I was originally introduced to the origins of Monopoly as being created to teach families about money management. But after reading an article about its supposed true origins, it seems the sentiment of its creator was that monopolies were bad and everyone should be rewarded by creating wealth, rather than creating monopolies and crushing opponents. According to this article, two sets of rules were created for the game, promoting these opposing strategies, with the public ultimately preferring the monopolistic set of rules we are familiar with today. That public demand determined we teach our children to kill others’ dreams of owning all the railroads, while trying to build a hotel for themselves on Boardwalk and hike up the rent.

What’s my point? It’s that even though we as a market opted for the exploitative, revenue-crushing version, there are still some soul-saving lessons to be learned from the game.

A roll of the dice can land you anywhere.

You have no control over where you start or what gets put in your way by external forces. The same rain that waters your crops will also drown them in a flood. Life cares not about your plans. I know, that’s a little heavy to ingest, but it’s not all bad. It just means that you have the opportunity to steel yourself against hardships by letting go of the perception of control. I’m sure you’ve played a game involving dice where someone tried to control how the dice landed – how mad were you at that person? It follows that you should likewise be mad at yourself for trying to control the dice of life. Work from where you are because that’s where you are. That might sound overly simplistic, but it’s overly accurate. You can’t buy Boardwalk while you’re on a railroad or in jail.

Know when to pass and when to buy in.

The typical behavior in Monopoly is to buy the first properties you come upon. Within the first few rounds of play, people are buying properties like they were spending…well, that analogy is a little too apt here. There are a couple of ideas to unpack in this one. First, you need to pace yourself. Life is a marathon and I don’t mean that in a cliché way. According to the CDC, the average life expectancy is just shy of 30,000 days – that’s a lot. If you burn yourself (or your resources) out early, you don’t have anything left. If you say “Yes” to every opportunity, you stretch yourself so thin that each endeavor is getting just a fraction of what you’re worth. So slow your brain down, take a deep breath, and truly consider every option that lands in your path – if you fully commit to a few of them, you’ll invariably be saying “No” to most of them. The second idea is that you need to protect your future assets. When you accept everything now, you’re not keeping anything in storage in case that unlucky roll of the dice lands you on someone’s property that has four houses. There’s a lot of analogous language here, but it boils down to making sure you aren’t mortgaging your future. Okay, I know, that was just more of the analogy.

Life is lonely if you see it as a zero-sum.

It says it right there on the box: For 2-6 players. What does that mean? You can’t play alone. Same goes for life. This relates back to that monopolistic view of the world. If you see everything you have as something others don’t have, or vice versa, you’ll train yourself to help others accordingly. For example, if someone needs your time, you’ll start to believe that time needs to be compensated because if they have your time, you don’t; thus you should get something out of the deal. Instead, if you look at is as building a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, you’ll be investing in a payout bigger than just a simple tradeoff. Whether you believe in the value of ROI or karma, a good investment is one in yourself; a better investment is one in the community of people.

Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Monopoly is a game – and as such, it has one simple, but agonizing truth that might shake your very existence when it comes to symbolizing your life: You’re supposed to have fun. If you leave a game of Monopoly no longer speaking to your best friend because she wouldn’t trade Illinois for Pacific Ave, and then she got three Community Chest cards in a row that earned her over $500, it’s safe to say you are doing it wrong. As it relates to life, here are three points: 1) Stop measuring your pace time by someone else’s stopwatch; you are you and they are not. 2) Build relationships with people, not things; Pacific Ave isn’t coming to your birthday party. 3) It’s good to take a step back once in a while and laugh at yourself; we’re humans, we make mistakes, and a lot of times, those mistakes are hilarious.

In reality, most people don’t even read the instructions to the game, they just make up house rules to make the game better.

So remember, it’s your life. What are your house rules?

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