Recently i was playing a board game with my 4 and half year old. We were playing a newer version of my favorite game when I was young. The reason it was my favorite is that even the ‘loser’ was still successful, just not as successful as the winner. I always enjoyed the idea that there really was no winner or loser when I looked at the meaning of the game, beyond the points.
As I was playing with him, he actually kept winning. The game is listed as for 8 and above, and yet my 4 y/o kept winning. We had very different strategies. He would only go to places in the game where he liked the color of the area. Whereas i had a ‘real’ strategy based on trying to win by having the most money as this was how i remembered playing as a kid. I earned degrees and tried to make the most money by staying in areas that rewarded the player with financial gains. He kept going into the yellow and purple colors and getting points for having a family and living life. Funny enough, he had no idea what he was doing or why he was getting points for having a family and going on adventures. The first game we played, I had tons of money and a Ph.d. (Wonder why I wanted those things) and he had a wife, 3 kids, a house, a car and went on vacations or family related adventures. When all was said and done, and the points were tallied, he, or more accurately his character, won without having the traditional markers of success, i.e. a good job or a degree. He had a modest job, a family and was enjoying life, yet arose as the winner.
Imagining this situation is real, look at these 2 characters. My character is sitting alone in his fancy house with his fancy car, counting his money and reading his scholarly articles. Where his character is spending time with his wife and 3 kids going out on countless adventures. Really just enjoying life without worrying about having money or being a successful doctor. The game even includes paying bills, subtracting money for having kids and going on vacation. Even with all that, the character still won because of living his life to the fullest rather than only focusing on money.
Strangely, I try to live my life the way he played the game, and yet when trying to play a game I chose a different strategy. Needless to say, I did some serious thinking about my life at this point. The next day, I took the lesson my 4 year old taught me and applied it to the game. The next time we played, I went toward having a family, going on adventures, not buying the biggest houses and fancy cars, etc… He played a different way as well. He copied my previous play and wanted to make money, staying within a money and career focused approach. Guess who won?
He was so shocked that I won that round. “I had more money, how did you win?” Try explaining to a 4 year old that living life to the fullest is more important than making money. Especially when they know that money buys the toys that they cherish so dearly. Although he didn’t quite understand how he lost, it was an important lesson for me. Without any intention whatsoever, and simply by playing a game, I was able to accidentally change his focus from a fun, carefree life to a life focused on money and material goods. Luckily it was a game, but an important lesson nonetheless. It was quite easy to make, what could be, a lasting impression on a young child’s life, for better or worse. Although it was just a game, I wonder how much he internalized and now long it will take me to un-teach that accidental lesson.
Of equal importance is how we choose to live our lives. Sometimes it feels like we are predisposed to focus on money and material successes. I find myself needing to be reminded often of what is really important to me. Yes, I do find money and career success quite important, however, at what expense. The first 2 years of my son’s life I was working 12 hour days and weekends so I can afford the nicer things in life for my family. The cost was having my son ask if he was going to see me on any given day. Once he started asking that, it instantly hit me that work should not be that important. I can survive with lesser material goods and eating out less often if it means i can spend more time with my family.
This seemingly meaningless game that I thought I was just playing for fun, made me refocus on what is truly important in my life. Hopefully this helps you develop the balance and focus that you need in your life as well.