2 Surprising Life Lessons from Ender's Game

Tommy Leung wrote this on Apr 18, 2018
4 minute read

Reading is a habit I developed in childhood. I’ve always loved libraries and book stores. I remember spending summers reading books like the Indian in the Cupboard.

I also borrowed books about finding ghosts and drawing comics.

The library was a world of infinite knowledge. I could learn anything I wanted once I found a book about it.

My love of reading has persisted to this day. I haven’t spent a month without reading a new book. The difference today is that I mainly read non-fiction.

Fiction takes a backseat. Part of me feels like it is a waste of time even though I spend plenty of time watching movies on Netflix.

The more rational part of me understands that there’s plenty to learn from fiction so I sprinkle it in from time to time.

And my favorite fiction is Ender’s Game.

I’ve only read the actual book once or twice but I’ve listened to the audiobook countless times. Possibly close to a hundred.

“The essence of training is to allow error without consequence.”

Ender’s Game

One of the most important lessons from Ender’s Game is that you should learn from your mistakes.

Especially the mistakes from your successes.

There’s this thing called Battle School where teams compete against each other to see which team is the best.

You can think of it like any major sports league.

Ender is a prodigy so his team handily beats everyone else. But Ender never basks in his success.

He performs retrospectives immediately after each match he wins. He asks his team what they did wrong? What they could have done better? And then they practice to fix those shortcomings.

Shortcomings from winning.

We tend to assume that successful people, companies, or groups are successful because they performed the best.

But the best performance is relative to the specific struggle. It is not an absolute best. And often times the best yesterday won’t be the best tomorrow.

This is why it is often better to learn from people who tried and failed then those who tried and succeeded.

It is harder to accurately assess our successes than it is to accurately assess our failures.

We don’t often wonder what could have happened to derail our success but we will think through what we could have done differently to avoid failure.

Very few of us bother learning from our successes. We just assume we were smart and knew what to do so there’s nothing to learn.

But we intuitively know that this is not true if we take a step back and look at ourselves from a third person perspective.

Success inflates our egos to a point where we can no longer see clearly.

We can stay more clear-headed by doing what Ender does and analyze the mistakes from our successes just like we would from our failures.

Treat them the same way. Both are just learning opportunities. Don’t let the positive or negative connotations influence your analysis.

“Ender Wiggin must believe that no matter what happens, no adult will ever, ever step in to help him in any way.”

Ender’s Game

The second most important lesson from Ender’s Game is that no hero will come to save you.

Battle School was preparation for Ender to lead human forces in an intergalactic war for our survival.

One of the key parts to Ender’s training was that no matter what happened no adult could come to his aid. He had to learn to figure it out with the resources he had.

The lesson is not that we should never ask for help or that we should do everything ourselves. Ender had plenty of help from his friends.

The lesson is that no higher authority will save you. Don’t rely on a higher power. All you have is what is in front of you. And that will be enough.

How many times have you heard someone say, “All I need is this one big break and I’ll be set!”

You may have said it yourself.

Hoping some power outside your influence will smile—or take pity—upon you and make your troubles go away.

You can spend your entire life waiting for that lucky break. It is not a strategy. It is wishing.

Don’t spend your whole life waiting for others to give you what you want. Instead, take it for yourself.

You are your most reliable bet. Figure out how to solve your own problems. Doing so gives you the confidence to solve more problems in the future.

Life is a series of problems. They will never end. Learning that you can overcome them is critically important even if you aren’t fighting for the survival of human kind.

“You will be about to lose, Ender, but you will win. You will learn to defeat the enemy. He will teach you how.”

Ender’s Game