Have you ever had a dream that you always wanted to pursue, but you couldn’t because… I’ve had a few of those dreams myself – my bucket-list. Things that I always wanted to but couldn’t because… # 1 on the list for a long time was the dream of being an Entrepreneur. But there were too many obstacles blocking my dream. Until a magical series of events helped me break out of the prison of my constraints. This blog is about my escape from my prison, in case it helps you break out of yours…

In my previous blog, I mentioned Dr. Richard Tozer’s inspiring lecture in the Starting a Business course at SMU. He explained how Transactional Analysis can be applied to help entrepreneurs succeed. Dr. Tozer stimulated my interest in TA and I wanted to learn more. A few months after finishing my course, I found myself in my favorite book store in Bangalore – Premier, looking for Eric Berne’s book on Transactional Analysis – Games People Play. I did not realize that my search would also lead me to another unexpected treasure.

Premier book store is now closed, but many book lovers in Bangalore will remember it for two reasons…The first was that it was the most disorganized book store in town. Books were piled high precariously in ten foot towers, in no apparent order. But somehow, when you asked for a book, it would be magically located in a matter of minutes. The second reason was the owner – Mr. Shanbagh.

Mr. Shanbagh was to books what Pandora is to music. If you told him that last few books you read, he could suggest the next few books you ought to read. I asked him for Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, Rhonda Bynes’ The Secret and Eric Berne’s Games People Play. In addition to these, Mr. Shanbagh handed me Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He promised me I would like it. I did.

Once I started reading Marshall’s book, I couldn’t put it down. He packed the book with amazing anecdotes and eye-opening insights on how the very habits that brought us success in the past might be preventing us from being successful in the future. But he was saving the best for last. The most inspiring part of Marshall’s book was the last chapter – the Coda. Here’s what he says…

“Imagine that you’re 95 years old and ready to die. Before taking your last breath, you’re given a great gift: The ability to travel back in time – the ability to talk to the person who is reading this page, the ability to help this person be a better professional and lead a better life.

The 95-year-old you understands what was really important and what wasn’t, what mattered and what didn’t. What advice would this wise “old you” have for the “you” who is reading this page?”

Wow! I think the 95-year old me would remind me that when I look back at life, I am more likely to regret what I failed to try, than what I tried and failed. So I started thinking about what was stopping me from realizing my dreams and how I could overcome my stops. That was the key question in my mind, as I started reading the next book on my list – Eric Berne’s Games People Play. Reading the book gave me some good news and bad news. First the good news…

I never thought of myself as someone who was good at playing games. I have always been the lazy couch potato who prefers watching other people playing. (It is safer that way.) So I was surprised to learn from Berne that I was an expert player of many of his games, especially the one called YDYB. Here’s how it would typically go…

I would go to a party and inevitably, the conversation would come around to a contest on who worked for the worst management. I would often win this contest and then we would start talking about our dreams of working for ourselves instead of the nincompoops we currently worked for. This is when I would display my expertise at a YDYB game…

Me: I would love to give up this stupid job and work for myself.

Poor, Unsuspecting, Friendly, Helpful Soul: Why don’t you try that?

Poor, Old, Helpless Me: Yes, I would love to, but I need the pay-check.

PUFHS: Why don’t you try generating some finance to help with the start-up costs and expenses until your business picks up?

POHM: Yes, that’s a great idea, but I really need the health care.

PUFHS: Why don’t you try something part-time so you don’t have to leave your job, pay-check and health-insurance?

POHM: Yes, I would love to do that, but my job is so demanding I don’t have the time and energy to work on anything after all the late nights and weekends I put in.

PUFHS: Why don’t you find a better job that has better entrepreneurial opportunities and culture, maybe in a startup?

POHM: Yes, I would, but what’s the point – the economy is in the toilet and there are no good jobs out there anyway.

PUFHS: Why don’t you contact my friend – he may know someone in a startup that could use a person like you?

POHM: Yes, I would love to do that, but startups have terrible hours and I would have to sacrifice spending time with my family.

PUFHS: Thoroughly frustrated and desperately looking for better company and conversation.

So the good news was that I was an expert at the game Eric Berne called YDYB. The bad news was that that I was an expert at the game Eric Berne called YDYB.

Berne explained in his book Games People Play, that in the world of Transactional Analysis, games are a series of complementary moves where the apparent motive may seem to be positive, but the actual underlying motive is negative. The first game he discovered was YDYBWhy Don’t You/Yes But.

In the YDYB game that I illustrated above, for instance, my apparent motive may seem to be soliciting advice on how I can be a successful entrepreneur, but the actual underlying motive is different. What I really wanted was to confound the listener into conceding that I had tried everything I could possibly have and that I was trapped in the prison of my circumstances. That is the concealed motive and pay-off of the game.

Once I noticed how frequently I was playing this game, and realized that the pay-off was not worth the price of impotence, I began to stop myself.  Instead of playing this game, I started devoting my energies towards breaking out of the prison of my constraints. But the first and most important step was to notice the role I was playing in perpetuating my own misery.

Now that I look back, I remember Jerry White sharing the same lesson in one of his lectures in the Starting a Business course at SMU. Many aspiring entrepreneurs are discouraged by the assumption that entrepreneurship automatically involves losing a number of valuable things…

  • Financial security
  • Health Insurance
  • Time with family
  • Leisure time
  • Peace of mind

Jerry listed out several successful entrepreneurs who had succeeded without sacrificing any of the things listed above and challenged us to do the same. In another lecture, Dr. Tozer shared the lesson from Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras – avoid the “Tyranny of the Or” that forces a choice between two apparently conflicting objectives. Instead, use the “Genius of the And” to find a way to make both things happen.

Identifying and disrupting the games I was playing with myself was one of the first and most important steps in my journey to breaking free from the “Tyranny of the Or” and tapping into the “Genius of the And” to realize my dreams. How about you? Where are you surrendering to the “Tyranny of the Or” and are there any dreams you are giving up by playing the YDYB game? If so, how would you break that pattern? And what is the advice the 95-year-old you would give to the person who is reading this page?

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