The Path to Playing Your Own Game Starts Here
Level 4: Serious Player
Let me tell you a story.
The teacher was talking. My mind wandered, eyes glancing around the class.
I was two rows in on the right side. On the opposite side were windows.
We had probably 30 kids in the class.
It was 9th grade.
I didn't know anyone.
We had just moved here so it was all new.
"Ok, we're gonna spend some time getting to know each other!"
I was apprehensive. It was the late 90s and being a nerd was very much NOT mainstream. I liked video games. I like imagination and coming up with things. I played fantasy card games and read fantasy books.
I carried around a beat up copy of The Eye of the World.
It was kinda like my security blanket for awhile.
Our assignment on this day was to share something special about ourselves that made us unique.
I had brought in a cd of a bit of new and unknown software.
It was kind of a 3D modeling world building 'learning-how-to-program' program, which was pretty unusual and interesting in the mid to late 90s (if you were a nerd, like me).
If you're curious, it was called Alice1.
It was my turn to stand up and share.
"I uh ... I like making worlds. Like different worlds."
I started trying to talk about Alice.
Someone in the back started giggling and whispering.
In My World
I was the hero. I was the wizard. I was the mystical sorcerer. I wielded a violin like it contained magical fury which I unleashed in the orchestra.
I sat in the corner quietly, avoiding further scrutiny.
I joined the nerds at lunch playing Magic the Gathering in the math teacher's room. It was our sanctuary, away from the scrutiny and the hate.
I tried writing once.
I followed all the directions.
I wrote in the lines.
I wrote the proper amount with the proper references and the proper citations.
I was told it was good.
I hated it.
Because I was a nerd I used a silly little program to randomly generate sentences and paragraphs based on an input I gave it. (Thank you Dilbert’s Desktop Games)2
I used that to write a 10 page paper.
One whole page was just the letter 'a' like a thousand times.
I got 7/10
I hated writing. What was the point?
There was one teacher who encouraged me to throw the rules to the wind and write outside the lines.
I tried that. I enjoyed it. That was great.
Then I graduated and left that class.
And I had to fit the lines again.
I stretched the meaning of lines. I found a place that accepted boundary pushing as long as I conformed to their (looser than normal) expectations.
I wrote more than ever.
But I still hated it ... except in the hard to reach moments of flow when I didn't.
I spent the first 30 years of my life growing and shrinking between lines of expectation.
Meanwhile in the world of my imagination I stoked a burning fire. I lived that fire through music. I lived it through games. I lived it through painting, sculpture, drawing and photography.
But it continued to burn and rage. Not like a well fed furnace. Like a pressure cooker.
A pot waiting to explode.
And explode I did. A few times.
Who the hell are YOU?
I feel like this is a question I learn more and more every day.
But what I've come to also recognize is that embracing who you are, so you can play your own game, is about far more than just enjoying life and doing your best at things.
Playing your game is about far more than getting the best results.
There's a power in humanity which extends far beyond the physical world we are consciously aware of.
Consider ancient Celtic Druids, and Mayans ...
The ancient druids show up in myth and legend. There are still people to this day who follow those paths, though many of the old teachings have long been lost as they were only ever passed down through storytelling and apprenticeship (one practiced with a druid to become one).
Old myths and legends tell stories which give glimpses into their perceived power. The Tain tells of healing powers and wild beast shapechanging.
The old stories of King Arthur are steeped in Celtic legend -- Merlin is sometimes referred to as a druid.
Even as you peel away the myth and legend, you see practices which centered around gods of the natural world, the changing seasons, plants and animals, and ritual.
Though you may have an image of magic, nature, ritual and mysticism, the writings of Druids illuminate they were for the most part leaders of communities, guides to leaders, respected healers, and wise bearers of deep natural knowledge.
To go to a completely different part of the world, if you dig into the practice and culture of ancient Mayan civilization (not even that ancient, the old ways were still alive in the mid 1900s, even as western culture ate away at them over the previous 400 years).
In Guatemala, the Mayans lived their lives centered around a connection with nature. Their entire culture built around a love and respect for seeds. Their villages culturally focused around ancient leadership tied to the gods and nature.
Many of their core rituals were centered around agricultural growth and harvest, particularly when it came to corn.
It's easy to look at those times, those people, those stories with a modern eye and think that all the mysticism and ritual was absurd. But this is to completely miss the power of our humanity which expands far beyond our conscious measurable ability.
The ritual and connectedness to nature of those cultures sounds like mysticism, but perhaps what they really had was a deeper connection to their natural present self which allowed a level of awareness you can't consciously grasp, but which gives you the ability to understand from those rituals the right decisions to make for the community to survive and thrive.
I share tidbits of these cultures because if you take a moment to see, you can discover that deep within our history and core of being human is an innate ability to connect with our deeper self and the world around us in a way that extends far beyond our measurable consciousness.
(The ancient stories themselves are of course richly figurative as they pass on an understanding that is not directly in front of you - if you want to learn more Celtic Druid lore, I recommend searching for stories from The Mabinogion)
Back to YOU.
Embracing who you are is about giving into a power bigger than you can see.
I'm not talking about something outside of yourself.
It's about recognizing the things in yourself you know deep down to be true and letting them BE and live and thrive and grow.
It's not about being your best self.
It's about deeply knowing the garden of you, and becoming someone who thrives in the process of becoming better and nurturing that garden.
I look back on that kid in 9th grade, 23 years ago, who bravely tried to open up about his weird obsession with creating different worlds, only to be shut down.
I don't cringe (anymore).
I don't regret (anymore).
I don't even want to go back in time to change things …
I can recognize now that the path I walked to find myself here and now is precisely the one I needed to.
Some of me wishes that 9th grade me could have ignored the kids in the room who didn't get it. Could have said "fuck them, I'm gonna do me, and this is what I love doing."
But I wanted to belong.
I so desperately didn't want to be outcast.
I set aside what I started to believe was foolishness.
What I started to believe I couldn't do.
I shut my own power behind a door that has since taken me 23 years to find and walk through again.
Except now I have the entirety of my life experience over the past 23 years, all the failures, all the missteps, all the violating my own principles ... as well as all the good that came from everything in that time.
And I know things.
I believe things.
I can wield this power with far greater aptitude than 9th grade me.