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Thriving in Life's Chutes & Ladders

I've had a lot of conversations lately around the analogy of life as a game of perpetual "chutes and ladders." The reference is to the board game Chutes and Ladders

If you've never played the board game before, the goal is to advance along a path and finish first. Players advance a few blocks at a time, with a couple of exceptions. 

Throughout the path, you could land on one of two types of spots: 

  1. A "ladder" spot. This allows you to climb a ladder and advance on the path quickly, surpassing other players with ease. It feels good to land on a ladder spot and the immediate advancement that comes with it!

  2. A "chutes" spot. When you land on a "chute spot", you slide back on the path. One particular "chute spot" is located near the finish line. If you happen to land on this unfortunate spot, you slide back almost to the beginning spot. A player who lands on this spot has had the end in sight and once had the potential to become the ultimate winner. That player is now having to start back almost at the beginning. It feels very much like a setback. 

Chutes and Ladders - In Life

Can you think about a time you experienced a "Ladder Spot" in your life? This would be a time when you achieved a certain goal, had something positive happen, or had an experience that moved you forward faster.

You likely experienced thoughts and feelings like these: 

  • This feels so good! I hope things stay this way.  

  • I'm thankful for this opportunity.

  • I'm excited about what the future holds.

  • I'm proud to have made it to this point. 

  • I'm motivated to take some risks and keep pushing forward.

  • Things just seemed to fall in place so quickly to get here. 

Whether we put in the work or it was made possible through opportunities made available to us, it's a good feeling to have a "ladder spot" moment. 


Now, think of the "Chute Spots" of your life. These are things that created a personal setback.

Chances are, in these situations, you may have experienced these thoughts and feelings: 

  • Why me? Why now? 

  • Why can't I ever catch a break? 

  • This will never change. (Or a variation - he or she will never change.) 

  • It's always going to be this way (and not in a good way.)

  • Even if I did try, nothing would be different. 

  • I'm the only one who's going to look out for me. 

  • I can't ever let my guard down again. 

  • It's all their fault. 

I've experienced both Chutes and Ladders moments in my own life, whether it be personal, professional, or relational.

It's easier to stay positive in the Ladder moments.

During the Chutes moments/seasons, I've seen firsthand where the impact of my thoughts determined my ability to move forward. Many times, I'd get stuck in the negative thinking patterns described above. It's normal.

It's when I continue to believe my "Chutes" thoughts over time that I choose not to move forward, and I miss any chance for future Ladders. 

As the saying goes:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”     -- Lao Tzu

The Ladder Of Accountability

The good news and that bad news:

  • Our Brains Believe What We Think.

  • We Act On Our Beliefs.

If we believe we have power over our circumstances, we find opportunities to move forward (even in "Chutes" circumstances.) We now see - and climb - ladders and see that our setback was our setup for a comeback. 

In Chutes and Ladders, landing on a ladder spot is left up to chance.

I want to suggest another ladder model that we have the power to choose in our day-to-day life.

This ladder is one that, if each of us courageously committed to climbing this ladder, we would experience better outcomes, stronger relationships, more productivity and personal peace. 


The Ladder of Accountability

Click here for a more detailed review of each level.

The base of the ladder is where most of us start. We’re “unaware or unconscious” of our growth areas. We don’t have a vision for how different actions would lead to different – better – outcomes. So, we just keep on doing what we’re doing and getting the same outcomes.

Generally, we become aware of growth opportunities in one of two ways:

  • We become consciously aware on our own

  • External sources bring it to our attention (this is usually the more painful option)

Below are a few examples:

  • Your leader sharing developmental feedback during a performance discussion that would lead to better outcomes (External source)

  • You personally recognizing that the work is shifting from what it was when you first started the job and you will need to enhance your current skills to stay relevant (Personal realization)

  • Taking on new responsibilities – work, family, home, etc. – and recognizing the need to learn new skills or tools (Personal realization)

  • Your spouse/kids/extended family/friends are having negative reactions to your negative reactions and have either mentioned something to you directly or are now guarded around you (External source)

  • Recognizing that you are reacting to your life and are feeling the pressure of being pulled into multiple directions with multiple expectations – you’re exhausted (Personal realization)

  • Your body is experiencing aches and lethargy from over-consumption of carbs and sugar – you feel generally crappy and your clothes don’t fit anymore, which depresses you (External source and personal realization)

The way you become aware of personal growth opportunities could impact the pace at which you move up the ladder. When external sources bring it to your attention, there’s a natural tendency to stay in the lower part of the ladder longer. Wherever you are, that’s your starting point.

On the ladder graphic, notice the lower four rungs are described as “Victim Behaviors.” I would describe these as “protecting the personal comfort zone.” The rungs within this section represent ways of thinking and acting that tend to blame external forces as the reason for not taking personal responsibility. The longer you stay on these rungs, the more rigid, frustrated and exhausted you’ll become.

What Rung Are You On?

As you reflect on where you are in your current life journey:

  • Which rung(s) are you on?

  • Are you where you want to be?

  • Are you getting the outcomes you want?

  • What’s holding you back that is within your control?

  • What would it take to get accountable?

  • Are you willing to sacrifice current comfort (or discomfort) for future personal peace?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss the support that's right for you.


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