Infinite Game and Blindspots

Melchor Tatlonghari

Once upon a time, there was a young woodcutter named John. John had just started his career as a woodcutter and was eager to prove his worth. He had a big task ahead of him — to cut down an enormous tree in the forest. Excited and full of enthusiasm, John rushed to the forest with his axe in hand. Without wasting any time, he started swinging his axe at the base of the tree. However, after hours of relentless effort, he realised that his progress was minimal. The tree remained steadfast and unyielding. Frustrated and exhausted, John sat down to catch his breath. Just then, an old woodsman passing by noticed John’s struggle and approached him.

Photo by Fabrice Villard on Unsplash
“Son, why are you working so hard without taking a break?” asked the old woodsman.

“I need to cut down this tree as quickly as possible,” replied John impatiently.

The old woodsman smiled gently and said, “Let me tell you a story. Once there were two woodcutters who were given the same task — to cut down one hundred trees each.”

“The first woodcutter began immediately without any hesitation. He swung his axe repeatedly, working tirelessly throughout the day. On the other hand, the second woodcutter took some time before starting and spent most of it sharpening his axe.”

John listened attentively as the old woodsman continued, “At the end of the day, when they counted their accomplishments, they were surprised to find that while the first woodcutter had cut down only six trees with his dull axe, the second woodcutter had successfully felled all ten trees with ease.”

“The second woodcutter understood that taking some time to sharpen his axe would make his job easier and more efficient in the long run,” concluded the old woodsman.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

Reflecting on this parable, John realised that he had been too focused on rushing into action rather than preparing himself properly. He took the old woodsman’s advice to heart and decided to take a break. He spent the time sharpening his axe meticulously, ensuring it was in its best condition. When John resumed his work, he found that with each swing of the now-sharp axe, the tree became easier to cut. His progress was faster, and soon enough, the massive tree came crashing down.

From that day forward, John understood the importance of sharpening his skills and tools before diving headfirst into any task. He learned that taking a moment to prepare and improve oneself would ultimately lead to greater success and efficiency in achieving his goals.

Sharpen the Axe
I had to start this article with a parable of sharpening the axe because it may sound obvious when we read about it, but when we are in the midst of a situation, we often fail to apply these principles. Our brains are not wired to see the faults in our decision making. In fact, our brains wouldn’t have made those decisions if they thought they were wrong. Additionally, loss-aversion often prohibits us from making adjustments and further forces us into a deeper hole.

Short-Term Wins
I have a friend from college who took the same course as me. We were both aspiring software engineers back then. We took the same classes and hung out at the same places. By the time we graduated, we both received offers from different companies. The first company (let’s call it company A) was much smaller than the other one (let’s call it company B). Company B was an international multifaceted company with thousands of employees and offered double the starting salary compared to company A.

My friend didn’t hesitate and immediately chose company B without considering any other factors. He believed that working for such a prestigious company would guarantee success. On the other hand, I thought about the long game. I knew that working for a smaller company like company A would give me a chance to make a bigger impact and learn more at this stage of my career. I chose company A’s offer.

At first, it seemed like my friend had made the right choice. He constantly boasted about how much money he was making compared to all of us. However, we soon realised that the projects we were working on were substantially different. I was working on projects with real-world impact, affecting hundreds of users. My friend, on the other hand, was doing internal company work that didn’t have much pressure or value.

Years passed and I rose through the ranks at company A while my friend remained in the same position at company B. The tone of our catch-ups shifted as my friend started feeling stuck in a dead-end job. He had become complacent and lost his marketability due to maintaining legacy systems and doing the bare minimum.

More than 10 years have passed since then, and the lessons I’ve learned about playing the long game and investing in skill acquisition are still paying dividends for me. I have worked with multiple companies, constantly valuing my skill set higher with each move. I’ve traveled the world to solve their biggest problems and have risen through the ranks. My friend, however, has only changed one job and had one significant pay bump since then.

This story is akin to sharpening the axe — it sounds obvious when we read about it, but in real life, we are often blinded by short-term gains. Our brains tend to lean towards easy short-term rewards instead of focusing on long-term success.

Infinite Game
As a nomad entrepreneur, patience and having systems in place are crucial. It’s easy to lose structure in your life when you no longer have to wake up early or worry about finances. That’s why it’s important to sharpen your axe before starting this journey and establish systems that will sustain your lifestyle, ensuring long-term success and stability.

One important aspect of playing the long game as a nomad entrepreneur is patience. It can be tempting to rush into action and try to achieve immediate results. However, taking the time to plan, prepare, and build a strong foundation will ultimately lead to greater success in the long run.

In addition to patience, having systems in place is crucial for maintaining structure and stability as a nomad entrepreneur. Without a routine or framework, it’s easy to become disorganised and lose focus. By establishing systems for things like time management, financial planning, and goal setting, you can ensure that you stay on track and make progress towards your long-term objectives.

Just like John learned the importance of sharpening his axe before cutting down the tree, as a nomad entrepreneur, it’s essential to invest in skill acquisition and personal growth. Continuously improving your skills and knowledge will not only make you more valuable in the marketplace but also open up new opportunities for growth and advancement.

When my friend chose company B solely based on its higher starting salary, he failed to consider the long-term implications of his decision. While he initially enjoyed the financial benefits of working for a larger company, he soon found himself stuck in a dead-end job with limited prospects for growth.

On the other hand, by choosing company A and focusing on skill acquisition and making an impact early on in my career, I set myself up for long-term success. I was able to rise through the ranks, work on meaningful projects, and continuously increase my marketability.

The lesson here is clear — when making decisions about your career or any other aspect of your life as a nomad entrepreneur, think beyond short-term gains. Consider how each choice will impact your long-term goals and aspirations. Invest in yourself by sharpening your skills, establishing systems for success, and being patient as you navigate this unique lifestyle.

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