Workforce Development / Change Management / Leadership Skills

Defining yourself and your legacy using only one word

What a game taught Thomas Wilk about identifying core values.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

Let me tell you about Tombstone. Not the movie or the town, but the game.

Regular readers of this column know that some of my interests beyond the maintenance and reliability profession include long-distance running, progressive rock, and science fiction, with the occasional column on teamwork and professional sports.

For a few years in the late 1990s, all of these areas intersected for me in the form of an industry trade show called the Origins Game Fair. This trade show has been around for 45 years and is a place for game designers to beta-test their new ideas for video, card, role-playing, and tabletop games with an enthusiastic set of attendees ranging from casual players like me to industry executives. For example, in 1998, I had the chance to beta-test Apples to Apples, back when the inventors were printing and hand-cutting each game set themselves.

Origins is also where I discovered the game of Tombstone. It’s an online game with deceptively simple rules: You imagine finding yourself in an area full of tombstones, with very little information about the persons who are buried there except name, year of birth, year of death, and one word. And you have the opportunity to define which word will eventually appear on your tombstone.

From the game: “It can be any word you want, of any part of speech. It may describe you or some philosophy you have, or not. It is your word. (Once chosen,) you may never change the word on your imaginary tombstone.”

The game starts once you read the instructions. When you’re ready to make your move, you email your word to the site owners, who will add it to a page they call “The Graveyard” and there it will stay.

Clearly this is a fairly elastic definition of what a “game” is. Whom are you playing against? (Yourself.) How do you win? (You win as long as you think the word is still fitting.) How long does the game last? (How long will you live?)

Why write about this game now? My memories of Tombstone were sparked by Tom Moriarty’s excellent series of columns this year on how to cultivate both self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Tom’s previous two columns have addressed the importance of having a personal vision and mission statement and when it comes to achieving professional success. His series concludes in this issue by targeting the importance of knowing your personal values. His headline is direct: “What do you want to be known for?”

This the same question asked by Tombstone, and Tom argues in his column that knowing the answer to this question is an important on-the-job asset, as reflecting on your personal mission, vision, and values before taking action helps you be consistent.

It took me more than five years of continuous play in order to select my word. And despite 16 years of growth after being added to The Graveyard, I’m still happy with my choice.