Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Playing the Game by TM RJ Laguardia

Is there anybody here who hasn’t been to, or watched a basketball game in recent months? Basketball may very well be our true national sport, despite our physical disadvantage to other races. We Filipinos know so much about the sport. If I were to ask some of you what you consider as the key success factor in basketball, some would perhaps say that it’s the pre-game preparation, or the critical last two-minute period, or the fast breaks in between. If you really think about it, though, a critical key success factor in playing the game happens ironically, while you’re not on the court. I’m talking about the time-out. During time-out, the team gets a chance to see how far it has gone so far, and what possible courses of action to take to ensure that it ends up winning the game.

However, the concept of “time-out” is not just confined to the basketball court. It also applies to other games, even to the most crucial game of all, the game of life. These days, our workplace gossip and small talk are populated with words such as “overworked,” “burn out,” “dispassionate,” “midlife crises”, often in reference either to ourselves, or to people we know. We have increasingly become a people whose identities are defined by the careers we lead. More often than not, people find themselves trapped in the status quo that they really didn’t want in the first place. We often have careers that are patterned after what is considered “socially acceptable” and “monetarily practical” without consideration for what really makes us tick. And so, most of us drudge on, and grow increasingly dissatisfied with each day that passes. One solution to this dilemma is the ever so convenient time-out.

By time-out of course, I am referring to a structured and definite period off or break from the normal hectic work or student life. It also must have a specific, measurable objective in mind. It is not just an excuse to go on vacation, or a mindless and seemingly endless shopping spree. A carefully planned time-out allows you to literally find “yourself”, allowing for a sharper focus towards the activities that really matter in your life, and which bring you closer to your ultimate goal: the person you want to be. What people do during time-outs differs from one person to another. You could try traveling, but not of the tour variety, but of literally roughing it out to build character and gain maturity. You could try volunteer work to maximize your potential for fulfillment. Whatever the case, time-out should be a personal time for meditation and fun, of living, of playing the game of life. It is in quiet moments such as these that we gain clarity.

This practice is already fairly common in Western Europe, particularly among students, and is gaining popularity in the United States. A recent survey of Harvard University students revealed that as much as 20% of its student population had taken time off of school. Whereas you’d normally expect that some of these wouldn’t make it back, Harvard’s graduation rate is a whopping 97%. In fact, some guidance counselors advise this practice to students in transition from high school to college, and as some of you here are or will be parents, you may want to have a similar, but structured program for your children. After all, today’s youngsters need a break from the tremendous amount of pressure to excel they are subjected to from the time they enter school. Schools and employers appreciate it better when an applicant is able to articulate why he/she is pursuing a particular career path, and a time-out is actually the best time to figure out one’s passion, and the underlying reasons behind this passion.

The most obvious disadvantage of this practice is the connotation that it is “impractical,” and with good reason, too. Most people just don’t have the luxury of time to have time off, be it because of job security, or that their families are expecting more financial support for them. Those who go on time-outs are branded as “lazy” or “aimless.” Again, allow me to make a distinction. A time-out is not an excuse to bum around. It is structured, and it has a definite goal in mind.

Thus, the time-out is a powerful tool we should learn to embrace, understand, and accept. It may not work for everyone, but we should respect the fact that it works for other people too. It becomes especially powerful when we realize that our wayward child, or our unhappy friend may actually benefit from some soulful indulgence. Instead of judging or criticizing them for taking a break and being “unproductive”, let us instead support or encourage them in their search for purpose. In this way, any negative connotation that this practice brings will be slowly erased, in our families at the very least. There is still a long way to go, though. A time out may cost you some time to get you to your goal, but it will help you get there anyway. Thankfully, in life, as in any other game, what matters is not how you start but how you finish.

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