Life & Career Advice From A Brain-Dead Game

I used to hang out at the arcade for hours on end, back in the 90s (and the early 2000s).

But then I grew up. 

The only thing that belongs to the "game" category that I have some interaction with these days is Cookie Jam - a simple match-3 game that features colourful graphics, big buttons, and a slightly creepy panda who bakes. It's sort of like Candy Crush. It's easy to understand, easy to play. Addictive. Simple gameplay (with a genius in-game sales strategy). Brain-dead. Massive timesink. It's like a fantastical candy-coloured amusement park in which you lose yourself, one cookie at a time. 

I've been playing it almost everyday, for the last 15 months.

This even-a-two-year-old-can-play game has taught me many valuable lessons, which can be applied in life, career, love, and almost everything. And today I want to share these with you.




We all know the feeling. 

There is always something that we really want. A better job. A bigger paycheck. More responsibilities. Becoming an expert at something. Learning a new skill. Popularity. Our names in light. A successful venture. Etc.

So we give it a shot. 

and then another shot.

and then another.

Rinse and repeat.

Nothing seems to work. 

We feel dejected. We feel like a massive failure. We start to doubt ourselves, our abilities, our capabilities, and eventually we start to doubt our dreams. 

But this is what I’ve learnt,


1. Persistence pays off.

This is how Cookie Jam works: you get 5 lives to play, if you lose them all, it takes around 30 minutes to replenish.  

Everyday I open the game, play for 5 minutes, lose all my virtual lives. Again and again and again and again, day after day. It becomes a routine. For most days, I just do it out of habit. I quickly play and lose 5 of my daily allotted lives, and then I go take a shower and make dinner. I can't make dinner unless I have spent all 5 lives. (It sounds a bit OCD, I know).

This game starts easy, and then it gets more and more difficult. You have less chances to clear the stage, and with each passing stage, the request seems to get a little more impossible. For many of these stages, I have to play each of them for - literally - more than 200 times. And it is exactly what it sounds like. I do the same thing again and again and again. After the 20th time or so, I don't even look what I'm matching anymore, I just play it automatically, one eye on the game screen, one eye on something else. I know it's hard to pass the stage, I don't really expect to pass the stage. 

After the 200th time or so, I start saying "well. this is CLEARLY impossible." 

I start thinking that the game designers just want to fuck with people.

Sometimes I stop playing for a week or two, because I've lost my interest and motivation to try again.

But I come back, and keep on playing.

And then one day, out of nowhere, the stars align in some way, and I win. 

I've passed the impossible stage. 

I've cleared it. 

This is obviously not to say that Cookie Jam is my goal in life. But so many times, it has given me the immense satisfaction of winning, of achieving something (especially after a long time persistently trying to do just that). The hard slog only makes the win so much more rewarding. It feels damn good when you finally succeed, and that feeling becomes the fuel that burns and pushes you forward. You’ve worked and worked and worked to make this thing happen. Now that you’ve actually seen it coming to fruition, there is satisfaction, and there is also comfort. 

It comforts me to be reminded that no matter how impossible something seems at first, persistence will always pay off. 

It tells me, absurdly, that if I can do this, I can do just about anything

Jack Ma, Alibaba's CEO, on failure.

Jack Ma, Alibaba's CEO, on failure.

Everyone has to deal with failure and rejection at some point in their life. You have to put in at least 10,000 hours to acquire a new skill. Jack Ma was rejected by 30 companies before he founded Alibaba. Airbnb was rejected by 7 (out of, well, 7) investors when they first started out. Michael Jordan said, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games, 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Knowing all these stories makes it kind of easier to accept that you've failed at something, but not really, because at some point you go "But that's them! They are extraordinary people, the exceptions, not the norm! It happens to them, doesn't mean it will happen to me."

So winning at Cookie Jam is a much more relatable experience for me, because instead of a famous person, it has happened to me before. And I have the confidence to say "I have played this game for more than 800 levels, and for more than half of that I have failed miserably multiple times. But I always cleared them eventually. So I know I can do this.

And that is some sweet motivation. On hard days, it gets me back on track and keep hustling. 

That being said, Cookie Jam also taught me that not only you have to work hard, you have to work smarter, because:


2. You learn from your magnificent failures. 

After playing the same level a few dozen times, I start noticing patterns. 

I notice that if I avoid certain movements, it will result in a more favourable situation later.

I learn to avoid the stupid mistakes.

I learn the tips and tricks. The tactical moves, and the strategic ones.


Some of this learning happen organically, and some of it only happen because I ask myself "why" and other questions: what were the assumptions? what was the situation? did anything change? can I apply what I've done previously? what would happen if I try it this way?

Similarly, at work, when a campaign flops, I try to quickly move on to a more constructive mindset: let's look at the data and see what it tells us. Did people see the ad but not click? Could that be a CTA problem or could we target the wrong audience, or could it be the creative? Let's do some testing. Let's poll a small sample first. What can we learn from this? 

There is no point in shielding your eyes from failures. 

There is even less point in crying over them.

You've tried something. It didn't work. Ok, what can we learn from this and how should that be applied in our next try? 

Fail fast, learn, try again. Hopefully with a little more smart this time. 


But also,

3. Sometimes it's all being at the right place at the right time. 

There is nothing that teaches me about the value of luck like Cookie Jam. The cookie pieces are generated randomly, and sometimes you get a lucky combination - in which case you win with ease. You can keep trying and trying and trying, but sometimes nothing seems to work, until the stars align.

In life, this also applies. You apply for a job but don't get it. Your campaign doesn't work as effectively as you want it to. It could have nothing to do with you, actually. 


Sometimes it's just not the right timing.

Sometimes you don't meet the right people.

Sometimes it's an anomaly. 

Sometimes it's just pure dumb luck.


For someone like me, who is always harder on herself than anyone ever should, being reminded about the element of luck is a much-needed dose of encouragement. 

Success = good ideas x hard work x a little luck



Before you know it, you might have invested 15 months of your life playing a brain-dead game. You think it’s just 5 minutes a day, but it adds up.


Routines are hard to shake.

Live responsibly.