What is success really? Is it only success when you win the gold medal at the Olympics? Is it only success when you graduate with a first-class degree? Both of these and whatever other milestones you can imagine are indeed worthwhile, special personal accolades not to be scoffed at. But what if there was a more sustainable form of achievement?
When I was 13, my cousins introduced me to a PS2 game called Pro Evolution Soccer 2009. At that time, it was one of the best football simulations you could have. I remember being in awe of the graphics and uttering dumbfounded statements like, “That looks exactly like Rooney!”
After resounding losses that included conceding a goal scored by the opposition goalkeeper dribbling past my entire team, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to practise the game, uninterrupted, when they loaned it to me.
For about a month during the long break between primary and high school, I enjoyed massive success in the various game modes at amateur difficulty. It was during one of these one-sided drubbings that I asked myself this game-altering question, “What if I play it at the highest difficulty?”
What ensued was compounded frustration. I wasn’t keen on learning to beat the highest difficulty if the AI was controlling a poorly equipped team. For the true rush that comes with conquest, I needed to beat Top Player while the AI was using the best team in the game, F.C. Barcelona.
I lost once… twice… ten times in a row. The process was almost monotonous. It was incredibly exasperating… until it wasn’t. I started seeing a pattern in the play. “They are going to pass it there and score,” I’d started thinking, and that’s exactly what happened. I failed to prevent the goal but there was a different joy. I’d seen it. I’d gone past the point of thinking things happened by chance. I’d overcome the initial bamboozlement and was now becoming familiar with the system. Most importantly, I was enjoying learning.
The outcome I hoped for and desired was ultimately to play better football than Top Player, the highest difficulty on PES 2009. I didn’t manage to do that in one day or one week. I lost more than I have any desire to recall. But the reason I was able to get past the hurdle of consistent losses, the monotony of picking up the ball in my net, was because I started enjoying the process. Analysing the passing patterns, conceding fewer goals, making a successful tackle, all those innocuous events started to have a broader meaning. I was getting better and knowing that was enough.
What if we embrace monotony in the name of getting better? What if we focus on the process as opposed to just focusing on the outcome. Perhaps then, the journey will feel better than the destination.