TL;DR: There are two modes in life – offense or defense. In the context of work, most of us operate on defense, which hurts our personal growth and impact for the company. Reaching Ramen Retirement makes it easier to switch gears and go on offense, and you’ll likely reap the rewards of that path. But it’s also worth noting that you don’t need to hit Ramen Retirement to change your approach. You can go on offense today, and done right it will be an early inflection point in your life and career.
In war the only sure defense is offense, and the efficiency of the offense depends on the warlike souls of those conducting it
– General George S. Patton Jr
In life, you can either be playing on offense or defense, playing to win or playing not to lose. This can extend to many facets of life (work, relationships, sports… really any endeavor), but work is probably the most universally relevant experience, and the one where the stakes are highest.
The default mode of most people at work is to play defense. This mode is driven by the fear of loss – if you don’t have your basic financial needs met, then your job is critical to your survival. The loss of your job (while not irreplaceable) is a de-stabilizing thing, and likely one of the top fears of most Americans. The result is that people play the corporate game, where the goal is to maximize career progress while minimizing the chance of getting fired. Unfortunately, playing corporate games doesn’t always align with the activities that would be best for the individual or the company – people start focusing on the things they think will maximize career growth or minimize risk of firing… not the things that maximize individual growth or company success.
But if you’re playing on offense, you transcend the petty corporate game and focus on what truly matters. You focus activities that are value creating for the company, you speak your truth irrespective of the political ramifications… in short you focus on great outcomes, and let the whole career progression thing take care of itself. If you’re playing on offense, you’ll double down on the things you enjoy, which means you’ll do a better job, and create more value in the process.
…The last year of my life was probably the one where I was the most present, I did the least work out of obligation, I was very selfish with my time, and I probably had the most productive year of my life.
It was kind of ironic. The less you want something, the less you’re thinking about it, the less you’re obsessing over it… the more you’re going to do it in a natural way. The more you’re going to do it for yourself the more you’re going to do it in a way that you’re very good at it.
Playing defense is reactive in nature. You let others drive your agenda, let others define what is important to you. For example, letting your boss define your goals, and just delivering on their asks, as opposed to figuring out the highest value thing you could be doing, and then telling you boss why you will go do that for them. Playing not to lose is focusing on minimizing risk, but the cost of minimizing risks is that you miss opportunities and you don’t grow. If you’re holding back your opinions on people and situations for fear of it rocking the boat, then you’re playing defense. If you’re deferring that decision you know needs to be made (firing, shutting down a product), because you’re afraid of the short term consequences, you’re playing not to lose.
Playing offense is when you’re starting from first principles and defining what you do every day, guided by your ultimate goal in life. If something is not aligned with your higher purpose and goal, then it needs to be cut. Playing to win is about looking for the opportunities in life, looking for the chance to score the goal, making the tough decisions, acting quickly when the decision is clear, looking for the big wins, not the incremental gains.
When you reach Ramen Retirement, you can start going on offense, playing to win, because your downside is capped. This is the biggest benefit of Ramen Retirement and can’t be understated. You can be honest with people and they will respect you for your courage and candor. You can focus on the things that really matter, and chart your own path, ultimately making you more valuable to everyone around you. The irony (as noted by Naval above) is that by playing offense, you will actually create more value for everyone involved. This means you’ll likely capture more value for yourself as well. By reaching Ramen Retirement and going on offense, it will be an inflection point in your career and life, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t go on offense sooner. Take this mentality into your everyday life, even before Ramen Retirement, and it could have a profound impact on your trajectory. Give some thought about what this might mean for you and your interactions at work.
As always – enjoy the journey!
Philosopher King Emeritus, Ramen Retirement