Home Thinking Aloud We’re All Playing A Game. The First Step Is Making The Rules.

We’re All Playing A Game. The First Step Is Making The Rules.


by Dan Nicholson, author of “Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms

I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan, for better and worse. One of the most frustrating things about watching them play is knowing that while they are clearly talented enough to win, they continually make decisions that work against them.

At times when they should be winning, they almost seem to beat themselves. From afar, it appears they are competing with themselves.

Business owners work similarly — they unknowingly beat themselves by pushing harder on the gas without releasing the emergency brake. Part of the problem is entrepreneurs are constantly surrounded by success stories — some of which always seem to have the same names attached to them.

Because we live in a comparison culture, we work hard to compete with those success stories, pressing on that gas, not understanding how others continue to win while others can’t seem to catch the same break.

I’ve worked with hundreds of business owners over the past 20 years. I’ve analyzed thousands of client conversations and studied big names. A commonality in the success stories is that the big ones figured out early on that really, business is a game — and winning that game is about rigging it to your own rules.

Think about all the wildly successful icons we know: Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates; even rock stars like Mick Jagger or the late great David Bowie.

What are these icons known for other than their success? We know them for setting their own rules and playing their own game.

Oprah didn’t just do as she was told until she hit her big break. Gates, Bezos and Bowie didn’t change the world by doing things exactly as they’d been done before.

While I’m not saying you must be a larger-than-life character, I am saying you have to figure out what makes you YOU before you seek success.

Oprah found success in media because communication and connection are built into who she is. Gates became a technology pioneer because he’d been inventing software since he was young. Every success story you’ve heard about enigmatic leaders such is rooted in personal passion.

Ask yourself: What motivates or allows you to play your game? Express yourself for who you are before you were told you had to be someone else to “make it.”

The most successful entrepreneurs are those who make moves that bring them closer to what they want — and those priorities are based on who they are rather than others’ idea of success.

Here’s an example of the consequences of failing to play your game. Back to football for a second: Let’s say you get to the championship game, but then you lose because you were playing someone else’s style (ahem, the Seahawks being a run-first team that loses the Super Bowl because they threw the ball). That’s a much bigger pill to swallow than losing, but you stuck to your principles.

Conversely, say you’re a coach who’s constantly losing because your team has no identity; week after week, you’re trying to borrow from everyone else. That’ll get you fired, or your job will be unstable because you can’t sustain yourself copying others. I’d also wager you wouldn’t be very happy.

The point is that we don’t have to conform to “one” way — to someone else’s way. The cognitive load of pretending to be someone else is too heavy.

There’s a quote by Virginia Satir that says: “Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.” That quote is so powerful and disorienting that I opened my book, Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms, with it.

And why do most of us prefer predictable misery to uneasy uncertainty? Because while we are all going on our own hero’s journey, so many of us borrow versions of success or attempt to play someone else’s game instead of our own.

In order to stop playing against ourselves or getting in our own way, we must align our espoused values (the things we’re taught we need to prioritize) and our values in action (the things we actually prioritize). When they are, we will always play by our own rules, the ones that get us closer to winning our own game.


Dan Nicholson is the author of “Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms“. In addition to founding the award-winning accounting firm Nth Degree CPAs, Dan has created and run multiple small businesses. Dan also hosts the Rigging the Game podcast, and is a Consulting Producer for PBS’ Opportunity Knocks.