Playing The Long Game

Most of the world plays a short fast game, but for the creative this just won’t do. Here’s why.

“A single tree in the middle of a field during sunrise” by Roman Averin on Unsplash

Most of the world plays a short, fast game. Instant gratification is paramount. But for the creative this just won’t do.

I walk in the Phoenix Park near where I live and I see the trees playing the long game.

The grass and the birds and the sky play the long game.

Our dog, Tilly plays the long game. So do the cats she chases that come into our postage stamp sized back garden.

Human beings don’t play the long game. Not many of us do anyway that’s for sure.

At best we might play a medium-term game but most of us play the short game. Instant gratification is what we are after and by God, we’ll get it no matter the sacrifice.

Relationships and quality of life suffers.

Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life, says, “How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives”. This quote resonates with me to my very centre and serves to remind me of what’s important.

Although being mixed up in the crazy place I often forget.

“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives…” - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

The pursuit of an easier life, of greater convenience, is a major driving force behind human activity. But the convenience never comes and it eventually becomes destructive.

Good things eventually turn, they morph into something else as they become more in demand. A big part of the skill of the game is being tuned in enough to this natural cycle of things to know when to get out.

The reality of all good things is that they never last. They start off great but eventually they burn themselves out, just like humans do.

The Insanity Of The Human Experience

There seems to be an incessant and increasing need for high quality at low cost, to be fit without sweating, to make money without investing, to have a good meal without cooking.

We want to get stuff and experiences as soon as possible.

Advertisers and marketers know this, social media platforms know this. They also know that our insatiable appetite for dopamine is their ticket to pounds, shillings and pence.

Here we are, chasing the dream, consumed by the prospect of a better future and a successful career. Human beings by the millions, coaxed and coerced into jobs at computer screens on the 38th floor of office buildings, chasing carrots on sticks.

I don’t know which is the greater insanity, to be chasing a future that we can never catch or believing that there is such a thing in the first place.

I wonder, do all generations have to move through this cycle of things?

It was about 8 or 9 years ago at a very difficult time in my professional career when it dawned on me that time was a fabrication of the human mind.

That idea prompted an article. That article became very popular and was to become a book but never made it.

Instead, I’ve incorporated The Illusion of Time idea into a chapter in The Artist’s Manifesto, due out in paperback on 2nd April 2018.

The Artist’s Manifesto

I’m currently writing The Artist’s Manifesto, a book about staying true to our art. It is a call to Artists and Creatives like you to create from the heart with passion and integrity, disregarding the need for applause and recognition. It’s available from my site in PDF with paperback out on 2nd April 2018. Grab your FREE PDF copy here.


In this chapter, we will explore the nature and function of time as it influences the creative mind and why we need to disconnect ourselves from it.

Disconnection from worldly ideas and concepts such as time is essential if we are to access that psychic space which allows us to create original and meaningful things.

In the disconnection from the concept of time, we allow ourselves the mental capacity to create without restriction.

This process happens for some creative people entirely automatically, but for many the time and space to create is difficult to find.

Worldly things like responsibilities, financial demands, family, the day job, TV, social media and so on have the potential to feed the creative muse.

But unchecked they serve as distractions, things that dilute our focus of attention.

Care not for the things of the morrow for the things of the morrow will take care of themselves — Matthew 6:34

In The Artist’s Manifesto, we read that the nature of the creative process is a constant moving between this world of stimulation and the artist’s quiet creative space.

The Artist’s Manifesto does not support the idea that we must obliterate these things that challenge us but rather it suggests we see them for what they are — necessary in limited quantities for the constant creation of the self.

The Artist’s Manifesto recognises that every human being is creative and has the inherent ability to create beautiful things.

However, the pressure to conform to social norms and societal idealistic notions of what valuable work is can keep creative people from ever tapping into their creative side.

For many of us, there is the belief that we are not creative at all. We believe there are far too many important things to do than to entertain ourselves with fanciful notions of actually doing what we love.

This is the predominant idea of what constitutes work, held in the collective psyche of western civilisation.

Time For The Creative

For the creative to work efficiently and effectively, first there must be the understanding that time does not exist.

Playing the long game so to speak is in fact, a recognition that there is no long game to play. All there is, is now.

Yes, that’s a bit cliché by now, overused and worn out by us clever writers. But that’s all there will ever be.

When we make, we make not in the future or in the past, but right here and now.

What we made yesterday becomes irrelevant and what we’ll make tomorrow can’t be known because tomorrow will bring that of itself.

Time is a tool in the creative toolbox. We must find a way of making it serve us rather than us serving it.

When we are done with it we must put it away.

Playing the long game is utilising the understanding that instant gratification is the gratification of the surface personality only. It doesn’t serve the soul.

The creative soul wants the gradual experience, not the final result.

In fact, there is no result because there’s no getting this thing done. There’s no end to it.

As soon as I achieve that thing, win that game, receive that award, it’s finished. The nice feeling of accomplishment never lasts.

And that’s the way it should be for what’s the point in existence if there is not a constant development of the self?

In that then there is good even in the things we call bad because tomorrow offers us the ability to turn that around, turn it into something better.

A Final Word

Playing the short game is a fools game.

It prompts us out of fear of loss to make decisions that ultimately don’t serve us. The stock market is an example of where this happens all the time.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a major driver of short-term thinking and rash decision making. God knows I’ve been guilty of it myself.

But there are great advantages to be gained by making poor decisions. There lies the divine dichotomy.

As William Blake said, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise”.

Sorry, I’ve used that quote way too many times in too many articles. But I like it. It’s accurate I feel.

Finally, let me say this…

For the creative there is no choice, we’ve got to get happy and comfortable where we are. That is the only way we can ever make anything worthwhile.

Eventually, that positive state of mind will benefit us.

Wishing we were somewhere else, continually lamenting our current circumstances or the circumstances of the world only serves to keep us boxed in.

Yes, I understand this may seem counter-intuitive but it is true, for me at least.

Until we experience it we can’t know it.

This article was originally published on on Sunday 18th Feb 2018 and sent to my Sunday Letters readers. It has been edited and updated for publication here on Medium.

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