I spent a recent evening playing a game with friends. The game we selected is called “Pandemic” where the object is to rid the world of various disease outbreaks. It’s a cooperative board game: either everyone wins, or everyone loses. And there are many ways to lose; only one way to win.
We were going along just fine, until one player suddenly recalled an additional rule which meant that the game was going to end much sooner than we anticipated. Our slow, methodical strategy for eradicating disease was no longer going to be sufficient: we were going to run out of time.
In desperation, the five of us suddenly jumped into super strategy mode. We calculated exactly how many turns we had remaining, and turned this board game into a contemporary version of chess, trying to determine what all the possible moves might be in advance, hoping to see if we could actually win the game under this new chronological threat.
Amazingly, we did win! And at the very last possible moment! The world was on the verge of collapse, and with just that extra bit of motivation, we ended up achieving something that we didn’t think was going to be possible.
Motivation. Although we were going through the game just fine, with a sound strategy for our cooperative play, there was apparently a whole other layer of ability, skill, and achievement that was available to us just below the surface. But without the proper motivation, we didn’t bother to dip into this realm of excellence.
In my own life, I frequently wonder what more I might be capable of. While I’m moving along just fine, I have suspicion that more is possible: not just doing more things (busyness), but entering into other realms of connecting with others, helping people, investing myself in my work and relationships.
Sure enough, there are little blips of excellence that bubble to the surface at times, but what is the key to unlocking more? Is there a new motivation that can be realized and embraced? Is there some external impetus that can drive me forward? Is there internal awareness that can push me upward and outward?
I can’t help but think that one of the critical factors in our board game victory was the fact that we were playing cooperatively. There was a group of us on this journey together. Truth be told, if I had been playing the game by myself, I likely would have given up at the first realization of the impending doom brought on by the suddenly ticking countdown clock. And one or two of us did in fact respond in a similar fashion, resigning ourselves to having lost as a result of getting a poor start, having not taken into account the limited time available to us.
But others around the table had the hunger to fight, to struggle, to go down with our vaccine needles blazing, as it were. The new source of pressure didn’t cause shutdown; it rather uncovered brilliance. A new level of cooperation erupted as we struggled together to see what we could achieve. The desires and needs of my teammates brought me away from resignation and into a state of incredible motivation.
The role of community, of relationships, of people, cannot be underestimated when we contemplate the quality of our personal journey. When we consider who we are, our merits and virtues, skills and abilities, none of these really matter as facets of our personal CV. They only matter as our contribution to the group, our offering to others.
And it is perhaps only through the motivation, the encouragement, the need of others that we can ever fully realize the excellence that we are.
So as I desire more for myself, I must begin by keeping my eyes and heart open, looking around me to the people and situations in my life, to receive from them, to engage deeply with them, to walk with them in being all that I can be…and perhaps more excellent and victorious than I ever thought possible.