Don’t Focus on How to Play the Game, Focus on Which Game You’re Going to Play

A few years back I learned a lesson that hit me like a ton of bricks. And changed how I think about life.
 
I started my career in investment banking. It paid well and I enjoyed working on high profile stuff. It was fun being surrounded by talented people. But I really didn’t like the work. 
 
I was competent, but I wasn’t awesome. I wasn’t playing to my inherent strengths. I worked hard but wasn’t motivated to go above and beyond. I was in the wrong game. 

Years later I stumbled on this quote from Kwame Anthony Appiah that hit me hard: “In life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game you’re playing.”
 
While in finance, most of my effort was spent on HOW I was playing the game (e.g. improving my financial modeling). But that wasn’t my problem. My real problem was that I was in the wrong game. And until I found the right game, my upside was limited. 
 
It took years, but ultimately I changed games. I made a career pivot that drastically altered the trajectory of my career. It was really hard at first and I had to take a few steps back.

But in this new game I was playing to my strengths and I was energized to go to work each day. That combo brought increased satisfaction and rapid growth. 

So how do you figure out the right game? First, you need to discover your inherent strengths. This can be hard to do early in career, but with with more experience you can look back over the types of work you’ve done and find the activities that come naturally to you and that energize you.
 
Don’t worry about how well you’re playing the game. That will come with time. Focus on playing the right game. Play YOUR game. Because that will make all the difference in the end.