The pressure of building a career can be overwhelming no matter what you are trying to pursue, but for a person trying to parlay their creativity into a career that pressure can be stifling.
The more time spent worrying translates into mental energy diverted from whatever it is you are passionate about. The way this pressure drives you to inaction often isn’t overt. It’s not an overwhelming fear that paralyzes you, but a low background noise of doubt and fear that nags at you.
Procrastination is the byproduct of this stress. It’s a mechanism of avoidance that is in direct response to our own fears and doubts about what needs to be done. It’s natural to gravitate toward doing things that provide instant gratification, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the right or appropriate thing to do.
Important tasks and procrastination are like planets and gravity— the bigger the task the stronger the urge to procrastinate. Higher stakes mean the consequences for failure are much greater, which ratchets up the fear and our craving to avoid dealing with it.
There’s no reason to approach your life and goals with such of grim determination. Creating the life and career you envision should be an enjoyable process, not cause you to flee from it. So why do we torture ourselves in this way?
The simple reason is fear. Our careers are such a huge part of our identity that the notion of failure is terrifying. Failing is akin to getting killed— it’s like having a huge part of yourself ripped out and called invalid. Perhaps dealing with this effectively requires a shift in thinking.
To borrow a phrase from Joker in the Dark Knight “Why so serious?
Think of your life, career and everything you do as a game. This game is fun, but it’s not frivolous because there are rules and consequences for breaking them. The beauty of this game though is that you are both player and game designer so by default you should be an expert.
Gamefication is the concept of applying game-like experiences to to real life situations. Generally this is applied to business and marketing campaigns, but it works in your personal and professional life. Knowing that you are in control is critical to a successful career and this is like setting the ground rules. The idea is to set up a framework for what it means to accomplish something and the specific rewards for finishing. When it’s clear what success means then it’s much easier to shoot for it.
Take a moment to consider yourself as the game designer of your own life. The concept and rules are yours to consider, set and abide by. What would this game look like? How would it play?
Start from the top
There’s a concept in game design called Epic Meaning, which is the motivation or belief that players are going to achieve something great. Deciding on the Epic Meaning for your life is the first step because this is the reason why your are playing in the first place.
Franchises like Halo and Mass Effect are prime examples of this. There is no better feeling in the world than knowing that you are the badass that saved the entire human race from extinction so we play out those fantasies. Perhaps your Epic Meaning is not so lofty, but don’t make your life aspirations the equivalent of Tetris.
The key is to make it compelling, something that would get you excited about approaching each day.
Once you’ve decided on an Epic Meaning decide on an Achievement System. These are the parameters for your game and determines the way you approach getting things done.
Think about what kind of game you are playing then create a system that applies to your life. Do you view life as a fighting game that is predicated on mastering techniques and conducted round by round? Is it an action RPG predicated on leveling up and completing quests that contribute to a much longer journey?
Create a system to chart your progress and the parameters for succeeding. If you love competition for example then perhaps create a series of challenges that will allow you to acquire a certain skill. Remember that challenges in a game sense imply a time limit and quantity of things to do so be specific about what completing a challenge means.
If you like Role Playing Games then perhaps your life is a journey and the tasks you accomplish are quests that contribute to a much larger narrative. Define the main quests you need to embark on and the side quests that are worthwhile to pursue. Set clear objectives in completing your quests and the steps needed to get there.
The best way to do this is to take a look at your favorite games and see how the designers went about getting you to play. Structure your goals like the mission structure in your favorite military shooter. Organize your to do list like the challenge mode in your favorite fighting game for example.
Reward Schedule and payoff
The Reward Schedule provides closure and fosters a sense of accomplishment for being productive. Knowing the benefits of playing your game is just as important as what the system of achievement is.
The benefit of completing a certain set of challenges might be learning a new skill or acquiring a new item. Perhaps finishing off that side quest will help you in the journey find a new job or get published. Whatever it is, make sure you know exactly what it is you are getting at the end.