5.23.2012

Rigged Games (And Why You Shouldn't Play Them)

You're at a carnival with your best gal. You start walking through the arcade and see one of those "ring the bell" where you use a cartoonish mallet to hit a paddle which flings a slider up a rail and, if you're strong enough, hit a bell. You hear a barker yell "Step right up! Ring the bell and win the lady a big stuffed dog!"

You have heard your whole life that the game is rigged, but you're not thinking of that. You're thinking of the look on your best gal's face when you hand her that big stuffed dog. You pay a dollar, walk up, grab the hammer and get in position.

Right before you swing the hammer, you see the carnival barker lean on one of the support cables holding the slider with the bell on it in place. This causes the structure to lean slightly, putting the slider off-balance and introducing friction. But you don't care -- you want to see the look on her face when you hand her that gigantic stuffed dog.

To no one's surprise, the slider makes it about 3/4 of the way up and then plummets. You pay another dollar; you try again. You fail again. You pay another dollar. So on and so forth, until you begin to think you're weak and incapable of getting past this stupid barrier that, if it didn't exist, would make your job so much easier and you could succeed.

Disappointed and feeling down and weak, you walk away.

A few months (or weeks or even days) later, you're at the carnival. you've got your best gal with you. You stroll through the arcade. You see the bell ringing game and the carnival barker. You know the game is rigged... But now you've got your pride on the line. You know that, if you can just try really hard and hit it hard enough, you can get that stuffed dog and make your lady happy. 

Do you play the game?

Of course not, it's rigged. You're smarter than that, right?

*   *   *

You're at home when your best friend calls. She's upset -- her boyfriend has cheated on her. You advise her to leave. "But he's really a great guy, and he says he's really sorry, and he loves me..." You try your best to talk sense into her, but she's absolutely convinced that if she leaves him, she'll never find anyone else. "But do you really want to be with someone like that?" You ask. She says it beats being alone.

A few months (or or weeks or even days) later, she calls again. Her boyfriend has cheated again . You advise her to leave. "But he's really a great guy, and he says he's really sorry, and he loves me..." 

Do you play the game?

"Well, it's my friend..." So you play. It's just as rigged as the bell game. "But it's my friend..." 

*   *   *

You're at work. The CEO needs you to be the clutch hitter and save the day. The sales guy can't handle the sale. You need to step in and save the day. "But I have all this other work..." you say. Doesn't matter. This is the priority. The CEO will square it up with your manager.

So you do as you're asked. You talk the client into sticking around, and get the work they need done, done. The sales guy gets paid his full commission, and gets the credit for the sale. You're asked by your manager why the work you had to do for her was put off and didn't get done. "Well, the CEO needed me to do this for the sales guy..." But no one told the manager, and she was expecting that work. Plus, the sales guy got all the credit and no one really mentioned your role...

A few months (or weeks or even days) later, you're at work. The CEO needs you to be the clutch hitter and save the day. The sales guy can't handle the sale. You need to step in and save the day. "But I have all this other work..." you say. Doesn't matter. This is the priority. The CEO will square it up with your manager...

Do you play the game?

"Well, it's my job..." So you play. But it's just as rigged as the bell-ringing game. "But it's my job..."

And now, you're playing your own rigged game against yourself.

*   *   *

Of course there are MANY more examples of rigged games, some far more severe than these. But the point is the same: the reason you shouldn't play rigged games is that you cannot win. 

The reason you will play the work and the friend game where you probably wouldn't play the bell-ringing game is that you feel like a terrible friend if you don't show up when they need you (even if it's the fifteenth time in a row on the same problem), and you need your job to survive...

The reality is, you're actually a much better friend if you call your friend on her crap and make her face it. You're much better at your job if you cut out the sidebars and either do the job you were hired to do or get officially put in the job you're being asked to cover. 

If your friend or your job react poorly to those realities, you're in a rigged game, and you need to get out. The same applies to every situation in life: if there is a solution to the problem, and someone doesn't take it, they don't want the problem to be solved.

If you realize you're playing a rigged game and you decide to put down another dollar and take another swing, don't blame the carnival barkers. They're doing what they do, and you know they're doing it. You have no right to be angry at anyone but yourself.