The Third Something

138 / The Long Game Manifesto

Reflecting on a decade of playing the long game

This month marks ten years since I uploaded my first video essay.

I’d spent Christmas alone in a flat in Paris writing, editing, animating; I remember there were post-it notes all over the wall; and by the new year there was this little story about Leonardo da Vinci being 46 when he finished The Last Supper.

The video (and the two subsequent chapters) have had an out-sized influence: I know many Third Something readers are here because of them — and I want to mark the anniversary with some reflections.

The central premise of The Long Game is still true: life is short, but it is also long — and it’s worth doing work that takes a long time, is really good, and will last a long time. In the age of quick content, I believe this is more important than it was ten years ago.

The second video ends with a warning about patience and our obsession with youth (delivered, oddly, by Craig Ferguson — I honestly can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea to use him, but it works) and I believe that problem is even worse now than it was then.

The third video’s message — find the work you love so much you’ll do it even if nobody is watching — feels particularly relevant when I see social media polluted by growth-hackers, trying to hustle and hassle their way to a big audience.

What does playing the Long Game mean in 2024?

Manifestos are a bit self-indulgent aren’t they but, because we’re celebrating, let’s have at it.

The Long Game Manifesto

Playing the long game is about staying in the game as long as possible. That means it must be sustainable: financially, emotionally and physically. You can’t play the long game if you burn out.

It means building a body of work over time. The internet is not just a never-ending stream, it’s a library: one that might only makes sense in retrospect. Let the work tell you what it is.

It means playing the slow game. Live a long creative life on your own terms (right until the end), rather than racing through a creative career in competition with others.

It requires believing in magic and being correctly tuned to your own intuition. Your heart and the universe are playing a very long game, so invest in hearing what they are telling you and blocking what does not serve. The more you listen, the louder and more confidently those voices will speak to you.

Playing the long game means making the art even if nobody’s watching. You’ll need to take great pleasure in your own process and make work that transforms you. And once people start watching, it requires holding on tight to your intuition in the boistrous swell of your own ego.

But occasionally, eventually, you gotta shoot your shots. To play the long game means to be in the game. So don’t be afraid to calmly engage your fears and take up your space.

It means adapting to change, both internal and external. Your interests and passions will develop as you do, especially over the decades-long duration of the game. You must be prepared to follow the ever-moving mountain and to say “fuck fish”.

And it requires designing a creative system. A system that supports a consistent amount of time making art every day. When you’re in the game for decades, 30 minutes a day gets you where you’re going.

I actually don’t like the videos so much these days. The filmmaker I am today cringes a little at the filmmaker from 2014. I’m very bored of the practice of putting dead ‘geniuses’ on a pedestal. Who cares what Mozart or Andy Warhol thought anyway? I re-read Mastery recently, curious to see if it still resonated for me, and it did not.

But The Long Game series has a big place in my heart: these little videos changed my life. They gave me the confidence to begin telling visual stories in public. I learned storytelling by making them and the films that followed. They brought me amazing work opportunities as well as friendships and collaborations I hold dear.

And most of all, it has inspired many of you to make art!

I have received so many emails over the last decade from people, often in their 40s or beyond, who said the videos gave them the permission they needed to start creating again. I get giddy when I think about all the art that exists in the world because someone saw a video I made.

Remember: it might not be your work that makes a difference, but the people you inspire.

Until another Sunday soon,

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