How to Play the Long Game (Even If You Feel like You Can Barely Make It to Friday)
We all know the drill. You wake up every day, do your best to get through your to-do list, be a good person, and keep all the balls in the air. But in your few quiet moments, behind the feeling of overwhelm, it’s there. It’s that gnawing nagging feeling that the world is passing you and that you’re so busy trying to keep up with the urgent items that you’ve neglected the things that are truly important to you.
You’re not alone. We’re all being pushed to limits, and the feeling of being constantly behind is now the norm.
The question for so many of us is, how can we break out of this endless cycle and create the kind of interesting, meaningful lives we all seek?
When top business thinker and Duke University professor Dorie Clark approached this question, she herself was on a treadmill of constant travel, early alarms, and long days that (while highly productive and outwardly successful-looking) were inwardly exhausting and less than emotionally satisfying. As a consultant and executive coach, she was also observing a similar pattern in her clients.
No one it seems had a moment to breathe.
In the opening of her newest book, The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-term World, Clark describes her own turning point, being jolted awake by an early morning alarm facing down another challenging week ahead. She says, “All I needed to do was get my body to comply. I knew I could do it all. I had to.”
While the week (back-to-back meetings, travel, and multiple demands) went off without a hitch, in that early morning darkness, she recounts, “I felt a quick sharp stab. For just a moment, before I could tamp it down, it felt like loneliness. For just a moment, I wondered, why I decided my life should be this way.” With that opener, Clark points readers towards solving the looming, often unspoken, problem of our time, Why should any of us be living this way?
In The Long Game, Clark explains why although we all know intellectually that lasting success (personal and professional) takes persistence and effort, much of the relentless pressure in our culture pushes us toward doing what’s easy, what’s guaranteed, or what looks glamorous in the moment.
Covid and lockdown may have eliminated the constant travel, yet for many, the speed of the treadmill has gotten worse. The endless loop between your desk, your bed, and your video camera has become more exhausting than a red-eye.
Drawing a parallel to a widely observed macro issue, Clark writes, “Just as CEOs who optimize for quarterly profits often fail to make the strategic investments for long-term growth, the same is true in our own personal and professional lives.”
One-part personal journey, two parts practical application, The Long Game, puts forth concrete strategies for creating more white space in your life and focusing where it counts. As a reader, I found myself rethinking some of my long-held notions of success, and recognizing new opportunities to reinvent myself.
Clark is refreshingly candid about her own successes (including a now 7-figure income) as well as her failures (multiple stinging rejections). By combining the personal (how to spend more time with people who bring out the best in you) with the professional (rethinking failure and strategic patience) she addresses life holistically, zooming in on dual needs we all have for economic success and meaningful connection.
Clark asserts, “Everyone is allotted the same twenty-four hours — but with the right strategies, you can leverage those hours in more efficient and powerful ways than you ever imagined.” The Long Game skips past the usual trite wake up an hour earlier, color code your to-do list suggestions and instead focuses on concrete things you can do today to move your larger life ambitions forward.
It’s unlikely that the pace of work and life will slow down, or that there will be mandated pauses for strategic thinking. At the end of the day, the only way we can live the life we truly want for ourselves is if we take the time to create it. No matter where you are at this moment, there is still part of your life ahead of you, likely a big part. You can spend your time on short term reactions, trying to get yourself to Friday. Or you can resist the pull of our always urgent culture and decide that you are here to play a much longer game.