For the longest time, I had heard the phrase “playing the long game” but I had never fully realized what it meant.
Now, starting a business in the middle of a pandemic, I know.
If we jump back about 40 years or so ago into 1980, I’d like to introduce you to my father. He’s married to my mother, and they met at a horse farm: he was the farrier, she was the barn staff taking care of and holding the horses. He’d always loved horses, and I still have a very beat-up old photograph of him in my wallet that I stole from my grandparent’s house (sorry, Grandma and Grandpa) of him riding. He’d lost a stirrup, but there’s no more carefree photo like it around. Because when he married my mom and then had me and my sister, he cared. He cared a lot.
Suddenly, the passion for being a farrier became less important than providing for his family. He was a truck driver, a steelworker, and he would shoe on the side. “Dad” became less of a person and more of a thought as he would come home around midnight, sleep until about 4 am, and then get up and go to work. He would try to build his business on the side, build up inventory of horseshoes and blacksmith supplies, and go until his truck would literally die on the side of the road… then, he’d call a buddy to help him fix it, and start all over.
Those years were exhausting for him, and for us: it’s hard to be a little kid and feel like your dad is a stranger, not because any of you wanted that or signed up for it, but rather because of circumstance. Because it takes time for passion to pay. Because there are priorities, and shoeing was always higher on that list.
My dad didn’t really play the long game well; he forced his way through it like the stubborn mule he is… and don’t get me wrong, I’m the exact same way. Very stubborn, ruled by my heart more than my head. He failed four times. Four times, he started his business, and went back to the steel mill; rinse and repeat. But all those times of hearing about the long game, I now know what it means:
Now, 40 years later, my dad’s one of the best farriers in the Midwest. He’s shod horses that have gone on to show and win at Quarter Horse Congress and Quarter Horse World. He’s shod a few Budweiser Clydesdales. He has no business cards because his reputation gets him enough business, and he’s either travelled to or hosted people from Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oklahoma just to shoe their horses. That’s the long game. That’s the goal we all have – to be successful, as per our own definition of success. All those hard nights, getting kicked or accidentally hammering his thumb instead of the shoe, that’s not in vain for him.
So how does this tie into starting a business in the middle of a pandemic?
COVID-19 has been one of the largest surprises, scares, and change-agents of the year, and probably will be talked about for ages to come. It’s a nasty virus that spreads to your lungs and eventually takes over. Many have died, and many will continue to die.
But I’ve played the long game, and I can’t stop now. I spent all last year creating a Plan B in case this whole business flops. Certifications, recruiters, savings, and I’m ready. I’m ready to jump out into this murky abyss and take it day by day, month by month, and quarter by quarter. I’ve defined what success looks like, feels like, and ooh boy, am I ready for it. I’ve planned, I’ve strategized, but more than that: I know I’m my father’s daughter, which makes me scrappy. If I need to, I’ll force my way through it – because that’s the long game.
Playing the long game isn’t playing until you reach your definition of success; it’s ensuring you do, either through planning, strategy, or just being a stubborn mule.
It’s knowing that the day-by-day fluctuations are going to happen, but fighting for success anyway. It’s ignoring the Dow and the stocks, and trusting that history will repeat itself, and we’ll all come out on the other side, brushing the dirt off ourselves, going, “ooh, boy, that was an adventure”. It’s not getting caught up in the details, but rather, making sure that what matters, happens. That, to me, is the long game, and that, to me, matters more than any headline. It’s not about skipping over the dead and focusing on the good, on the success, on the profit… no, no. It’s about honoring the failed dreams, the lives that could have been, and being resilient anyway. Starting a business in the middle of a pandemic ensures that I am resilient: and it shows that you are, too.
So let’s all think of our long game, and buckle in: I have a feeling it’s going to be a long ride.