A Game Not Worth Playing

Have you ever been outraged by a game?

I was definitely scandalized when I heard about a game once.  Or rather, a series of games … the Hunger Games.  As it turned out, I quite liked the Hunger Games trilogy – I thought the lessons of leadership, perseverance, power, politics, loyalty and identity were strong and moving, and the books and movies were brilliantly done.  However, when I first heard about the concept of the Hunger Games, I was utterly appalled.

“What kind of game is it again?  They choose kids at random to fight to their death?”  I wrinkled up my forehead.  “And the last one standing is the winner?  So the winner has to kill at least one person but maybe a lot of people?  And who watches this game?  … The entire nation?   They’re forced to watch it?  And they do this every year?”

I was slow to warm up to the idea.  I immediately thought about what I would do if I was forced to play such a game.  Would I hide?  Would I kill myself rather than be forced to kill others?  Would I train to be the best fighter ever so I could survive?  What kind of life would I have if I was forced to watch my peers die and/or kill them with my own two hands?  Would I form any alliances?  Could I outsmart the people that put on the games and somehow save everyone?  Would I just try to save myself?  What kind of character would I reveal inside of me?

The one thing I knew for sure was that that contest was one I most definitely did not want to play.

The Hunger Games are extreme, to say the least, but I sometimes I wonder how different the atrocious Hunger Games are from our life in America .  The stakes and magnitude differ, of course.  In America, no one is forced to fight to their death for the sake of others’ entertainment.  We don’t have a Coliseum in sight.  Yet, we are expected to compete with our peers in other areas, like in business and in sports and beauty and fitness and school and politics … and typically, the last wo/man standing is the victor who gets the spoils.  Survival of the fittest, and all that.

Sometimes I wonder if the dystopian world of Panem is a little closer to our own society than we realize.  Maybe we haven’t even evolved much beyond the Roman Empire.  Maybe we are all playing ruthless and dangerous games, every day.

It seems to me that playing the Game of Success in America is pretty darn stressful.  All of us working so hard to prove our worth has made a lot of us feel very unworthy, indeed.  When we see our peers succeed, we feel like failures.  When we reach a pinnacle of success we are told to go on to the next mountain, ever reaching toward an elusive finish line that only grows further away the more we try to reach it.  We work so hard, only to have more added to our To Do lists.  We adopt a new diet plan only to find out that carbohydrates/protein/goji berries/kale will actually kill us.  We get a stable new job in banking just when banks collapse and we are forced to find another industry.  We marry the man of our dreams only to be pressured to have a baby, and then another baby (“don’t you want to try for that little girl this time?”) until society decides it’s high time for you to go back to work (“what do you DO all day at home?  I’d go crazy with boredom.  Don’t you want to be more than just a mom?”).

Maybe the problem really starts when we fall into the trap of trying to play by someone else’s rules rather than our own.

I’ve found myself aspiring to achieve a lot of things in my life that I am now realizing I don’t really want at all.  For example, maybe I don’t want a bigger house.  A bigger house would take more effort to decorate, fill and maintain.  Maybe I don’t need a nicer car – mine runs just fine.  Maybe I don’t want to do more than my share of work at the office just for the privilege of getting more work assigned to me because I’m so darn capable.  Maybe I don’t want to prioritize my clients over my family.  Maybe I don’t want to be so busy that I can’t breathe.  Maybe I don’t want to always be leaving someplace ten minutes early to get somewhere else five minutes late.  Maybe I don’t want to eat foie gras or acquire a taste for aged whiskey.  Maybe I don’t want $50 face cream.  Maybe I don’t need to keep up with the Kardashians.  Maybe I don’t need to keep up with anyone.

Maybe I don’t want to play those games.

Maybe, instead, I want to do less, own fewer things, earn A’s and B’s (not A+’s), and eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the park for dinner some nights.  Maybe I want to dig a hole in a sandbox with my kids instead of driving them to the 10th extracurricular activity in a week.  Maybe cleaning up an art project is a more valuable use of my time than polishing the wood floors for guests.  Maybe it would be better to play heads up poker with Lancelot tonight instead of catching up on the news.    Maybe tomorrow I should prioritize a 3-mile jog around the neighborhood over two hours cleaning out the basement so my body feels energetic and nourished.

The point isn’t that we shouldn’t strive.  It’s that we should strive to achieve things we really want to achieve.  We should strive to be the person we authentically are, not the person someone else wants us to be (or someone we think we should be).

We should only play the games we want to play.

Let’s dream big.  Let’s reach for the stars.  But let the dreams be of our making, not the result of imaginary “shoulds” that society or our insecurities have thrust upon us.

Let’s make our games worth playing.

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