“Play The Long Game”
7 minute read
I remember the first time I heard the story about ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’.
And I also remember thinking about how much I wanted to be the hare, despite the fact that it went completely against the point of the fable.
I mean, sure, he may have lost the race, but that didn’t matter to me as a kid. What did matter to me was that he was fast, he was flashy, and I’m sure the lady hare’s loved him.
I didn’t want to be the tortoise. To me he was just a plodder, he seemed boring, and he carried an ugly-ass shell on his back.
Who the hell would want to be a turtle? I know I didn’t. Well, not until 1990 anyway, because that was when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrived on the scene. And then I began to see turtles (1) in a whole new light.
But despite my ninja-based turtle epiphany, it didn’t make me think of the classic fable any differently. It didn’t get me thinking about how flash and fancy isn’t always best. It didn’t make me realise that steady wins the race. It didn’t open my eyes to the perils of being over-confident. And it certainly didn’t get me thinking about how playing the long game is what leads to the good stuff.
That lesson didn’t hit home until almost two decades later.
But man, I wish I’d learnt it sooner.
Like most teenagers and young adults, I had no patience at all. Everything that I wanted, I wanted it now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now; right now!
I didn’t need to save money if I wanted to buy something because I had a credit card.
I didn’t need to work on building character and resilience because there were books telling me that I could have instant confidence.
And I didn’t need to exercise regularly and look after my diet because there were men’s magazines telling me that I could develop a six-pack in just 30 days!
Well yeah, like most teenagers and young adults, I was also gullible.
I never stopped to think that a credit card could cripple me with interest.
I didn’t know that confidence cannot be acquired instantly and is something that’s developed over a long period of time.
And I couldn’t fathom that a six-pack can only be achieved through consistent and disciplined effort, both in the gym, and in the kitchen.
I didn’t know any of these things, yet if you’d have told me I probably wouldn’t have listened to you anyway. I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it.
I still wanted to be the hare.
If we’re going to talk about playing the long game (or delayed gratification, as it is also known) then we also have to discuss its evil twin, who goes by the name of instant gratification.
Now instant gratification is like a saucy little temptress that’s trying to distract you with the promise of a pleasurable reward. And just like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, instant gratification will sit there crossing and uncrossing her legs, while giving you a glimpse of the good stuff.
But be warned, because just like in that movie the initial feeling of pleasure will eventually turn ugly. And although it may not escalate to the point of receiving an ice-pick to the face – spoiler alert (2) – it will most certainly make you wish you’d had a re-think and taken a cold shower instead.
Instant gratification is tempting and the results are easy, whereas delayed gratification is boring and feels like hard work.
Instant gratification will give you chocolate cake, while delayed gratification presents you with vegetables.
Instant gratification will provide you with Netflix, while delayed gratification will hand you a book.
Instant gratification will give you shiny new things, whereas delayed gratification will force you to make use of what you already have.
And instant gratification will provide you with numerous sexual encounters, while delayed gratification may provide you with a period of celibacy.
Delayed gratification doesn’t sound so great right now does it? And I’m sure that last one really hit you. Right now I bet you’re thinking…you’ve lost me now Elliot…fuck delayed gratification, I need to get laid!
So let me take these very same examples and take them one step further, and let’s see where they lead.
Instant gratification will present you with obesity, while delayed gratification will provide you with a healthy body that looks good and feels good.
Instant gratification will numb your mind, whereas delayed gratification will educate it.
Instant gratification will cripple you with debt, while delayed gratification will allow you to live debt free.
And instant gratification may leave you feeling empty and alone, whereas delayed gratification may lead you to the love of your life.
It doesn’t sound so bad now does it?
In 1975 there was a thirty year old man with an imagination, and that imagination gave birth to an idea. That idea became a story, and it was a story that resonated deep within his soul; and so he reached for his notepad and pen.
Now you may imagine a man sat behind a big desk in his home office, but this man was poor; very poor. In fact, his entire apartment measured just eight feet by nine feet, and all he had space for was a small bed. His bed was his desk.
But he had his idea and he wrote furiously, and after just three and a half days he’d completed the first draft of a movie script. And then he re-wrote it and re-wrote it, honing the character and the story, moulding it into something he felt he could sell.
But it wasn’t just the script that he was hoping to sell, because he also wanted to play the lead part. This thirty year old man with an imagination was also an actor; and an unknown actor at that, yet still, he wanted to be the star.
Sometime later he found himself in front of two influential men of the movie industry and they were very enthusiastic about his script. Unfortunately though, they weren’t so enthusiastic about him; or more specifically, they weren’t so enthusiastic about him playing the lead role.
Instead, if they were to buy the script and make the movie, they wanted to cast a well-known star who were at the top of their game; actors such as Ryan O’Neil, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Redford.
But he stuck to his guns, because no matter what, he wanted to play the part.
But then he started getting cash offers.
First he was offered $25,000 and then $100,000, which was an insane amount of money to a man that had just $106 in the bank and a $40 car that had just blown up and so he was now riding the bus.
Oh, and did I mention that he’d also had to sell his dog because he couldn’t afford to feed him. Times were that bad, and temptation was creeping in.
But still, he said no. Still, he wanted to play the part. If his movie was getting made, then he would be the star.
The offers kept increasing. And so too did the temptation to take the cash and run.
Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars!
His head was now spinning. He didn’t even know what this kind of money looked like. He’d never known the good life. The temptation was real. The temptation to take the cash and become a quarter-of-a-millionaire.
But this man was also used to being poor. No matter how hard life may have been, he was used to it. No matter what, he knew he could survive. He had nothing to lose.
And so he said no.
He must be the star.
THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!
But he never backed down.
He never gave in to temptation.
He played the long game, and in the end, he got exactly what he wanted. This unknown actor was about to take on the starring role in the movie that he’d also written.
This unknown actor was Sylvester Stallone.
And the movie, was Rocky.
I’m sure you don’t really need me to tell you this, but Rocky was so wildly successful that it spawned seven sequels (3) and gave birth to one of the most beloved characters in movie history. And that character has gone on to inspire thousands, if not millions, of people (4).
I know this may be an extreme example and the scale of this is not necessarily something that we can relate to and most likely never will, but the principles of it are real. The lessons are there for all of us.
Sly could have taken the first offer and had more money than he’d ever seen in his life. He could’ve got a bigger apartment, bought a new car, and life would have instantly become easier; for a while that is, but then where would it have left him? Would he have ever created that kind of opportunity again?
He believed in his idea. It was personal to him. He knew that it was his one true shot. It was his chance to roll the dice and go all in.
And that $360,000? Forget it. In the end he walked away with around $2.5 million after that first Rocky movie.
Oh, and with his first pay-check he tracked down his dog and bought him back.
And then he put him in the movie to star alongside him (5).
You can have almost anything that you want in life (6), but only if you’re willing to do the work.
Real success is incremental; it’s an accumulation of the tiniest of micro-efforts. It’s in every single one of your day-to-day decisions.
Never underestimate how effective the smallest of steps are, because a thousand little steps will get you to the top of a mountain.
What may seem unimportant when measured alone becomes extremely important when measured against the end result. Because that one evening when you switched off the TV and opened up your laptop, became another evening on top of many others that led to you creating that lucrative online business. That day when you decided not to go out for pizza so that you could do a workout instead, became one of the key days that led you to creating an incredible body that makes you feel sexy and fills you with confidence. And when you decided not to buy that new dress and decided to save the money instead, became yet another small contribution to a growing fund that led to you buying your first home.
Nights in front of the television will be forgotten, that pizza will be just like any other you had, and that dress would probably have been worn once and then stuffed in the back of the wardrobe. But that business, the healthy body, and owning your own home will be things that will always fill you with pride.
I heard a quote recently that went a little something like this.
“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”
Yet if everybody knows what they should do in order to achieve the things that they want, then why don’t more people do it?
The answer is simple.
Because it’s hard work.
If realising your dreams was effortless then everybody would be doing it; that’s why it’s called hard work. Success is reserved for those that are willing to put in the time and consistent effort, and for those that are willing to make sacrifices.
But the work can often seem boring and it can feel tedious. It isn’t flash, it’s not fancy, and it isn’t in the least bit sexy.
Nobody wants to be the tortoise. Everybody wants to be the hare.
But the good stuff is out there. It’s waiting for those that have the discipline and the ability to say yes and no at the right times.
You have to become the plodder. You have to become the tortoise.
You have to play the long game.
If there was a sequel to that well known fable then it would go a little something like this.
Ten years after that famous race took place, the hare is now fat, bloated, and struggling to make ends meet. He used to be a stud, the hare-about-town, but now he can’t get a single date.
One day he hears about a huge party that’s taking place at the beautiful house upon the hill, so he hops along to take a look. But as he peers through a crack in the wall he soon realises who owns the beautiful house. Because sat by the pool, is the tortoise.
The tortoise looks fit, lean, and most importantly, he looks happy.
And in that moment he also realises why there’s been no lady hares to date…
…because they’re all at tortoise’s house playing water polo and drinking pina colada.
Winning the race had only been the starting point; just one big step of many more that followed.
The tortoise had kept plodding.
The tortoise had never stopped working.
And eventually, he got exactly what he wanted.
(1) Turtles, tortoises. Tomatos, tomatoes. Let’s call the whole thing off? From what I understand, a tortoise is a turtle, so we’ll leave it at that.
(2) Oh come on, it’s been out since 1992 so you’ve had three decades to catch up on this shit.
(3) If you count the two Creed movies, which you have to really. They are most definitely sequels, only these two movies are more about Rocky’s legacy rather than being directly about Rocky.
(4) Okay so the ‘millions’ comment hasn’t been verified and I couldn’t find any official statistics for something of this nature, unsurprisingly. I’m probably extremely biased, but given the massive fan-base that these movies have throughout the world, and not to mention the relatable tale of the underdog that it portrays; I think it’s safe to say that this statement is almost certainly true.
(5) That’s right, we’re talking about Butkus. But for the longest time I always thought he was saying butt-kiss, which would’ve been a strange name for a dog.
(6) Now don’t start getting literal on me. You know what I mean! No you’re not going to be able to fly like Superman. You’re unlikely to ever become a billionaire. And you sure as hell aren’t going to bang that insanely hot ‘A-list’ celebrity that you’ve always fantasised about. Did I really just say bang? The point is, do the work and get the results.
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