I was getting a haircut last week and my stylist was complaining about the dating scene. “I blame the apps. There are too many people, too many options. When you can set dates up with 12 people at once, no one cares about a single date.”

Apps like Tinder and Hinge have turned dating into an endless buffet line. And have you ever watched people eat at a buffet? They don’t care about the food in front of them. The fork is in their mouth but their mind is already on that second plate. They plan on collecting a diverse set of flavors while still saving room for some soft-serve vanilla. Ask anyone. If you go to a buffet and only make one trip, you’re a sucker.

But that’s the hard thing about easy things.

The writer Packy McCormick has a clear definition of this phenomenon:

 “Here’s the hard thing about easy things: If everyone can do it, there’s no advantage to doing it, but you still have to do it anyway just to keep up.”

The problem with dating in 2020 comes down to simple economics. While the demand to fall in love has stayed steady, the supply of people to fall in love with has skyrocketed. Oh, there was a time, not long ago, when one was forced to choose between friends of friends, co-workers, or classmates. Maybe you’d get a number at the coffee shop, or feel the hot breath of, “let’s go back to my place,” from a “what was your name again,” at a crowded nightclub. But those days have mostly been replaced with emojis and copy and paste pick-up lines.

Dating used to be a game that moved from Hard to Easy (hard to book dates, yet easier to value once you’re on them). But now that dating is as simple as sending a Calendly invite to a pretty stranger in the palm of your hand, the game has flipped.

It’s hard because it’s easy.

Technology is typically the force behind changing these types of games. Think about if you owned an eCommerce store 10 years ago. It would have been hard to set-up. Hard to supply. And hard to find customers willing to buy. But once you broke through, you moved closer to easy.

WordPress and Shopify have flipped this model. Now anyone with an internet connection can open and run an eCommerce store. Cue endless competition, expensive traffic, and games of keyword tug of war that leave hands blistered.

Ecommerce is now hard because it’s easy.

So, there are at least two types of games: 

  1. Games that are hard to win because they consist of hard things.
  2. Games that are hard to win because they consist of easy things that anyone can do.

Each game has different degrees of security once a player reaches a certain point, however, the hard thing about easy things is that competition tends to remain omnipresent and unwavering. Someone is always nipping at your heels. And if there isn’t a moat of hard skills or specific knowledge to keep them at bay, it’s difficult to ever feel like you’ve truly “won.”

Yet, on the flip side, the easy thing about hard things is that once you do cross into a relatively uninhabited area of expertise, success is easier to capture and keep.

(think: Hollywood actors once they prove themselves at the box office or real estate agents have been decades worth of relationships)

This isn’t to say that one game is better than the other, but it’s important to recognize which game you are playing. To look at your goals, projects, and focus and understand if you’re doing hard things that are hard, or things are only hard because they are easy. Knowing what game you’re playing can help you build a strategy.

For instance: The first type of game can often be won through commitment, deep work, and patience.

One of the games I play in this category is managing Facebook Ad Accounts. Through years of building specific knowledge, managing over a million dollars in spend, and testing dozens of products, I have incredible leverage and a moat of hard skills between myself and other marketers just starting out. Because I’ve accomplished the hard things through experiences that aren’t easily available, I am currently winning at this game and will most likely continue to win until I decide I no longer wish to play (or, until technology changes the rules).

On the other hand, I just self-published my first book. This is a game that is hard because it is easy. And while a strategy of patience and focus will be helpful, I am much more likely to “win” through originality, authenticity, and polarization. Without these factors baked into the book and the marketing of the book, I’ll struggle as a player in the self-publishing game.

If you are unwilling to lean into originality, authenticity, or some degree of polarization, online dating is just not the game for you. Just as if these are your only skills and you lack patience and focus, becoming a high-paid lawyer or doctor is going to be a long and bitter road.

(though it’s worth mentioning, any of these traits can benefit players at different stages of either game)

By now you’re probably asking yourself: In a world where technology continues to make hard things easy, while simultaneously adding more games to play, how does a player choose their game, and how do they increase their odds of winning?

The answer is simple on paper, difficult in practice: Find the things that are hard for others but are easy for you.

It can take some time to discover these things. But start by asking yourself:

  • What looks like work to others, yet feels like play for me?
  • What areas in life do I seem to thrive whereas others seem to flounder?
  • What are my natural skills and where can I leverage them to gain an unfair advantage in the realm of hard things?

Every game that’s worth playing has its own degree of competition — whether it’s dating, running a business, or getting your blog articles read. But by choosing your games based on how much you enjoy playing (which will most likely be games you have a natural ability for) you can prevent losing time to games that you’re likely to resent in the end.

(Related: Your Wabi-Sabi is another great compass for finding these things)

While it’s hard to fully avoid games that are hard because they are easy, I recommend you have at least one game in your life that is hard for others yet is easy for you. That way, if you do “win,” your success will be protected by a moat of hard things that feel like play.

Of course, you never know when technology will come along to build easy bridges across your moat of hard skills. But hey, that’s the hard thing about almost everything.