Inner Game of Career Development
By Leo Gura - April 20, 2013 | 2 Comments
Developing a successful career isn’t as straight-forward as it may seem. Learn how your inner game plays into creating a career most people only dream of.
Why NOT to Wing Your Career
Most people wing their careers and unsurprisingly they get mediocre results. If you want an awesome career where you make a big difference in your industry, command the big bucks, and have status, you need to think strategically and you need to cultivate proper mindsets. I’m going to use my first career to show you how an insufficient inner game leads to failure.
Cultivating a Mastery Mindset
For a successful career you will likely need to master a variety of skills, which isn’t easy. If you don’t realize this, or realize the processes and kinds of thinking you need to have in order master a deep skillset — as discussed in George Leonard’s must-read classic Mastery — you are setting yourself up for failure. When mastering skills, it’s important to know how to pace, manage expectations, and think constructively.
Mastery is the path of patient, dedicated effort without attachment to immediate results.
In my own career as a video game designer I had learn a wide set of skills. In the end all I had to really know was how to crank out good designs, but doing that required a lot of ancillary skills. I had to understand art pipelines, UI design, programming, business, marketing, history, story-telling, cinema, writing, speaking, and salesmanship.
That’s a lot to learn! And there were many ways I could have approached it. The problem was I didn’t know which skills to build in what order and how much of each I needed. On the one hand it was important to have a broad understanding of all areas mentioned above. On the other hand, the core value of what I did came from generating strong, fun design mechanics. Should I have been dabbling in all the above, or just locked myself in a room and focused on dissecting games and understanding how the mechanics worked? The bottom line is I didn’t know exactly which skills to develop.
In retrospect, knowing what I now know about the importance of “core value”, I would have focused much more on dissecting mechanics and getting a lot of hands-on experience building mechanics because that’s what would have ultimately made me successful. Back then I had good guesses, but guesses weren’t enough to give me the confidence I needed to be really persistent down this path.
Patience and Pacing
One of the biggest obstacles to success in any career is simply falling off track. Especially in a long-term endeavor like career development — which takes years and decades — being impatient or failing to pace yourself is a recipe for failure.
I was no exception to this rule. In fact, I think my wide-eyed excitement and optimism fed into it.
Ever since I was a kid I felt passionate about video game design. Over the years I cultivated an ambition to make a big difference in the industry with my work. Unfortunately, the downside of ambition tends to lead to impatience, which undermines persistence. Without persistence your chances of being successful at any endeavor that takes longer than 1 month is minimal.
Ambition must be tamed to stay the long-haul.
When I got my first job I started to want a lot very quickly. I wanted promotions. I wanted recognition. I wanted money. I wanted to create games that would wow the pants off of people. Yet I was only months into my career. Had I know about the mastery mindset I would have guided expectations better. At that point I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to create mind-blowing games, but it wasn’t happening consistently. “Why isn’t this working?”, I would think. “Why can’t I just sit down for 4 hours and come up with a great design?”
What I didn’t realize was that my ambition outstripped by talent and abilities. What I didn’t realize was that I needed to put in a lot of time to get good, and any results I got until then were more or less flukes. I was looking at great games in the marketplace and trying to out-do them, but they were designed by big teams backed by people who had a lot of design experience.
Looking back it is clear that should have paced myself, set more realistic expectation, and put my nose to the grindstone. Instead, I got more and more frustrated as I put more pressure on myself to perform. This is prime example of how improper mindset leads to self-sabotage.
From Impatience to Inadequacy
Before I got my first studio job as a designer I spent a lot of time isolated, working on projects by myself. After a year or two of this I built up a strong portfolio and really developed the foundation for my skills. I also developed confidence in my abilities because some of the stuff I put out was liked by the gaming community.
What I hadn’t quite expected, however, was that when I was hired, I’d be in a totally different league. Especially because I was hired by one of the best studios in the country, I suddenly went from big fish in a small pond to small fish in a big pond. I looked around and saw that I still had a lot to learn.
Eventually this led to feelings of inadequacy that robbed me of my drive and enthusiasm for the work. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and I beat myself up for it. This problem went hand in hand with my impatience for success and the two fed into each other. I would feel like I should be accomplishing more while at the same time I could barely handle what I already had on my plate.
Inadequacy gave rise to several problems. First, it just made me feel bad and insecure. This affected the quality of my work and robbed me of enjoyment. Second, it led to some inner-office politics issues because my ego felt like I had an image to uphold. Third, it led to serious doubts like, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this” and “Maybe I would be better off working for myself so I can accomplish more.”
Lack of Focus
Ultimately the combination of impatience, inadequacy, doubts, frustration, and lack of overall understanding about how to develop my skills led to a wavering of focus. One day my brother called me to talk about his own career and promotions and somehow one thing led to another and the conversation turned towards us starting our own internet marketing business. That was a critical failure point because, just then, my mind turned from “Let’s make awesome games” to “Let’s make a lot of money really fast.”
If you’re not getting the success you want, it’s probably because you’re dabbling. Focus on one thing.
Lack of focus is lethal to success, especially with something as long-term as developing a career. The proper strategy for your career is to build up experience and “career capital.” The worst thing you can do is dabble and jump around.
By jumping around you spread your experience too thin and never end up being good at anything. As a result, you have little value to offer others so you can’t get a high-paying position, you can’t make a lot of meaningful contribution to projects, and you probably don’t have enough experience to start your own business — which will only be successful if you have know-how to give your clients/customers massive value. That’s why most people start a business only after many years of industry experience. Competing with experienced industry leaders when you have very little experience is a tough position to be in.
The End of My Story
Eventually my ambition, inadequacy, impatience drove me to change focus to money and becoming independent of the mainstream gaming industry. In many ways it was an amazing turn of events that I wouldn’t ever change because it led to a massive amount of personal growth, business knowledge, and gave me total financial security. But even so, I had to sacrifice my dream of being a professional game designer to get it. Had I wanted to really make a big impact in the game design world, I should have approached my career differently from an inner game standpoint.
Knowing the things I know now about inner game I would approach my any career I develop very differently.
Other Common Inner Game Career Challenges
Beyond the challenged I faced, here are a few other inner game areas that might hamper your career development.
Busting Through Limiting Beliefs
Limiting beliefs about yourself or your career can create a very real glass ceiling for how high you will climb, how money money you will make, and how quickly you will do it.
Limiting beliefs about money are incredibly pervasive. Moreover, you don’t even realize you have these beliefs until something nudges you out of auto-pilot, forcing a rare, sudden epiphany. This happens because your mind is extremely good at justifying and validating itself.
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.
For most of my life I have been weighed down by a belief of scarcity in business. I would think thoughts like, “There’s only so much money to go around and not everyone can be wealthy and success because it’s ecologically impossible.”
This belief came from years of school and college where I grew up thinking on a large-scale, systemic level: biological systems, ecology, economies, etc. Then I drew generalizations from that and my upbringing to concoct this notion that money is scarce and success must be fought for.
It took me years to realize just how much this one belief contributed to my lack of willingness to pursue business opportunities. It also made me feel uneasy and insecure. I would start a project and constantly worry about finishing it quickly because in the back of my mind (mostly unconsciously) I would assume that if I didn’t seize the opportunity it would slip away. I kept focusing on how the ecology of it all was against my favor.
The reality is that millions of people are out there making enormous amounts of money and success for themselves. Having a scarcity mindset drove me to rush my work and kept me looking over my shoulder when I should have been looking ahead.
Dealing with Negative (and Positive) Emotions
Emotions can be an obstacle in career development, and more generally, any long-term endeavor you undertake. Why? Because it’s hard to be consistent if you’re easily swayed off track. You want to develop control over yourself regardless of how good or bad you feel in the moment.
You will face situations and times in your career when you feel worried, fearful, inadequate, threatened, angry, gloomy, or disappointed. Sometimes an angry outburst here or there, or a pulling away from a new opportunity, isn’t a big deal — it just makes you feel bad or leads to a temporary setback — but other times it can make or break you.
The good news is that you can actively work on your emotional stability. It happens naturally to most of us as we grow and mature, but I’ve gotten amazing results by working on my emotions more proactively. The best way to do this is through contemplation, coaching, journaling, and mental techniques like visualization, affirmation, positivity challenges, and the Sedona Method — which is probably the most power emotion-busting technique I’ve ever found.
It’s obvious to most of us that negative emotions limit productivity, but positive emotions can be destructive as well. Until I started practicing the Sedona Method I never realized how dangerous positive emotions can be.
One thing that Sedona teaches you is the importance of releasing emotions of lust or desire. At first it seems crazy to release a desire for your goals — after all, why would you then want to pursue them? But it’s actually more complicated than it originally seems. A strong emotion of desire will make you lust after an object so desperately that you cannot focus. You are much more likely to achieve your goals by pursuing them with calm discipline than desperate passion.
Have you ever been so excited to work on a new project that you couldn’t start the work? I’ve had this happen many times and never realized what was going on until I learned that I should be releasing those lusty emotions with Sedona. Contrary to what you might think, the drive to pursue the goal still remains after the emotion of lust is released. What’s left is a solid feeling of confidence — almost like you’re pursuing something that’s already yours. The difference for productivity is huge!