Bob’s lines: who are you competing against?

Christmas is over. Hopefully Santa paid you a visit!

Before Santa emptied his sack all over the planet I attended a work networking-thingi (a Christmas function). One of those things where you drink a few beers, see people you haven’t seen in a while, talk about how hard Christmas shopping is, how you haven’t done it yet, how bat-shit-crazy the shopping malls will be, how you wish you’d done it earlier, how much you’re looking forward to a break, and how much fun all the amazing stuff you’re going to get up to will be.

I don’t like those topics. They’re boring. Except for maybe the last one.

I prefer to relate on a more human level. Luckily, I managed to engage in a convo or two where the subject matter didn’t revolve around the contents of Santa’s sack.

Someone I worked with a while back was at the networking-thingi-ma-jig. During our time working together, this dude proved himself a hard worker and he always seemed to shine bright in a professional sense: a star within this particular galaxy if you will… He was promoted quickly, and well respected. Let’s call him Star.

Star and I struck up a conversation at this networking-thingi-ma-jig-a-doo. It’d been a few years since I’d seen him last. Physiologically, he looked pretty much the same, maybe an added wrinkle here, a threatening grey hair there. Despite the familiarity of appearance, I’ll be totally honest, I barely recognised him. Star was missing the shine I’d come to expect from him.

I sensed instead quite the opposite emanating. His energy was flat and he wreaked of tiredness. It was a little difficult for me to be around. I like the guy but I really don’t like seeing people in such a state. Perhaps because I’m a bit too familiar with the feeling, or perhaps because in this moment I could literally feel his feeling… most likely, a little of both.

We discussed his plans (in a life sense, not a ‘haven’t done my Christmas shopping yet’ sense), and in doing so I tried to get to the bottom of his flat energy. I’m not going to go into detail, but at one point he said to me:

“If you want to get ahead, you have to play the game. It’s tiring.”

Blegh!

What a “fat-dude post-curry consumption” statement that is. This ‘get ahead, play the game’ style phrase is pretty common… but I don’t really understand why.

I mean, possibly it makes sense in the context of someone who’s paid to play games…say an Olympic swimmer or a professional tennis player. For these peeps, playing a game is literally part of the job description. But even for them, I think this choice of words is a little off… mainly because of the context in which the words are usually used.

Let’s stick with swimming as an example. I don’t know shit about swimming – in fact, I’m terrible at it. I’m more of a drowner. But do your best to picture yourself as a pro-swimmer – if I can do it, so can you… As a pro-swimmer, if someone was to say to you ‘to get ahead, you have to play the game’, the game they’re referring to probably isn’t what happens in the pool, but rather what happens out of it.

The ‘game’ ain’t swimming. It’s the other crap.

This, I think, is what Star was referring to. When he said ‘play the game’, he wasn’t talking about swimming (i.e. ‘do good at X job’). He was talking about what happens outside the pool. He was talking about playing the people-game.

“Oh but Jenny said x,y,z about Brad, and Brad is doing this with Bill, which I wanted to do and Brad only did it because I wanted to do it, and don’t even get me started on…”

ZZZZZZZ. Please stop.

Personally, I don’t think ‘getting ahead’ has anything to do with playing the game. Not in a long-term sense anyhow. I mean, for example, if you want to ‘get ahead’ of your competition as an Olympic swimmer… then swim! A lot. Like, A LOT A LOT! It’s that simple really. Spend time in the pool. Not out of it.

In the case of Star, a dude working in an office, I REALLY don’t get it. Ahead of what exactly are we talking about here?

Interesting question, let’s explore:

To ‘get ahead’, you must be in front of something. Which means there must be a yardstick of some kind that you can point at and say “I’m ahead of this”.

The question then is: where’s the yardstick?

We’ll come back to this. For now, I’d like to share a second conversation (two conversations, fuck me frontways, that’s got to be a record for me…) I had with someone at this networking-thingi-ma-jig-a-doo-dee-doo-da-roo. Again, I hadn’t seen this dude for a few years. Within this particular galaxy this dude right now is shining unbelievably bright. Supernova-level bright.

Supernova and I got to talking about my new job, and from here about the new Manager I was working with:

“Who do you work with there?” asked Supernova.

“I work with Manager – she’s pretty new to the gig, which is nice. In it together a little… both floundering somewhat, you know?” I said.

“Oh, yeah, she’s your year isn’t she?” said Supernova.

My year? Huh?

How old are we here? High School’s firmly in the rear-view mirror for me. I don’t give a flying fuckapotomus how old anyone is any more. Once someone hits 25, if it’s okay with you (or even if it’s not), it’s all the same to me.

Supernova and I engaged in such a way that I got the sense Supernova thought my Manager, by virtue of being the same age as me while also being my boss, was somehow ‘ahead’ of me.

I don’t see things this way…

People often give me sideways looks these days. I’m only just realising now I’m not getting sideways looks at all…it’s because I’ve got sideways vision. Linearity isn’t really my jam. While my Manager is ahead of me in a linear sense (married, kids, makes more money, has more professional responsibilities), it doesn’t feel this way to me. I don’t want her marriage, her kids, her job or her professional responsibilities. Holy Hot Tamales…I sound like a real bum don’t I? I’ve got a car… does that cut the cheese?

So what if my Manager is the same age as me? I couldn’t give a sausage in a sausage factory about it.

This second conversation to me highlights where Star’s ‘get ahead, play the game’ statement is coming from. It’s coming from a poor choice of yardstick… the yardstick he’s chosen to measure himself against is a dude named Bob (I’ll introduce Bob in more detail soon). Or more generally speaking, Star’s chosen to try to ‘get ahead’ of someone else.

I understand why Star chose to measure himself against Bob. I’ve chosen similar yardsticks many times. They’re easy. They don’t require much independent thought… all you really have to do is look around and point at someone and say “there!”

I think this way of selecting yardsticks is a knee-jerk reaction to the “I don’t know what to do” conundrum. But what you may not realise is that by pointing at someone and saying “there” you’re unconsciously implying that the person you point at knows what they’re doing.

Newsflash: Despite appearances, not many people know what the fuck they’re doing…

If you choose to adopt the “point and there!” approach to yardstick selection, you’ll eventually encounter a pretty catastrophic issue. Eventually you’ll make it to the yardstick you pointed at. That’s not the issue. The issue is you won’t have any wood in your hands.

What do I mean by this?

Let’s stick with Star and Bob to explain. Star chose Bob as his yardstick. Star at some point, if he persists, will find himself standing next to Bob – next to the yardstick he chose way back when (oh, I forgot to mention, picture this is all happening on the beach… because… I like beaches).

When Star chose Bob as his yardstick, Bob was just some dude in the distance who Star pointed at. As Bob was so far in the distance, what Star couldn’t see was that Bob was holding a piece of wood in his hands. Star also couldn’t see that Bob was busy drawing lines in the sand with said piece of wood.

How do I know this? Because I’ve been there a few times now, standing next to someone else’s lines in the sand, with nothing but sand in my hands, thinking “what the actual fuck!? how did this happen? No one told me I needed a piece of wood. Where’s my wood? Someone call the cops!”.

Something I realised, once I found myself standing next to my yardstick (i.e.Star’s Bob-equivalent) with wood-less hands, was that I had two options:

  1. Point somewhere else and say “there!”; or
  2. Ask Bob for his wood.

Nothing wrong with point 1. Wood is heavy.

The thing about point 2 is: once you’re standing next to Bob and politely ask him whether you can use his piece of wood, he’s going to tell you to get fucked. Truly. He will.

Why?

Because Bob doesn’t give a basket-of-monkeys if you make it to his line or not. Bob’s got the driftwood in his hands already…. once you get to his line, it’s my guess he’s just going to drag that bad-boy in a different direction. Then you’ll be all like “what the fuck Bob!? This is where you told me to go, you can’t just change your mind! I’ve worked hard for this! Let me have the wood!”

Well, actually, yes he can. Bob can do whatever the fudge-knuckle he wants. It’s his line in the sand. And he’s the one holding the wood… you’re the one who chose to try to get to it.

This approach to measure ourselves against each other seems a fairly natural phenomenon. The game (of life) it seems is currently set up in a way that we are encouraged to compete against one another. However, this to me seems incongruent with the rules.

The rules aren’t: get ‘ahead of’ (i.e. in advance of) as many other people as possible. We (and I’m going to go out on a pretty substantial limb here and speak on behalf of the species) have been playing the game (of life) that way for quite a while now – a little too long I reckon… its led to a couple World Wars, and one near-nuclear. And on this, I have to agree with Star… it’s getting a bit tiring.

I think the actual rules are more like this: THERE ARE NO RULES! YOU set the fucking rules. YOU draw the lines in the sand.

Because… Fuck Bob’s lines! The Universe doesn’t give an underwater-shitsickle about Bob… so why do you?

The game (of life) isn’t a game of snakes and ladders – in other words, it isn’t linear. Nor does it go round in circles – if you don’t pass go, if you don’t collect your $200, no one’s going to shoot you…

You can move sideways. You can move backwards. You can go forwards. Diagonal. Dimensional (not sure about this one?). Point is, you can go whatever fucking direction you want to… sometimes you might even go directions you don’t want to go… that’s fine too (even if it hurts a little)!

So then, if you’d prefer not to set other people as your yardsticks, then what?

Don’t ask that question. It’s straight-up more retarded than a blind ostrich in an eye-seeing contest.

A better question is: where’s the line in the sand?

…but this isn’t quite right either. It implies the lines already drawn. An even better question is: where should I draw this bad boy!!??

Because…Fuck Bob’s lines!

That’s the third option. Personally, I’ve felt like the blind-Ostrich a bit in this regard – how was it, that for so long, I didn’t see the thousands of other pieces of wood sitting there on the beach? How silly.

Maybe all this crap about Bob, driftwood, and lines isn’t making a lot of sense, so let’s get a little more personal with it to explain…

A month back, I set myself some new goals. In other words, I picked up a piece of wood and drew some new lines in the sand. I didn’t ask Bob for his piece of wood, because fuck Bob. There’s plenty of other pieces of wood sitting around on the beach (refer picture). I just grabbed one and started drawing.

The lines I drew have materialised into two sentences written on a piece of notepad paper blue tacked to my wall. Two goals for my eyes only … (and I guess anyone else who’s been snooping in my room).

Now…I’m sure the lines I’ve drawn look very similar to the lines of plenty others out there in the world. That’s totally fine. Uniqueness is rarer than a gold-plated unicorn in the Amazon. If someone else crosses their lines before I cross mine, kudos to them! How fun, they get the opportunity to draw some new ones! Makes no difference to me. Why would it? Those are their lines. I have zero desire to get where they’re going.

Before going on, let me be clear on something… I’m not trying to say Star and Supernova’s lines aren’t worthy lines to strive toward. They most certainly are. What I’m trying to say is, they’re only worthy insofar as they were the ones who drew them. In other words, if you’re working your way toward a line in the sand, make sure you’re the one who drew it – not Bob.

If you’d prefer to work with yardsticks, go for it… it’s bloody hard work drawing lines. But, please don’t get angry at someone else for reaching a yardstick before you, because… ZZZZZZZZZ!

[Also, I’ve got nothing against Bob. Even though he’s 100% fictitious, I’m sure he’s a good dude. Just needed a scapegoat to make a point, ya feel me?]

Again, in terms of how all this all applies to myself, well, I’m a little conflicted right now…

Despite knowing everything I’ve just written to be true, I have this weird feeling I’m still subconsciously chasing after one of Bob’s lines, specifically, by taking a job in an office… it wreaks of keeping up with the Jones’ a little… although, I must admit there is a slight difference this time around in that I didn’t take this job to prove anything – that is, I’m firmly in the pool, I’d just like to do a good job and get paid… that’s it… and maybe, on this front, in a way that’s my line in the sand?

The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is this: sitting here with the wood in my hands is more fun than bouncing on a bouncy castle.

I’m no longer trying to ‘get ahead’ of Bob’s lines. That’s impossible. He’s got the wood. Instead, I’m trying to ‘get ahead’ of me. In other words, instead of choosing to compete with others, I’ve chosen to compete against myself. In doing so, every now and then, amidst a galaxy of losses, I sometimes occasionally achieve a small victory. And when that happens, it’s a pretty damn amazing feeling. Trust me. It is.

So, what about you? …what to do? Paint? Write? Draw? Work for a promotion? Apply for that new job? Start a business? Travel? Join a class? Get married? Go on a date? Eat a McChicken? Buy a house? Build a house? Fight a bear? Wrestle a poodle? Body slam a giraffe? Fly a marathon? Run a plane? Invent the time machine?

All viable and worthwhile options… but really, I think it boils down to this:

  • Step 1: find a piece of driftwood.
  • Step 2: drag it in the sand somewhere.

It’s that simple.

There’s plenty of help out there for the ‘how to draw’ part, just don’t ask about the ‘where to draw’… because I don’t fucking know.

The wood I’ve got in my hands is hard enough to keep a hold of…

Good luck!

3 thoughts on “Bob’s lines: who are you competing against?”

  1. I like your analogy. As someone who spent the last year trying to “get ahead” and not succeeding in an obvious way, I’ve taken a break, found a line and my own peice of drift wood. It will be interesting to see how I hold it, because I can guarantee, once I do the hard work and make that line stick, some one’s going to want it.

    Liked by 1 person

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