Simon Sinek: Understand the Game [2]

The wealth of information and insight in Simon Sinek’s talk “Understanding the Game” continues to astound.

Transcript (video time from 2:48 to 3:30mins):

“Many of this young generation – of the Millennial generation – were subjected to what has been described as a failed parenting strategy. Some of you, and many of your friends were raised being told that you were special, and you were told that you can have what ever you want just cause you want it. Many schools gave participation ribbons, another words kids got medals for coming in last, and the science on this is good… we know what it does, it devalues the feeling and the medal for the person who actually works hard to come in first and it embarrasses the person who comes in last because they know that they don’t deserve it and it makes them feel worse.”

“Understanding the Game We’re Playing” by Simon Sinek

Its a failed parenting strategy, and its a failed teaching strategy as teachers today are unable to use a red pen or provide honest evaluation as that may reveal that a student did not get an answer correct, and to point out their error risks “damaging their self esteem” (my next door neighbour is a school teacher… I ain’t making this stuff up).

OK, so what exactly does not pointing out errors teach?

That showing up, participating, not studying, not learning is all that is needed in life. Boomers have institutionalized passing without studying for their kids. For themselves, Boomers have institutionalized participation ribbons as reward for showing up to a sport event. Go to a road race, especially a half or full marathon, an iron distance triathlon, a cycling event and what do you get just by crossing the finish line? A participation medal.

Seriously? Adults need an award for participating?

Training… hah! No one trains, you just need to show up, look the part of athlete so you can participate: water bottles around your waist, gels in hand, hi-end running shoes and you are a runner; aero helmet and carbon fiber TT bike and you are a triathlete, now cross the finish line, collect your participation medal that authenticates your identity as an athlete. If you do want to train, then a 8, 10, or 12 week generic training program that you download is good enough. Cram in as much ‘training’ as you can, but it doesn’t really matter because if you pop a couple painkillers, an anti-inflammatory, foam roll, make sure your sports nutrition (aka adult candy) is on point, and give a near death effort to crawl across the finish line, you can pretend that you are healthy, fit, have cheated old age, and proved your doctor wrong.

To belabor the point:

“the science on this is good… we know what it [awarding participation] does, it devalues the feeling and the medal for the person who actually works hard to come in first and it embarrasses the person who comes in last because they know that they don’t deserve it and it makes them feel worse.”

The byproduct of this participation mentality is that health is not something you work for or towards, you are proclaimed healthy despite diagnoses and medications, all because you participated in some sport event. Its no different than your kid passing a grade because you argued with their teacher until blue in the face that they have no right to hold your child – who doesn’t comprehend the material – back a grade. No different than going to your child’s job interview, to make sure that they are “represented fairly”, “understood properly” by the hiring committee so they get the job.

We need to bring an end to rewarding and accepting ‘participation’ level commitment.

Look into the eyes of those who commit on the level of ‘participation’, and there will be emptiness, a cold numbness, nothing there that motivates, that inspires, that pulls at your core.

Look into the eyes of anyone who has committed to something wholly, and you may not be able to hold their gaze because the energy, the strength, the stability, the self awareness and knowledge and fearlessness they emit can be terrifying (to those who haven’t).

What is it that you want?


If anxiety and depression are not epidemics yet, then it seems that its only a matter of time til these silent subduers overwhelm us. What if these epidemics were started by well meaning, well intended individuals who believed that by rewarding participation, by trying to make everyone feel good all the time, would result in happiness ruling?  We know now that’s not the case. So what if instead of rewarding showing up, we start rewarding work, effort, diligence, integrity, and commitment? I believe that that has a chance to slow, or better yet turnaround the growth of fear, of darkness, and of despair in our world. We need to restart our belief in our own potential, in the goodness of our dreams, and remind ourselves that it takes unwavering commitment, consistent effort.