The Game of Life


I have come to look at life as a game. Not that game. More like Settlers of Catan. In life, as in Catan, everyone starts in a certain position. That position is partly determined by chance. As a result, initially everyone has access to different resources.* Strong players do not use their starting position as a crutch. They find creative ways of gaining access to resources over time. Trade and relationship building are key.

In my experience, the majority of players in life are weak ones. That’s not to say they are weak people. Just weak players. There are lots of ways to explore this distinction but because of this blog’s theme, let’s start with money.

I have met many individuals who are slaves to their money. For these people money is always a limiting factor. There is never “enough” money for X, Y, or Z. Note that this is independent of income. You would be surprised how many hedge fund managers are slaves to their money, even with net worth figures in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Weak players do not realize that income and spending are not external forces acting on otherwise hapless human beings. Money is a resource. It is a raw material you use to design and build a meaningful life.

The use of the indefinite article “a” versus the definite article “the” is quite intentional here. Money is hardly the only raw material required to build a meaningful life. Other materials include empathy, creativity, compassion–the amount of each required to build out a meaningful life will vary with the individual.

The key to becoming a strong player in The Game of Life is to locate control within yourself. You are the architect and head contractor on the project of living. Yes, external forces can have a dramatic impact. But a surprising amount of the game lies within your locus of control.

Thus, strong players tend to do the following:

  • Make investments with convex return profiles. I am not just talking about money here. This can be any decision to improve your education, skills, or health. When you invest in yourself, the benefits tend to compound over time. If you are interested in a deeper discussion of this, listen to this interview with Chris Cole:
  • Selflessly invest in others. Again, I am not talking about financial investments. Doing simple things like taking a few minutes to do an informational interview with a job seeker, or helping a co-worker with a project in an area of your expertise, also has a convex return profile. Not only does it feel good to help other people, but it also helps build a stronger relationships and a solid reputation. You never know who someone else might know, and it is relationships that make the world go round. And for the umpteenth time, I am not just talking business! John Wathen is a powerful example.
  • Practice optimism. It is difficult to build anything, let alone a worthwhile life, if you only ever see the worst in everything. A moderate dose of cynicism will not put you down. However, chronic pessimism is an incredibly destructive thought pattern. Pessimists tend to focus on external forces they can’t control, versus aspects of their daily lives they control completely. You have definitely met chronic pessimists. These are the people who spend their lives hurtling from one crisis to the next. They are chronically ill. They are constantly distracted by relationship problems. There is never enough money and it is always someone else’s fault.
  • Minimize/eliminate the role of chronic pessimists in life. As a natural consequence of their unpleasant disposition, chronic pessimists are not enjoyable people to spend time around. They drain your energy. If you have the misfortune to work on a team with one you will quickly realize they are shirkers, ever-reluctant to pull their weight. Unless you have a special gift for coaching and leadership, the most efficient way to deal with chronic pessimists is to cut them out of your personal life and workplace.

Above all else, however, strong players in the game of life act with intention. They think through the consequences of their actions ahead of time. They think strategically about how they should deploy their time and financial resources in pursuit of their goals. They are mindful of their thoughts and emotions and how those may influence perception and behavior. They understand that to a great extent, people create their own realities. There is probably plenty more to be added to this list, but the way I see it these are the essentials.

* If you are curious, I believe the role of government in society is to promote equality of access to opportunities.

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