The Game of Life: One Year After Graduation

I graduated from NUS Business School on 13th July 2016. Today marks my one-year anniversary of graduation and let’s just say while many things didn’t go as planned, I would like to think that kept me flexible and adaptive to different situations.

Recently, I spoke to a close friend about uncertainty and how we lack control over future events and circumstances. “But that’s just the game of life, isn’t it? If everything were clear, then there wouldn’t be a need for faith in what we do,” she responded.

Within these 365 days, I have pushed through with some projects, learned a great deal of new things, but also envied one too many friend’s jobs, faced some rejections and gravely trusted the wrong people…

Although it’s been a hard year, there’s just one thing I’ve come to realize: to not actively count these obstacles or bad events that knock me down. It’s one thing to be aware of what you can learn from past obstacles, but another thing to acknowledge and obsessively recount or list these past events as justifying/defining why it’s been a ‘bad’ year for you. As a new graduate in the process of #adulting, the most important thing from a self-management perspective is not making sure you choose The Correct Path, but learning how you respond to events on this path you have chosen to take. In line with how we’re players in this game called life, let me share the three childhood games that gave me insight into self-management and being an effective employee:

Snakes & Ladders

We constantly find ourselves in different occasions by chance; a good opportunity, the right network, or a timely conversation may be a ladder that moves us higher up the ladder of success (however we define it), whereas a wrong move, misplaced trust or an unfortunate event might do the very opposite. As a fresh graduate, I find this insight both interesting and poignant – interesting, because it reminds me that detours may not necessarily set you back in life – a few steps backward, and perhaps you’ll land on a ladder that’ll bring you higher; poignant, because life may throw a curveball at you and send you spiralling down some of the steps you tried so hard to reach.

Sometimes these detours open new doors to Plans B and C that can bring you success in another way. There is always more than one way to get to the top…

A few years back, I was at a women’s conference organized by one of the banks in Singapore. We had to introduce ourselves and share one of the happiest/proudest moments of our lives with the other participants. I was very impressed when one of my colleagues frankly responded, “one of my happiest moments was when I was rejected from the dentistry faculty; it was then that I realized I could explore my other passion in marketing, and hence end up doing what I love for a job today.” I was pleasantly surprised by her positive mindset! I respected her tenacity in turning setbacks into new opportunities, and viewing ‘snakes’ as a minor hurdle, and nothing more. Through her optimism and initiative in seeking new opportunities, she managed to find a passion, or ‘ladder’, that brought her higher up her steps of success (doing what she likes as a job). While a minor hurdle may seem bad in a micro perspective, these few steps backward helped her find her true calling in the field of marketing. Whatever the situation, detours are okay. Sometimes these detours open new doors to Plans B and C that can bring you success in another way. There is always more than one way to get to the top. Just keep your eyes on the goal and focus what you’re aiming for. You’ll never know when a new opportunity may come your way that’ll propel you to somewhere higher than you would have been without a detour.

Lesson learnt: Detours may be shortcuts in disguise. You can’t control opportunities but you can control how you react toward them. Remain focused on your goal, seek out new opportunities and you may find yourself on the fast track to success.


While reading Sophie’s World a few years ago, I was mulling over why Lego is considered the most ingenious toy in the world. To me, Lego represents a physical manifestation of atoms – small, unbreakable items with which bigger sculptures are formed. Everything begins with small blocks of Legos, and grows into something bigger. These things can then be deconstructed back into its modular pieces, and built back up into something completely different.

Interestingly, playing with Lego has taught me the power of imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Ayah Bdeir, CEO of littleBits, aptly expresses my fascination with Lego: “LEGO has essentially taken the concrete block, the building block of the world, and made it into the building block of our imagination.” Especially in dynamic roles like strategy and consulting, being adaptable and seeing things from multiple perspectives can help you solve problems in a creative way.

Keep the root ideas, preserve the core message, and use your creativity and imagination to create and build on new ideas that can wow your audience

These Lego blocks also impart a simple, infallible approach to thinking and processes: start small and grow bigger. Delight your customers by taking something ordinary and known, and turn it into something extraordinary and impactful. Nathan Sawaya, a Lego artist, echoes my thoughts about Lego: “I like using LEGO bricks as a medium because I enjoy seeing people’s reaction to artwork created from something with which they are familiar… My goal is to elevate this simple plaything to a place it has never been before.” In the way that Lego is used to build great structures, a similar approach can be adopted toward ideation and brainstorming at work – keep the root ideas, preserve the core message, and use your creativity and imagination to create and build on new ideas that can wow your audience.

Lesson learnt: Big things start small. Focus on your core insights and build bigger. Inject creativity in the work you do.

Guess Who

A two-player character guessing game where each player is presented with an identical board consisting 24 plastic flaps, with each open flap bearing a picture of a different character. In private, each player chooses a particular character for the opponent to guess. Both parties then must ask smart ‘yes-no’ questions, in turns, to slowly eliminate the other 23 characters that they deduce are not the opponent’s chosen character. The party who guesses the right character first wins.

The strategy of Guess Who is an easy one – the winner would be the one who can pick out key differentiating factors between the chosen character and the other 23 characters. In other words, being different allows one to stand out, and hence win the game. The underlying idea is the same in reality – to stand out in a sea of fresh graduates, find a differentiating factor that makes you different from others. Do you have great grades, an overseas internship, or a certification in a certain technical skill? What about a passion in your hobby, a willingness to speak up, or a hunger and drive for learning? If you meet someone in a C-suite position, how would you leave an impression?

What’s your x-factor?

Find out what drives you and work toward that goal. At the same time, don’t force yourself into a ‘glamourous’ industry because you believe it’ll boost your resume. Doing something you’re passionate in showcases your individuality and keeps you mentally and emotionally refreshed for more challenges. Results aren’t everything – you are made up of experiences, skills, talent, and not your cumulative grade points. Companies want individuality, so be yourself!

Lesson learnt: What’s your x-factor? The best way to differentiate yourself from others is to pursue something you genuinely enjoy, so you can be your own unique blend of experiences and skills. Find what drives you, both in your career and leisure. Keep learning and keep growing.

In addition to these three games, I find these two game strategies very applicable to my first year of work. I hope you find them useful too:

1) Pick your battles

Unfortunately, you don’t always get to choose the path you want to take. Some options may be open to you; others, closed. An important aspect of self-management is knowing that you can’t win all the time. It doesn’t matter if your friend has had overseas internships, secured a job at a prestigious company, or is earning a high salary. You can still achieve other milestones if you stay driven toward your own goals. Focus on winning the war (reaching your ultimate goal in the long-term), not stressing over the small battles. I’d rather you pick and win some, than fail at everything. Picking a battle forces you to ensure that the considerable amount of time, effort, and money you put into fighting is worth it. Which battles are worth fighting?

2) Gaming with intention

In a round of Monopoly, you may begin with a goal of being the richest, or owning three hotels each on Park Lane and Mayfair. Any subsequent moves, though challenging, will be taken with the intention of achieving these goals. These are goals you set for yourself, rather than goals dictated to you (i.e. bankrupting all other players with your abundance of hotels). These goals that you set, attain and are satisfied with, are part of a life philosophy known as intentional living.

The following quotes summarize the goals of intentional living:

  • “Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.” – Richie Norton, author, The Power of Starting Something Stupid
  • “Self discipline is the ability to make yourself do something you don’t necessarily want to do, to get a result you would really like to have.” – Andy Andrews, author, The Traveler’s Gift

Intentional living is about knowing what you want, and being happy with your decisions. It focuses on awareness and adaptability – the awareness of your own beliefs, and the willingness to adapt your behaviour to fit in line with your goals (self-discipline). When you practice intentional living, you will lead a purposeful and productive life.

If there’s anything this past year taught me, it’s to keep your mind active on the good things. The mind is stronger than you think – it is your personal repository of great ideas, a thinking machine, the source of your drive and optimism. Opportunities come and go all the time – and while we don’t have control over that, we have the ability to remain creative, practice intentional living and be a person we can constantly be proud of. After all, every experience is an opportunity to better yourself, right?

Motivational Mountain

Sometimes it’s not about how much more there is to achieve, but it’s about celebrating the milestones you’ve passed…

What other games remind you of something important? Share them with me in the comments below!

Have a few more minutes to spare? You can read my other marketing articles on Pokemon Go (here and here) and the Youtility book review, share this with someone who’s graduating/needs a little pick-me-up, or drop by my profile and endorse my skills/provide a recommendation. Thank you!

Heather Lee graduated from NUS Business School with a double specialization in Marketing and Management. She enjoys reading up on marketing, branding and advertising news, and, when not doing so, enjoys illustrating and working on her side projects.

Read the original article here: The Game of Life: One Year After Graduation

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