By almost any measure, I had a very typical ’70s childhood. We lived in a young subdivision, explored everything, got in big trouble, suffered injuries, had divorced parents and viewed the world with an overarching sense of wonder and opportunity. We were a very creative group of kids, and since our parents weren’t wealthy we often invented games and adventures out of the simplest of implements. As I think back, there were several lessons that help me make sense of today’s difficult and seemingly “unfair” world.
One of those lessons came from a popular game we played called “S.P.U.D.”. Although there are several variations, ours was as follows. All the kids made a circle around the person holding a red rubber kickball. As the ball was tossed into the air, kids scattered and a single name was called. You were allowed to keep running until the kid whose name was called successfully got to the ball and yelled “Stop!”. The ball holder then took three consecutive running jumps in the direction of any of the other kids. The goal? Throw the ball and hit one of the kids to give them a letter, such as “S”. You were allowed to move your upper body to dodge the throw, and if hit, became “it” for the next round. Thus, the game continued until someone had “S.P.U.D.”.
So you’re sarcastically thinking, “Okay, thanks Mark. Now I know how to play your silly game. Great blog post!”
But here’s the connection – many people treat their careers just like S.P.U.D.
It begins by gathering around a particular industry, specialty or vertical market. Each day begins and you run. Sometimes you zigzag, sometimes you sprint in a straight line. You sometimes hide but mainly you’re out in the open. You run and you run and you run. There’s little time to catch your breath, form a strategy, think clearly and ensure you’re headed in the right direction. The one certainty is that when you stop running, you might get hit.
When obstacles are thrown at you, you try and dodge them. If you get hit, you dust off and try running again. You throw obstacles at others around you as well, sometimes to survive and sometimes to get ahead. But each time you get hit, your sense of anxiety rises and your self-esteem takes a shot.
Your biggest fear? That you ran all those miles, worked all those hours, sprinted for so many years, only to find yourself “out”.
And once you’re out, what do you do next? This is the exact question that millions of Americans are asking themselves right now.
You know kids are pretty smart sometimes, and I remember one kid who always went out first. He wasn’t especially fast, couldn’t dodge very well and was hit more often than not. His solution was simple. When it was his turn to choose the game, we never played S.P.U.D.
So stop running, take stock and decide what game (if any) you want to play. Otherwise you’ll always be afraid of that big red ball. Let’s keep the conversation going.