Cheaters Always Win

“This game cheats for people who are good at it!” my sister screamed as she threw her controller at my face. I ducked quickly, narrowly avoiding disaster as it smashed against the wall, denting the plaster. She was only thinking one thing, “Why is the world out to get me?!” as she got up off the floor and stomped out of the bedroom.

Her reaction didn’t surprise me. We played video games at my dad’s every other weekend and no matter how hard she tilted her head to the left and right or lifted the controller up quickly she couldn’t defeat the evil mushrooms, turtles, and other creatures on the screen. Beating her was easy for me. I always rescued the Princess from the castle.

In my sister’s mind she was a victim of Nintendo. They were out to get her. They didn’t want her to win. As far as she was concerned there was a secret room at Nintendo headquarters in Japan where a group of executives, seated around a heavy wooden table, tried to destroy her life.

Why was I so much better at Super Mario Bros. than my sister? Beats me. I didn’t have any secret cheat codes and I didn’t play any more than she did. Maybe it was genetics, ability to concentrate, vision, reflexes or any other factor. Regardless of the reason, the fact was my sister had to work harder to achieve the same results as me.

Instead of working harder she chose to believe the game cheated for people who were good at it and she had no control over the situation. It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t beat me, it was the game’s makers, the controller, a noise in the other room, etc…

The natural conclusion that you would expect me to draw here is that my sister was not actually a victim. However, I would argue that she indeed was a victim. She locked herself in a box where no matter what she did she was never going to succeed.

Within Your Control

In Stephen Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People he talks about a concept called “The Circle of Influence” and “The Circle of Concern.” The circle of concern contains things you know about but you don’t have control over, for example, the way the Nintendo game was built. The circle of influence contains things which you do have control over, for example, your ability to manipulate the game.

Before my sister could get better at the game she had to shift her focus from the circle of concern to the circle of influence. Why waste energy on worrying about things out of your control? I wish I could have helped her become a better player but there was nothing that I could have done. I encouraged her and tried to show her ways to become better but in the end she had to admit that she had control over the situation and then take actions to improve it.

Your family, boss, friends, and the government are never going to solve your problems. You are in control.

What About Statistics?

But what about the statistics you decry! Yes, the statics say there are extrinsic factors that can predict your success in life. Wealth, geographic location, etc… but you’re not a statistic are you? You are an individual in control of the choices you make. Statistics are based on past data and just because something happened in the past to somebody else doesn’t mean that the same thing has to happen to you. Extrinsic factors can make opportunities easier to find but only you can make the choice to seize an opportunity.

Sometimes life seems to cheat for people who are good at it. What this really means is that opportunities present themselves to people who make good choices. The better the choices you make, the more opportunities will present themselves to you.

Opportunity vs. Ease of Opportunity

I am the first member of my family to get a college degree. There were no colleges in my small town, I didn’t have any financial support, and the statistics said that I would lead out my life as an hourly factory worker, hating my job, and blaming others for my problems. Despite the statistics I did get a college degree and professional career. Was it easy? Hell no! But it didn’t make the opportunity any less available to me.

Both of my friend Janet’s parents are college educated knowledge workers, she grew up in a city with access to several universities, and her parents were thoughtful enough to start a college fund for her when she was a baby. The statistics said that she would probably end up as a college educated professional just like her parents, which she did.

We had the same exact opportunity to get a degree and become professionals. Her road was a bit easier than mine but the opportunity itself was exactly the same. This is the difference between opportunity and ease of opportunity. Don’t mistake the two and become a victim believing that you don’t have the same opportunities.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

nigerian bobsled team

Don’t tell them they can’t! (source: NBC Olympics)

With most things you get out of it what you put into it. This is not always true with life. Sometimes you have to put more effort into something than others to get the same results they do. I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics over the last couple days and there are athletes from countries that don’t even get snow! The probability of a Nigerian athlete making it to the Winter Olympics is statistically zero, just don’t tell the Nigerian bobsled team. If athletes born in a country that doesn’t have winter can make it to the Winter Olympics surely you can get take advantage of those opportunities in your life that seem almost impossible.

My sister had to work harder at video games just to be as good as me. I had to sacrifice more than Janet to get the same degree and type of career as her.

Life Isn’t Fair

People usually say this when something bad happens to them. Have you ever thought to say this when something good happens to you? I’m a better gamer than my sister but I’ll never be able to cook as well as her. She can make a gourmet meal out of practically anything. When I ask her how she figured out a recipe she just shrugs, “I just threw some stuff together.” Lies! Last time I tried to make black bean soup by “throwing some stuff together” I ended up with brown bean water. Cooking cheats for people who are good at it!

Your life is a product of your choices and you are in control of your choices. You are not a statistic and you can’t expect the same results as someone else just because you put in the amount of effort. Life isn’t fair but that’s not necessarily bad. It just means that the Learning Curve may be different for you than it is for others.

How does life cheat for you?

What opportunities are you going to take advantage of?

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