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What Will Endure?
As I approach the back end of my middle age, I am increasingly occupied by thoughts of what I’ll leave behind that is meaningful. This raises questions on what is meant by “meaningful” and to whom. Will the video games I’ve made matter? They probably won’t. I might get lucky and something I make becomes significant in the field, but it’s highly unlikely.
Will the photos I’ve taken endure? Perhaps, but who has the time to look at old photos? That I make time every day to do just this is besides the point, that’s a personal choice and I use systems to help me remember the joy in my life.
Will the source code I’ve created endure? Definitely not. I’ve lost most of the code I ever wrote, through data degradation, theft and loss. It doesn’t matter. Who cares for 6502, Z80, 68000 and 80386 anyway?
“I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.” — Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?
For my life’s journey to be meaningful, I need to focus on the here and now, and not some distant point in the future. Having goals is fine, but the achievement of most goals is just a way of satisfying the ego. I gave up on goals in favour of purpose a long time ago.
I often give presentations. One of the most important things to remember about giving a presentation or a talk is that people will rarely remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. I think this is mostly true. Sometimes you can say something that has a profound effect on somebody listening, but only when they are ready for it. You’d be surprised how often when giving a presentation you’re not aware that what you’ve said has had a profound effect on the listener. The key here is that you made them feel a certain way through the words you used, the delivery style and the context of the listener’s life.
I got to lead a team at PlayStation many years ago called “Strategic Content”. It was a small team, but my aim was to enrich the lives of the people on my team way beyond what a manager is expected to do. This was driven into me deeply by my boss, Antony Clark, who early on in my role told me “You’re not a manager. You’re a leader”. It took me years to truly understand what he was saying, even though I had an intuitive grasp of it at the time. I didn’t want to manage my team at all. I wanted them to be filled with purpose, to understand that what they were doing was going to have an effect, a hugely positive effect, on the lives of hundreds of people that we supported, and that they would look back at their time on the team as one of the most pivotal periods of their lives, and that they should treasure every small achievement.
Many years after our small team went its separate ways, we are still in touch, still friends, and they still remember the way I led. They are all successful in their own fields, and the fact that they look back at those years with fondness, as do many of the people we touched, both within and outside PlayStation, means more to me than any game I will ever write.
I’m a husband and a father. The time I spend with my family, the lessons I’ve learned that I share with excitement, the support I provide when called upon, this is meaningful, this matters more to me than the creation of any video game. Here’s the kicker: People will remember the bad much more readily than they will remember the good. So be sure to outweigh the bad with the good by an order of magnitude, preferably two. It’s not their fault. It’s not yours. It’s how we evolved. It was more important for us to remember which berries killed our ancestors than to remember the taste of the last decent berry we ate.
My calling, that is, the thing that calls me, is to be creative. I still get to do that. I am creative when I make games, whether people care about them or not. I am creative when I write this newsletter, and I’m overjoyed when people write to me privately to tell me that this helps them (win/win!) I am creative when I make music. So my calling is answered, but my calling will not endure, nor does it matter that it won’t. It’s what fulfils me.
My purpose will endure. My purpose to help as many people as I can. That will endure, and that’s all that matters. Meaning means more than fulfilment. Have you decided on your purpose yet?