The Importance of the Long Game
An advocate for patience in a world living on instant gratification
There’s more than one person who has attempted to simplify the root cause of all success. Many people have their own approach and definition of success in different domains, yet to me the one common theme that determines success across all aspects of life is whether a person is playing the ‘long game’.
Playing the long game is harder than it sounds, it means taking small conscious steps towards achieving a much larger goal. Yet, in an Instagram/Scootsy generation where instant gratification is the norm and YOLO is the war cry, people are always in a hurry to get what they want today. Because, why wait?
1. Business: Playing the long game in business is particularly hard given how technology companies have changed the rules of business over the past decade or so. Most people today want to start a venture with a single-minded focus of creating investor/shareholder value and exiting early, even if that means creating a hostile company culture, a cash-burning balance sheet, and a fiscally irresponsible management. And while the headlines promote all the success stories of the ones that make it, they don’t show you the thousands that don’t. Those who build a business keeping all stakeholders in mind, their consumers, their employees, their shareholders, with an aim to add value to each, are more likely to find a sustainable growth path that will allow them to survive for years to come. They are passionate about growing their business, yet responsible enough to know that growth at all costs is not prudent. That’s long game thinking.
2. Savings and Investments: It worries me that our household savings rate in India is on a downward decline. This is particularly visible in the younger generation who seemed to have forgotten the struggles of their predecessors. We’re moving towards a more western consumer credit driven society, and while that’s great for the economy, it will spell trouble for anyone trying to build wealth. We’ve all heard of the magic of compound interest, yet we strive for a quicker return today. We chase that penny stock that our ‘uncle’ told us to buy in hopes that it will give us that fortune we believe we deserve. It will only be a matter of time before we learn our lesson. The two key components to building real wealth is having a high savings rate and a consistent compounded return on those savings. It’s that easy, no complex strategy, yet people always hunt for a quick way to get rich. Those who play the long game know that compound interest only works over a 20,30 or even 40 years. If you earn 10 lacs annually today which grows at 10% a year, have no previous savings, save 50% of your income, and compound your wealth at 12% a year- In 50 years, you’d have a cool 430 crores!
Remember Warren Buffet has a net worth of $90 Billion today, but $88 Billion of that came after the age of 60. Get rich slowly, it’s the only sustainable way.
3. Relationships: It takes a while for people to acknowledge this, but the key to happiness isn’t how big your business is or how much money you have, it’s the quality of your relationships with others. Unfortunately, as we become more self-absorbed in our own lives our approach towards others becomes purely transactional, be it at a professional networking event or on tinder. This approach has caused many to lose their sense of empathy, not investing enough in new or existing relationships. Playing the long game in any relationship is to give without asking, is to help without the hope of being helped back. Listen to other’s problems, ask them about their lives, and share your own stories. It’s been proven that people with stronger bonds, live happier lives (some say longer, too). Yet, in an age of technology where we’ve never been more connected, we’ve also never been more alone.
4. Health & Fitness: All girls want to be skinny, all guys want those ‘six-pack abs’. We have our goal, yet most don’t achieve it. Why? Because the first few days of trying are torturous and we reach the conclusion that it’s just not worth the pain. Yet, those who make the journey all share a similar story- once you get over the initial hump, your goal comes into sight. And just like saving or investing, going to the gym or pilates or yoga just becomes part of your routine. While you don’t see the benefits immediately, over time small changes create massive results (the butterfly effect). You begin to think twice before biting into that slice of cake because you know all the hard work that went into losing that weight to begin with. The short game tells us to follow fad diets and weight loss supplements, the long game asks you to create a system that is sustainable for the rest of your life.
5. Learning Something New: Most human beings are creatures of habit. We’ve all evolved by becoming specialists, so it doesn’t come naturally to us to learn a new skill or language. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who say ‘I wish I could speak Spanish’, ‘I wish I could cook’, ‘I wish I could play the guitar’, ‘I wish I could code’. Yet, most believe the age of learning is beyond them once they’re done with college. And while any new challenge always seems daunting at first, taking the first step is all that you have to do. The next step tends to follow, and before you know if you’re halfway to achieving the skill that you previously only wished you had. In this case playing the long game is not about delaying gratification but putting yourself outside your comfort zone to do something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the courage to.
For those who want to be truly successful in every aspect of life, learn to play the long game. It’ll make you richer, healthier, and most importantly happier!