Any oldschool Dungeons and Dragons readers get that reference? If not, here’s my basic premise: view your personal development like you would character development in role playing games.

  • Capabilities- Some things you are born with, and others can be trained. For instance, strength can be developed to certain end points, but intelligence is something that one possesses a certain degree of, regardless of training. Training becomes more of a skill or toolset, taking advantage of your baseline intelligence. (Do we agree, or do you dispute my characterization of intelligence? – If you disagree, skip it and come back later). Other capabilities can be grown somewhat, like developing your endurance, etc.
  • Skills- Skills are things you learn, such as communication, interpersonal relationship tactics, how to build a LAMP stack repeatably. Skills are an area where you can focus a lot of effort, because they often have a direct reward for advancing your abilities. Learning a second language adds to your potential revenue value. Learning how to appreciate and interact with your family builds emotional strength and good will. Skills are a great area to target.
  • Equipment- Another constant in most role playing games (from paper and card-based games up into World of Warcraft) is the trusty old inventory concept. Do you have armor? Do you have a sword or a dagger? Would a lockpick be useful to you? Stretching this analogy out into personal development, equipment can become: laptops and smart phones for portability, special software to handle scheduling, budget, repeatable tasks, a portable media player to receive learning and information (like the Life Hack podcast).

What if you took your current situation and put it down on paper as if you were a character in a somewhat boring role-playing game? (Let’s face it: Office Wars isn’t a likely replacement title for City of Heroes). How would you characterize your capabilities? Are there any you should consider developing? What skills do you possess? What kind of equipment do you have to do the work at hand?

When you have it all written down, take a look at it. What kind of character are you? How do you stack up against other people in the same game? What capabilities, skills, or equipment could you further develop to build your success rates with your current game?
Expansion Pack

Write down a list of different “games” that you’d want to consider playing. Maybe you’re in software design, but believe you want to start up a company. Does your “character sheet” match the game? What skills should you add? How about in the crossover game of work-life balance? Do you have the skills required to make that all work?

Use this new list matched to your existing list as a framework for development. Do you need some basic business skills to augment your career track as a software developer? Would learning about financial models help you manage your new team of colleagues in Vietnam, Bangalore, and Oklahoma?

Viewing your statistics as if they belong to a character in a game is a way to try and expand our vision of the situation we’re in. It gives you a sense of your world in a somewhat more manageable shape. From here, you might be able to consider permutations and variations. You can consider whether your French language classes, while interesting, are relating in any way to the things you need to better navigate your life and your career.

Does this work for you? Should I roll a saving throw versus “bad analogy taken too far?” Choose your own adventure.

–Chris Brogan used to be a dungeon master. In ways, his project management career mimicked that experience. Now, he writes at [chrisbrogan.com] and develops content at GrasshopperFactory.com

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