Something to Be Thankful For: Learning to Play the Long Game

If there was ever a day to not check your email, slack, or even your phone in general, Thanksgiving would be the day. To many in the United States, Thanksgiving represents a day of rest, relaxation, and reflection. It’s a secular holiday that nearly every American celebrates.

As a Jew, I’ve always found some interesting parallels between Thanksgiving, and my religion. In Hebrew the word for giving thanks is“l’hodot,” or “hodu.” In the imperative form “hodu” is found in Psalms, “Hodu l’Adonai ki tov,” translating to “Give thanks to God who is good.” As a noun, however, “hodu” represents the Hebrew word for turkey. Coincidence? I tend to think not, but who knows.

This Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for one thing in particular; learning to play the long game. Nearly a year ago I came across this article from Farnham Street. This passage from their writing provides a clear overview of the long game concept:

There is an old saying that I think of often, but I’m not sure where it comes from: If you do what everyone else is doing, you shouldn’t be surprised to get the same results everyone else is getting.

Ignoring the effect of luck on outcomes — the proverbial lottery ticket —doing what everyone else is doing pretty much ensures that you’re going to be average. Not average in the world, but average to people in similar circumstances. There are a lot of ways not to be average, but one of them is the tradeoff between the long game and the short game.

What starts small compounds into something more. The longer you play the long game, the easier it is to play and the greater the rewards. The longer you play the short game the harder it becomes to change and the bigger the bill facing you when you do want to change.

Putting off something that is hard, uncomfortable, or challenging — that represents the short game.

Paying the price today for something that will make tomorrow better? You guessed it, that’s the long game.

Should I put money into my retirement account or go buy clothes? The retirement account represents the long game, Nordstrom represents the short game. It’s easy to grasp, and we all know what the “right” thing to do is, correct?

Understanding the theory of the long and short game is not challenging. Executing the long game in practice is. Everyday we are surrounded by short term and immediate rewards (twitter retweets, Instagram likes, the list goes on and on). Playing the long game means putting those to the side and instead working towards something greater that exists in the future.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for committing further to the long game. The first step towards playing the long game is the hardest. It’s visibly negative. You have to give something up today to receive benefit tomorrow. This is why the long game is hard to play. That’s okay, I am up for the challenge.

Regardless of what you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving, consider learning more about the long game. It’s a worthy concept, and one that I am deeply committed to.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.