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Leveling Up: Video games for professional development

My friends know that I don’t have a lot of time for video games anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t select mornings when I wake up at 4:00 a.m. to get a few hours of pew pew pew in before heading to work. Originally I thought part of my career would be to build awareness of female gamers, and I did get one article published, “Why Women Play Games,” in a nonprofit magazine. While passion for games helped introduce me to nonprofit publishing, it wasn’t until writing this post that I realized just how much my virtual worlds have helped max out my real-life XP bar. 

Respawn: Learning from your mistakes

One of the most frustrating aspects of playing any game is failure, be it dying in a fire, running out of time, or being on the wrong end of a headshot. The nice thing about “GAME OVER” is right below: the “TRY AGAIN” button. You’re encouraged to learn from your mistakes. You respawn and try again. We can do the same thing in our careers. The nice thing about dying in a video game is you rarely start at level 1—you just start back at your checkpoint. Career-wise, it's not much different. When you make a flub, you probably won't get fired—it's just a chance to refine your technique and improve your methods. Take risks, fail forward, and then finally, level up.

New Releases: Keeping the mind fresh

There are more new games released than I can possibly keep up with. In the past few months alone I’ve played Skyrim (a dragon-killing, single player role playing game), Diablo 3 (a top-down dungeon crawler), and Mass Effect 3 (the final installment in an action role-playing space saga), with Max Payne 3 (a third person, bullet-dodging shooter) on the waitlist. Playing a wide range of games with a variety of gameplay forces you to understand new game mechanics, learn to use old buttons in new ways, and memorize complex abilities. This builds a strong aptitude for quick learning and adaptability. Anyone working in the nonprofit sector knows you wear multiple hats. Keeping your mind sharp, whether it be through trying new games or taking on a work project outside your comfort zone, will ensure you have the mental agility to challenge yourself.

Phat Loots: Shiny things make you happy

One of the main sources of enjoyment in gaming is the anticipation and pursuit of epic loot. Whether it’s a “hand”-crafted armor set, a flying mount, an invisibility cloak, or a golden gun, the excitement of reward is a strong motivator. In our nonprofit work our rewards can’t always be monetary, so it’s important to find other kinds. In my job, I do a lot of social media management. I’ve created systems of metrics and evaluation so that I can tangibly see the results of my work. Seeing an increase in Twitter engagement is a small reward, but at the end of the day it adds up and I feel fulfilled and motivated in my work. Create systems of rewards and goals within your job. It’ll keep you interested, excited, and, most importantly, leveling up.

Pwnage: Skills speak louder than words

People can talk a lot of smack in online games and you hear lots of excuses, but at the end of the day, you can’t fake being good. Holding your own by knowing your abilities, where to stand, having good reaction time, etc. earns you respect and keeps others wanting to play with you. It’s no different in our real world work. Show your skills through tangible, good work, not just words. Volunteering for projects on a committee or pointing out something specific you worked on during a staff meeting will go 100 times further for building your professional reputation than talking about what you once did, will do, or couldn’t do. And most importantly—don’t make excuses.

Educational Opportunity: Leeroy Jenkins 

ROFLCOPTERZ!: Don’t take yourself too seriously

Part of what makes video games so fun is the fantasy. You can goof-off and wipe out a whole village in Skyrim and then just load back a game like it never happened. Or play tricks on friends just for the lulz. When gamers take their virtual worlds too seriously, anxiety and frustration start to trump fun. While we can’t just load a previous save if we mess up in our real jobs, we can be intentional about creating work cultures that value humor, light-heartedness, and whimsy. It creates camaraderie and trust with coworkers, a foundation that can get a team through stressful situations—whether it’s downing a dragon or pulling off a big fundraiser.

Whether you play video games or not, the process of connecting aspects of your favorite hobbies to professional development can give you perspective, remind you of your values, and hopefully bring out some of the fun in your work. At the very least, I now feel more justified to take a night off, lay back on the couch, and give into some serious “professional development.” 


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