fear and come to a decision. Later, they’d probably second guess themselves until the day the result of their decision became clear. And then there will be those people who are so confident of their ability to make a good decision and stick to their gun going forward even when things go wrong.

This is also related to why some of us simply never liked the idea of experimentation. Being a trailblazer is just not their cup of tea.

And it’s totally understandable.

Experimentation means subjecting yourself to the unknown or doing something that you have never done before. It’s scary. A big part of the fear could easily stems from you caring too much about other people’s opinions. You are afraid that when you fail, people will laugh at you, make you look bad especially if it’s at the work place. Or it could be that you are afraid the higher-ups will use that failure to justify not giving you bonuses or think you are not a competent employee. Or, it could be that you really have no self-confidence.

As a result, you will end up finding excuses not to do that work.

I know because there were times when I simply dare not venture out to do something new or exciting. I didn’t want to fail at the new task.

But what do you think happens when you don’t experiment especially if you are a creator of some sort? Software, textual content, photographs, videos, it doesn’t matter.

By failing to experiment, you minimise the chances of you making mistakes. When you don’t make mistakes, you simply don’t get a chance to learn from those mistakes. So no new perspective of how things could or should be. No new experience to gain in order for you to share.

And before you know it, you have stagnated. You would have failed at being a creator and dropped out of the infinite game called personal growth.

For me, I don’t want to drop out of that game just yet. Thus why I switched up my writing from journaling mode to writing these kind of content. And yes, I was afraid that I would fail at the start. But I kept going. It’s also why I tend to ask for new and fresh stuff to do at work, taking into account the team’s bandwidth and the priority of my current tasks. And there were just times I actually second guessed myself when I hit a few roadblock and there’s the deadline breathing down on me. For example, I would ask myself why did I choose to take on implementing something new. But when I finally pushed it through and solved it, that feeling is really wonderful.

So give yourself the permission to experiment. To fail so that you have the chance to pick yourself up and try again.

Focus on playing the infinite game

There are two kinds of games. Finite and infinite. Finite games are games that we all know about. Sports for example are finite games. In each sport, there’s a set of rules and end goals. Once you follow the rules and meet the end goal, you win the game. Failure to do so, you lose the game.

And what about infinite games?

Infinite games are games that have no end goal. It just goes on and on until the players in the game drop out because of the lack of resources. And by resources, it could be anything: mental energy, money, time. Some examples of infinite games are the game of life and your personal growth.

You might be wondering how is personal growth an infinite game. For the uninitiated, it might be a finite game.

Let’s take the scenario of you deciding to go for a quick course to get a new skill. It has a set of rules. You need to sign up for the course and that is the most important rule. Then maybe there are terms and condition you need to follow. And what about the end goal? Completing the course and get the certificate.

But, it’s mostly an infinite game because you don’t stop at that one course, right? Everyday, you will be experiencing new things and then learning something from those experiences. It doesn’t stop. There’s no end goal. You don’t win the personal growth game. If you have the slightest of growth mindset, you just keep growing personally until the day you run out of resources. By that, it means you are either too sick to continue or drop dead.

And that lead me to the next point.

In one of my previous post, I talked about the importance of knowing your ‘why’. It’s especially relevant now. Not only does it helps to reduce the odds of getting situational depression, it’s your anchor in this world. It enables you to play the infinite game because you have now found your purpose. So whatever you do from there will be to fulfil the purpose. Now, that is an infinite game.

Furthermore, knowing your ‘why’ will give you strength to ignore all the noise that you get from people you meet, especially now when there’s always something telling you how to behave, what to wear, what to eat, and who you should be.

When you focus on playing the infinite game of fulfilling your ‘why’ through actions, you will be happier and you also frustrate the people around you because they realise they can’t seem to influence you to do the thing they want. With that, they will lose out. And you will also command respect from people who understand the game you are playing.

However, that’s not to say it will be all bright and rosy. On some days, you will lose some, and on some days, you will win some. It’s frustrating. And that’s the nature of the game. Just do not give up. By giving up, you are dropping out of the infinite game.

Even then, it’s also important not to forget about the finite games of your life because they can affect the quality of your life in the short term or block you from progressing. For example, getting a house for your family, getting that degree that you always wanted, or finding a job to feed yourself. Just don’t make the finite games the only game you play in your life because they lead you nowhere good.

I know you might wonder what could you do if you don’t know your ‘why’.

There’s something else I believe to be an infinite game; identify and put your strengths in play whatever you do. Don’t focus on fixing your flaws because they only serve to take away your energy from the things that truly matter. Just acknowledge your flaws and get someone who can hide them for you in both your personal and professional life.