Modesty and Dangerous Perception Shifts

As you gain experience, your perception of your position and other people’s perception of your position change. For the most part, this experience is incredibly valuable and you could surely impart wisdom to newcomers if asked. But with that experience comes an inevitable perception shift, one that I argue can be dangerous and fought back only through modesty.

I’ve been working in game development for only four years, and have released only one game with my studio. I’m by no means an expert, nor am I very experienced. But I went from being thrilled to be asked even to be in a survey of game development studios, to feeling now like I’m doing it for them and for their data. I went from being thrilled when invited to talk about something in front of a small group of 15 college students to only really being thrilled by having a talk accepted at big events like GDC, the biggest games conference in North America.

Does that make me sound a bit like an asshole? It might, and becoming that asshole is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

I’m in a place now where I don’t feel I need that small talk to help the company with visibility, or to help solidify my place in the games industry. But at the same time, I realize very well that I am no better than the person who started in the industry yesterday— I simply have more experience. The feeling that I don’t constantly need to be trying to find and take every opportunity that comes my way is completely fine, as long as my perception of myself doesn’t change to put me “above” somebody else.

Modesty is one of the most important traits to keep up as you have more experience and success, and it gets harder the more success you have. I’ve noticed this in myself already and we only have one game and it’s not Minecraft (i.e. we haven’t made billions of dollars). But modesty doesn’t come from doing all of the events or prioritizing things that aren’t right to prioritize at this point in my career. Modesty comes from fighting this perception shift that puts you above others in your own mind and makes you come across as an asshole.

Modesty is assuming nobody knows your game/product when talking to them at a conference, rather than being shocked when someone hasn’t heard of it (I’ve met people like this quite a few times). Modesty is appreciating that luck played a part in your success. Modesty is understanding the advantages you had from the start, for example, starting a company in my city where cost of living is cheap and government money is available for game projects. Modesty is framing your suggestions to others in your field as opinions and not as factual improvements to their products.

Modesty is helping out a newcomer to your field of work by taking them under your wing when they’re a few years behind you in terms of experience.

I mentioned that the perception change can be dangerous, and I think that there’s a less obvious catalyst for this, that is, the fact that other people’s perception of you changes. Everyone else in the world has the same potential to make uninformed conclusions about your success; applauding it as having come directly from your skill, ignoring the environmental factors, forgetting about the team that surrounded you in your endeavours, etc.

People might tell you that you’re great, and that’s fine. That’s great in fact! You are great. I’m all for self-love and for appreciating your positive qualities. But you are not “better” than the person without experience simply because you have that experience, and even if you thought you were, you shouldn’t act as if you are.

Again, as experience changes, things will change. The events you go to, the way you focus your time, the leads you choose to follow, these may all change. But that doesn’t have to change you, the person who is humble and modest and appreciates whatever success they have, whether that’s simply survival in your industry or billions of dollars of financial success. Some of the most successful people I’ve met have also been the most modest, and true modesty is the way to push back this perception shift.

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