It's all a game.
To Hannah and Haley, 6/15/2024

I'm going to tell you the secret of my fraternity; revealed at the end of "initiation week", AKA "the most fun you never want to have again". There was no drinking, no parties. You weren't allowed to sleep - seriously, we didn't sleep for 7 days. We had prepared months trying to discover the secret - we trained for months, read books, and none of us figured it out until the very moment we we're each initiated. We were told that the answer would be obvious, if you made it to the end. Well, guess what the *secret* answer was? That there was no answer. During initiation, you were tricked into believing that you were the only one to fail, and would be thrown out of the fraternity house. All of that work for nothing, ending in complete shame. Once you broke down (I cried) they flip on the lights and everyone instantly wipes the serious look off their faces, and they celebrate. There was no answer. You were suppose to fail. The entire thing, it was all a game. Everyone was just pretending.
This changed how I spent the rest of time in college because I had a new understanding: It's all made up. All of it. Even worse, everyone is taking this *so seriously*. I had just spent my entire first semester in college taking the initiation into my fraternity so seriously. I felt dumb. Every time I went to a class, a party, a sporting event, I realized that we were all agreeing to a certain set of rules. Many of us without even realizing what they are, who created them, or why we're playing them in the first place. But wait, this is MY college experience! I'm paying for this, not them! I want to play my own game.
So I created my own game. Here's how you play:

Step 1: Choose your game
Label all of your activities as games. This breaks their hold on you, and puts you in charge. Look carefully at the cover of the box, and if the rules do not light up your life, put it away, and chose another one that you like better and can play whole heartedly. Remember, it's all invented.
The most rewarding game I've played is a game called "i am a contribution", without attachment to the success or failure of the game. This game starts from the conviction that as children we all look for areas in which to make an authentic contribution to the family and the community. The first thing we notice is how few meaningful roles there are available for us to full. Look around you. People just want to be useful. Most people are still trying to figure out how. Recognize that a person's true nature is to participate. If someone's not expressing love, it's because they feel they have nothing to offer. How sad! Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have. If you can't see this in someone, imagine them as a child on their best day. This is a cheat code to loving anyone.
To play the game in any situation, ask yourself "what makes a group lively and engaged" instead of "how good am I". Rewards in the contribution game are of a deep and enduring, although less predictable than the trio of money, fame, and power that accrue to the winner of the "success game". I promise that if you play this game you are helping yourself. Those who seek to benefit only themselves alone actually harm themselves by doing so.

Step 2: Play the game
Any game worth playing is challenging. If your game doesn't allow you to fail, then you'll never grow. Be aware that you are meant to fail. And when you do, so what? The failures will be filled with embarrassing moments, because by definition you're outside of your comfort zone. However, to play this game for the long run, you need to be your authentic self. Technically, being yourself in any environment or situation is the definition of being courageous. But to be courageous without burning out, you need to not take yourself so seriously. Do serious things, without taking yourself too seriously. Seriously. Or else you will burn out. And be sure to fill your game with other people who you feel safe to fail around. Anyone else is stopping you from succeeding at your game. Remember, you will feel every emotion in this "i am a contribution" game. But you are a contribution, not the emotions you feel along the way. They will all pass. So don't hold on to them. Fail lightly. Succeed lightly. Play the game lightly, so that the game is sustainable in the long run.

Step 3: Hit Pause
Once you start getting good at this game you will find yourself getting efficient at it. But we do not want to be efficient; we want to be effective. Efficiency means you are a well-oiled machine, moving from one thing to the next. But please realize that once you get efficient, there is a hidden danger of moving through the motions, and forgetting the whole purpose of the game: to have fun. Here's an indicator that you need to hit pause on the game: You're feeling rushed. They say the true definition of luxury is not feeling rushed. If you're rushing - why? You probably need to stop and process what's going on. I forgot to mention, this game is hard. Really hard. It's a lot to process. Here's how you tell that the game is weighing heavily on you: You either add energy into the room or you take it away. If you are not adding energy into the room, you need to hit pause, and find solitude. You can find solitude in a personal "get-away spot" that only you know about. This can be the top floor of a hidden library, a park on the other side of campus, or a table-for-one-please seat at your favorite restaurant. I wouldn't have been able to keep up with the daily social events if it wasn't for the self-dates I took myself on. My go to spot was the agricultural library. It had this amazing sky light, but more importantly peace and quiet from my friends. This space allowed me to process, reflect, and re-set my priorities.

Step 4: Recognize the game is only temporary
This game of life is bitter-sweet, all the time, simultaneously. Here's a cheat code: Don't live for the "big moments". If you chase thrills, you are setting yourself up for depression later in life when you don't have them. If you feel amazing when someone compliments you, you are setting yourself up to feel bad when that same person says something negative to you. Don't set your future successes or failures to be based on other people. Instead play an entirely different game. One where your goal is to simply be aware. The unaware life is one not worth living. Being present, and aware of the thoughts that are internal to you. This will help you be fully aware of your experience. You don't see life as it is, you see life as *you are*. Once you change, your college experience will change.
Assuming you will graduate on time in 4 years, you will be a college student for 1,461 days (4 years + 1 leap day). You can fit all of your college days on a small piece of paper. Here is a visual example of how many days you have as a college student, sectioned out by year.

Each dot is a new day. An opportunity to begin again. You are given each day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do with it is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When the next day comes, the last day will be gone forever. In its place is something you left behind. Let it be a day that was filled with health and energy. One that was lived to the fullest. One where laughter was the most important thing.

Step 6: Share the game
Congratulations, you have now chosen to intentionally play the game you want to play, not someone else's. You are now in the top 1% of humanity, since most people will never realize they are playing someone else's game. But we're not here to compare, because comparison is the thief of joy. Let us help others have this understanding so they can play their own game too. Be easier on yourself, and others, than you think is necessary. Have fun. I love you.

Credits: Art of Possibility, The Creative Act, Mac Anderson, Ikigai
Love, Kenny Chaser