Level Up!

Ever since my early childhood I’ve been a big fan of video games.  Whether it was playing early PC games with awful graphics with my dad, or gluing myself to any one of the many GameBoys during a long car ride, or one of the hundreds of game tournaments with my friends during sleepovers, or any of the countless nights I stayed up too late on school nights playing games online, video games have always been a favorite pastime of mine.  Now, before anyone writes me off as a lazy gamer, I’d like to point out an interesting commonality between most games I’ve played and the early stages of my career and professional development: they’re both entirely centered around leveling up.

Development in video games

Let me start by explaining the games into which I’ve put those countless hours.  I’m a big fan of sports simulation games, war simulation games, and certain adventure games.  In both simulation and adventure RPGs, there’s always a myriad of objectives and goals you need to “beat” the game, but they all share one underlying objective: focus on improving your character, in many different ways, to maximize your success.  For example, the NBA basketball game I buy every year has a mode where you create a player – typically yourself – and try to achieve NBA stardom. As you play, you earn credits which you use to level up your player’s rating, however there are lots of variables at play.  Your character’s overall rating is determined by the improvements you put into all aspects of your player’s game. There are hundreds of attributes you can choose from, but choose wisely – if you want to be a three point shooting specialist but only put all of your development credits into your three point shot, you’ll likely get bullied by opposing players with more speed and strength than you.  To take it a step further, you could end up developing your character to fill a vital role for your team, but then suddenly be traded and see your character’s abilities not carry as much weight with the new team, meaning you need to focus on new ways to develop. In war simulators, you could use your development points to unlock new weapons, abilities, or attachments that better fit your style of play, yet you could pass the controller to your friend and see him do much better or worse with the exact same equipment.  In many of today’s larger adventure games, which take literal days of playtime to finish, there are infinite ways to develop your character in order to complete the main adventure, such that, although the story is more-or-less the same for everyone, the game experience can be totally unique. Basically, when you take a step back from the game-specific objectives of many different video games, the player always needs to ask themself “how should I focus developing my smaller, more focused attributes in order to maximize overall success?”

Refining your professional skills

In my opinion, that last question I posed is a very valuable question to ask yourself in regards to your professional development as well.  If your life was a video game, which attributes can you focus on developing to maximize success in business? For example, if you have a strong background in technology and suddenly start a new job that’s customer-service based, would it be worth more of your personal effort to keep improving your computer skills, or to improve your skills in interpersonal communication?  If you spend years working independently and eventually take on a more team-based job, would you adjust your style of work to fit the team’s goals a bit more? When you think about yourself as a video game character, the skills, knowledge, and attributes you’ve developed for yourself could give you a fantastic 95/100 rating at one job, but at a new job with new objectives and individual responsibilities, your rating could be an 80/100 simply because that job requires different skills and strengths.  This is why I believe it is important to constantly take a self-inventory of your strengths and areas for improvement – most jobs don’t last forever, and in an instant your “number” could decrease in-context even if you yourself aren’t doing anything worse.

Ways to develop your “number”

I have a few quick pieces of advice to help you maximize your overall rating, or “number,” in a new context. First and most simply, be honest with yourself about your areas for improvement and actively focus on improving them.  Even if your current job requires absolutely no written communication skills, make yourself open to improving your writing; boosting your written skills category from a 60 to a 90 may only increase your overall rating at that job from 85 to 86, but what if you landed a fantastic desk job where that small categorical improvement could improve your overall number from 80 to 90?  Focusing on developing ALL of your skills, even the lesser- or never-used ones, can benefit you greatly down the line and help you not become a one trick pony should you need/want to take on a new job or new industry. Second, I think an important way to market your overall rating is by constantly reworking your resume. I’ve rewritten my resume for every job I’ve ever applied for, because when you try to concisely present your value in a written format, it makes sense to highlight different skills or responsibilities needed for former jobs to appeal most highly to new potential employers.  Your resume is an introduction for your strengths and potential value to a team, and will help a new employer calculate your initial rating or “number” in the context of that company. Therefore, it would make sense to assess which skills are most important to the new job, then draw upon your personal experiences to see how and when you’ve used those skills, and then finally word your resume to show how what you can offer in a context in which this new job would find attractive. The same resume that could score you a job at Google could fail to get you a callback at Pizza Hut.

I think this big blown-out analogy between video games and professional development works quite well with the theme of this blog: being a “number.”  We’re all numbers in the work force, but our numbers aren’t the same in every context and are certainly able to increase or decrease dynamically, depending on what you do.  I think it’s fair to consider your overall number as a professional as a sum of many other categorical numbers, which might be easier to improve and refine in order to get a higher overall number.  Unfortunately, in video games there are more defined objectives and it’s easier to get a precise quantitative analysis of your number, whereas reality carries a certain degree of uncertainty. You can beat a video game, but you can’t beat reality.  To me, though, that just further accentuates the importance of continuously focusing on the strengths and improving upon the weaknesses of the main character in your own life. If you want the highest overall rating in life and the workplace, ask yourself how leveling up your specific categorical numbers can give you a higher overall number.

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