As I kid I loved Snakes and Ladders. I don’t even know if you can find that board game anywhere anymore, but I enjoyed it. (Okay, I just found it on Ebay for $2).
It was pretty simple. Basically you roll the dice to see how many spaces you can move forward. The first person to the end wins. You hope to land on a ladder (which lets you skip a bunch of steps). And you want to avoid the snakes (which make you slide back, giving up a lot of your progress).
I realized today that I’ve been using Snakes and Ladders as a guiding allegory for my life. Since I was a kid I’ve been using this game to make tactical decisions about my life.
Life isn’t slow and steady
Think of ladders as things that can rapidly advance you ahead of the crowd. These are things that help you to “arrive” faster –to be financially secure, happy, successful, self-actualized earlier than you would otherwise.
You’re probably familiar with the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of our returns in life come from just 20% of our efforts. The 80/20 rule suggests that we should focus on the things that give us the most bang for our buck. The Snakes and Ladders idea is similar to this: avoid unproductive behavior and invest the time into building yourself an advantage of some kind.
Examples of Ladders:
Making property investments made when you’re young. There are several investment strategies you can use. Property is the one that’s always made the most sense to me. The key is starting early. (And I suppose the key to that is being disciplined about savings from a young age).
Getting a university degree. Aside from the increased feelings of personal effectiveness and being more interesting at parties, a college master’s degree is worth $1.3 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma (and about another million on top of that if you get a PhD). (You could debate this, on the grounds of correlation versus causation, but if you thought of that you probably already have a degree and therefore you don’t want to).
Having a trade. Very much like a degree, having an in-demand trade sets you up well to branch out on your own and really cash in. However, it also seems like those who really benefit from having a trade are those with some business acumen as well, so they can fully cash-in when the moment is right.
Being a well-known brand. Personal branding is one of the new next-big-things. I encourage people to take some actions to dominant their ‘name space’ online, to make it so that when someone types in their name in Google, they are the first one that comes up and that they’re happy with the information being shared. (If you type in Tim Woods in Google you’ll find that I still come behind a Tim Woods who was also known as “Mr Wrestling” and Tim Woods, an Australian composer). But I’m getting there. And, even at #3 in my name space, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from my efforts online. (I got a job, was chosen to judge a national environmental competition and become an internationally recognized expert on slang… don’t ask).
Being happily married. Research shows being in a marriage that lasts correlates strongly with sustained career success and better health in old age. Also it’s nice to have someone to share clean-up duties. Long-term, stable friendships can have similar benifits.
Understanding risk. People have money personalities. Some people avoid debt (even good-debt) like the plague. And those poor people don’t leverage their money. So they miss-out on long-term benifits –such as being able to retire.
Learning a language. This one is actually more of an ‘alleged ladder’. I don’t actually know any bilingual people who credit their success to their bilingualism. However, I’ve always suspected that if I spoke another language I’d be unstoppable, so I’m keeping this one in the Ladder category.
Examples of Snakes:
Going bankrupt. Even with bankruptcy protection, there can be lingering effects from bankruptcy that will snake you back down a few steps.
Getting arrested. In these days of ubiquitous information, it’s hard to hide mistakes from your past.
Getting divorced. For some people divorce goes smoothly. But for others it can put an enormous emotional and financial strain on your life for a very long time.
Can you think of any more snakes or ladders? Please add them in the comments.
(Update: Just before posting this, I’ve learned the game Snakes and Ladders was originally called Moksha-Patamu. “Of Hindu origin, it taught the players that virtuous behavior would aid your progression to Nirvana, but evil would make the journey difficult.” I told you this game was deep, didn’t I?)