How do you win?

Every family has a way of keeping score. Often unspoken—but sometimes blatantly official—there are rules for what’s good and bad; what’s right and wrong. I call it The Family Game.

Each family has their own game and they make up the rules for how you win. The rules are passed down from generation to generation. Some generations—and some individuals—buy into The Game more than others. But it’s encoded in each and every member of the family to some extent.

Most family members usually adhere to the rules of The Game. Sometimes though, a family member might rebel against The Game and choose to not follow the rules.

Families might have more than one game, but there’s usually one that’s primary. And many families might play the same game, because The Game is influenced by what’s going on in society, where the family is based, how they make their living and things like that.

I spent the Labor Day weekend with my husband’s family. In his family, The Game is Who Works Hardest? That’s how you identify your Family Game…ask yourself, how do I win in this family?

In his family, the one who works hardest wins.

Actually, the Who Works Hardest game is one of the most common I’ve seen. I think most families have some version of this game, although it takes on different flavors based on what hard work means. In his family, working hard is typically physical labor and general busyness on external tasks, like cutting down trees and building and fixing things and solving problems in the physical world. In other families, working hardest looks like Who Has Suffered Most? Or Who Has the Most Going on in their Life? So even in the Who Works Hardest game, each family has their own unique rules.

I have a client whose Family Game is Who Gives up Most? If you give up your own life for your kids, your neighbors, strangers, you win. 

Can you see where your family’s game impacts your life? You probably can’t see all the ways because there are so many. Do you buy into it the rules whole-heartedly? If so, you might not even recognize it as The Game.

Do you recognize it, but think it doesn’t affect your behavior? It does. Maybe you try really hard to not play into the family game, but I guarantee that part of you feels guilty or uncomfortable or just “off” when you aren’t following the rules.

Or maybe your life is set up to rebuke the rules of The Game. You’ll show them what you think of their damn game. Except rebuking the rules goes against our programming which means it takes more energy and dedication than following the rules. So you’re more sucked in than you think.

Family Game aside, what’s your personal game? How do you win in your own mind, in your own life? By being smartest, funniest, cutest, busiest?

Maybe those things are just “who you are”. Of course they are part of “who you are”, but do you really want them to be, or are they there by default? Did you make up those rules with good reason, based on logic and theory you’d believe today, or did a little girl or a little boy make them up? Or did your neighbor or teacher or friend make them up and you unconsciously chose to play along at some point?

Either way, it’s all good. We’re all playing games—some we’re very aware of and some we aren’t. It’s all the game of life and it’s all good.

It’s just that it might be cool to choose your own game and make up your own rules, too. Or it might feel really freeing to drop a current game. If so, maybe it’s worth investigating. Just ask yourself, How do you win?

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