“I’m playing the long game.”

My billiards partner glanced up at me as he said this and then narrowed his eyes at the pool table as he adjusted his stance. I had suggested he take an easier and more straight shot, but he was focused on long-term strategy. He wanted to set himself up to get multiple shots in one play. This involved taking a more difficult shot first so the cue ball would end up where he wanted it.

I’m still getting the hang of the basic physical mechanics of pool, so I mostly focus on the easy and obvious shots. The ball goes in the pocket by design or (half the time) by sheer dumb luck. Right now I’m okay with that.

I do want to play “the long game” eventually. I want to be able to think and plan a few steps ahead so I can set myself up for success…are we still talking about a billiards game or does this apply to many areas of life?

I’ve learned to play the long game in certain areas of my life. Education, career, finances–some circumstances came from dumb luck or amazing opportunities, but I was always pulling the strings in some way.

I’m being challenged now to play the long game in taekwondo.

Tuesday night I went to the dojang for a black belt class that turned out to be a private lesson with my Master. Texas weather and traffic can be tricky beasts in the spring, so I guess my fellow black belts had other priorities that night. Since it was just the two of us we decided to do things I was interested in–a hard kicking workout and advanced black belt forms–and she put on the rap and hip hop music we both enjoy.

“What’s your goal?” she asked after I’d gotten my heat rate up with some speed drills.

“Long term?” I panted as I loosened up my legs with snap kicks. “Third Dan.” She nodded approvingly.

“What’s your short term goal?”

“Better spin kicks on my left leg. They’re not where they should be for a second degree black belt.” We both chuckled since we had just been working on my spin kicks.

“What’s your really long term goal?” she asked. I responded before I could even think about it.

“I want to be a Master.”

And just like I would in a coaching gig at my job, she asked me what that would look like. She reminded me that our values and habits should match and drive us toward our goals. That gave me pause. I know what I want, but I think I need to dig a little deeper into how I’ll get there and who I will be in the process.

I thought more about what my Master said as I worked on black belt forms. Right as I was getting to the slow-motion fist-in-hand badass part of the form Koryo, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” started playing.

“Hell yeah,” I thought as I glared at the wall and readied myself to whip around with a knife-hand strike, “I am DOING THIS!!”

So I have my short term and long term taekwondo goals. Setting goals is the easy part. Playing the long game–strategizing–takes more time, forethought, and keeping an open mind to unexpected opportunities that come along.

I assume if most of us thought about it, our “long game” would be to live a fulfilling, happy life. What if everything we did was calculated to make that happen? I don’t mean keep striving for what is seemingly out of reach–that’s inviting a cycle of dissatisfaction.

The long game of life is adopting a positive attitude, developing confidence, and looking for opportunities while persevering through perceived obstacles. Sometimes we have to go in a different direction or change our mindsets. We can and should enjoy what’s happening right now, in this moment…and we can keep playing the long game for more and more happiness.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

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