Strategy Schmategy: Finding the Perfect Someone

Howdy folks! I’m back to talk about making your events better, and today in particular I’m going to talk about finding the Perfect Someone to run your events… You! Or, to be precise, a more perfect version of you that lives inside yourself, waiting to be discovered.

The core message of today’s article is “we can always improve.” It’s been said that the judge program is a “Cult of Self Improvement”, and while at times that was said as a criticism, I believe it is important that we all strive to find ways to better ourselves. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean pursuing additional certifications, or doing things that other people see as better, but rather discovering what our personal goals are and trying to optimize our chances of success.

Feeding the Feedback Machine

Before we get too deep into the weeds – I want to talk a bit about why feedback and the culture of improvement are so important. Judging is, ideally, something that we do for fun – something that we do for our own enjoyment, as well as to help the community grow and prosper. Creating an environment where we have fun, as well as one where players have fun, is great and there’s always room for improvement. Furthermore, feedback is one of the things that I find brings the judge community together. Throughout my time in various other professional fields, I have never been a part of another community that values feedback so highly, and actually follows through on it.

I have read plenty of emails or job descriptions that say they welcome an environment of open discourse and feedback, but there’s rarely much follow through. In the judge program, it’s not just possible, but encouraged for someone who is on their first day to give feedback to someone who has been doing this for decades. Frequently level 3 judges are desperate for feedback and would love to hear the opinions of anyone who has insight or a new perspective.

Judging is very much self-driven. This isn’t something you start doing because you need to, it’s something you start doing because you want to, and you push yourself to higher levels because of that desire. It’s exciting to be a part of something that you’re passionate about. Like Magic players who want to get better at playing the game, we judges want to get better at answering rules calls, figuring out solutions to complicated policy situations, optimizing logistical challenges, and growing our understanding of how we can improve our community. 

Feedback is important because it lets us do what we want to do, but do it even better. Being able to ask for and receive actionable critical feedback (as well as, of course, actionable positive and supportive feedback) is crucial to our personal success as judges. 

Okay, so that got away from me a little bit, but I am deeply passionate about feedback and learning how to improve. (If you have any feedback for me about the work that I do, my door is always open at I can talk for hours about feedback, and I have, and I will. But I’m going to try to keep this on the shorter end of things, so you can go on with your day. 

Look Deep Inside, Ask the Big Questions

Today, as I mentioned, I want to talk about finding improvement within yourself. There’s a lot here, and this will likely expand into several articles, but for now we’re going to start with what I see as the fundamentals of self-evaluation.

Self-evaluation can be scary because, at the core of it, you’re looking at yourself and saying “Where did I screw up? What things did I do massively wrong? And how can I avoid that shame again?” You have to look critically at your errors, and sometimes the conclusion you come to is “I couldn’t have done better” which is scary. The other option of “I could have done better” can also be just as disheartening.

Of course, the statement “everything short of perfection is irrelevant” couldn’t be further from the truth. Doing a good job (that falls just shy of perfection) and trying to do better are both powerful and proper things that we should be proud of.

When you’re lying awake at night remembering the time you screwed up a draft so badly you had to offer a player a month of drafts to get them to return to the store, or the time you issued a game loss incorrectly without consulting anyone and then having to fix that mess, it’s also important to remember the times when a player came up to you and said “Thanks for taking the time to explain that interaction. I’ve been playing against it all day, but didn’t really understand what was going on” or the time when a player thanked you for investigating them, because that meant they knew you were doing your due diligence and would catch someone who was acting nefariously in the event. Mistakes are inevitable, but learning from them takes time and effort. Reflecting on your missteps is what makes them valuable.

Before you go too deep into your evaluation, the first step is figuring out who you are and what you want. While I said that we’re all (generally) here because we want to be, we still have different motivations that have brought us to this point, and understanding your own motivations and desires is key to beginning progress.

It’s a personal philosophy of mine that everyone has some sort of somewhat-selfish motivator. If you’re a rules guru, maybe you started to prove how smart you are to yourself (or maybe to other people). Maybe you started judging because an event was run poorly and you wanted the events to go more smoothly so you could have more fun playing in them. Maybe you felt there wasn’t enough of a local community among players – or maybe there was one, and you wanted to be a part of it or improve upon it. It doesn’t matter to me why you started – but it does matter to you. Identifying that motivator will help you understand your focus and where you can improve. I started judging because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. This means that when I run out of next steps and future challenges, I may peter off and slow down – but understanding what motivates me (proving to myself that I can do more) gives me the context I need to evaluate my actions.

This intentionally cultivated self-awareness helped me realize early on that I wanted to always be pushing for another certification, or a role that I hadn’t experienced, or managing a task that I hadn’t been assigned before – and it meant that I had to keep an eye on myself when I was doing tasks that I had felt that I had mastered (even though I certainly had not) because otherwise I would grow bored or complacent (or worse, both) and then things would go off the rails. This was, perversely, a good thing for me because then I got to do something exciting and fun and new in putting out the metaphorical fire I had caused, but in the long run, it was a bad thing. So step one is figuring out what your short-term goals are, where your next step in the judge program is. Don’t be afraid to dream big, but keep the next step attainable. While you may have just certified and head judging a Pro Tour sounds exciting, maybe aim for working a local competitive event, or earning level 2 certification; your goals are achievable if you put in the time and dedication, but the process needs to be broken down into smaller steps.

Discovering our own motivations can be challenging and intimidating. When I say that we all have selfish motivations, I mean that, but without the negative connotations. We want things for ourselves, and that’s okay as long as we don’t let it cost other people. Wanting a better community is great, because not only will you get a better community to be a part of, but it improves the environment for everyone around you. Even still, it can sometimes be difficult to self-advocate and saying “I’m here because I want to be respected for my knowledge and experience, and I feel like I am not” can be hard. Admitting to yourself that you aren’t perfect, that you have failings or wants that you don’t see in other people is, to put it simply, uncomfortable.

It’s Ok to Be a Little Selfish

Now, I’ve talked a lot about the “why’s” of these motivations, but how on earth do you figure out what actually motivates you? There’s a good chance you already know, but it’s possible that you feel guilty about it. It’s important to remember that the motivation itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and what matters is what you do with that motivation. Wanting to have authority and have people do what you tell them sounds like a tyrannical motivation. But if you acknowledge that desire, and focus on becoming someone people want to listen to, you may find yourself organizing a regional tournament series with players, judges, and TOs asking you what to do because they have grown to trust your sound advice. 

Think about it while you’re ruminating over past mistakes while lying in bed at night, or on your commute to work. What draws me to judging? If you’re still not sure, talk to your friends – share with them what you want, and ask them how they perceive your actions – what it looks like you want. Self-evaluation doesn’t necessitate solo-evaluation. You have many friends and colleagues who can share their own insight. Not only can they, but many want to – we enjoy lifting up our friends and helping them improve, and even on a selfish level, providing feedback to our peers makes our lives easier. Together the community can grow stronger and we can learn more.

This is, of course, only step one. Figuring out your motivation is only the first layer of the foundation in finding the Perfect Someone. It’s a long process, and this is something that I’m going to absolutely be delving into deeper, but in the meantime, for yourself:

Why do you judge?