Choosing your own games

You know when you were little and you had to play with rubbish educational toys that everyone buys for new babies? The cube with the shapes, for instance, with a hammer. Who thought it was good to give a baby an educational toy plus hammer? If you couldn't work out the right shape and hole then you could pick one and hammer it in? Is that the life lesson?

For me, I was bored with those. Having figured out the shape and hole conundrum, I took delight in seeing how far I could push the wrong shape and hole mixture, with liberal use of hammer. My proudest moment was getting the darn star into the circle.

Of course, after this high-end accomplishment, the toy was no longer educational or usable. I think that was the life lesson.

Like small children, we go through life kind of expecting things to make sense. Or, if they don't make sense, we hope someone will give us a nice rubber hammer, one that will force the wrong shapes through the right holes, without coming back and smashing out an eye.

The game of life has many, many wrong holes. This must be what it's like for those good children, who never use the hammer except for play-woodworking. The ones who sit quietly, waiting until they figure out the right shape. It never seems to occur to them to force anything. Patience, readers, marvel at it!

Unlike these good, silent children, I was the one who quickly moved to such games as metal-car-tossing and car racing with my best buddy, Paul. We were both two years old and prone to knocking nice children over, but what we had in common was our obsession with the race. Small children might go flying through the air, still clutching their hammers, but we knew that one of us would win in the end.

What Paul and I didn't realise was that it was an unwinnable race. We pelted around the nursery playroom, with the cubes stacked in the middle, our little legs running for all they were worth under the cars, never seeing the obvious - that we were going in circles.

For the thrill of the race we barged past good children, ran into slow children, bashed the side of the play house when we tried to avoid children we actually saw before we hit them. All of this intense activity and for what? To be the first to complete a few laps of an artificially constructed circuit.

Later in life, if we're lucky, we realise that barging through other people to compete on someone else's terms is a silly way to live. We put aside the racing car and the competition and focus on the living instead. If we're very lucky, we still get to be friends with those people who shared our journey before we made this realisation.

Sometimes, though, you need to leave behind that whole environment. Like nursery, it should be temporary, to live in a controlled situation where our challenges are created for us, to a schedule of improvement. If we follow this imposed schedule, then we risk forgetting that it is all just a circuit made by someone else, with no real goal, simply what we have been told is the aim of the game.

For many years, I went on like I did at a young age, either trying to succeed on an artificial track, or hammering those wrong shapes through the right holes, dodging the hammer each time it bounced up and flew past my head. Both of these sum up my old approaches to life.

If I couldn't succeed on the route someone else created, then I would make what I had fit the right holes. You see, it's like saying to someone, 'I know I did it wrong, but I can change!' This graduates to trying to use the talents you have to succeed in the areas everyone thinks are important. Again, the wrong goal.

I left the race track behind years ago and have only recently abandoned trying to fit shapes in holes. As you see me now, I have the hammer waiting nearby, for when I want to hit something without really hurting it.

I finally realised, after going through many years of confusion and needless competition, that the best games are the ones you make yourself. How much more personalised can it get than a challenge thought of by you, for you? And that way, readers, you have no one to beat and can just enjoy playing the game. Trust me, it's much more fun this way.


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