Last Friday I turned into a feral creature.
An innocent game night quickly took a dark turn.
Bringing back childhood desires, adult insecurities and the bloodsport of competition.
We were playing Monopoly.
And this guy showed up:
He was going to teach my 9-year-old an important life lesson.
Play or get played
I was going to teach her how to win.
It was amazing how the Monopoly muscle memory kicks in.
I hadn’t played since 1994. (Well, we did play a drinking version during the 2003 NYC Blackout.)
I got off to a quick start. I accumulated 7 properties. Remembered to bypass the Utilities (no leverage, duh). Confirmed that you can collect rent while in jail.
I was maneuvering the board like a young Asian Sam Zell.
And I placed a big bet on the St. Charles line with some hotels.
Then Lisa landed on it.
She first punched me (playfully). Then said, “Why do you have to be so competitive?”
It’s time to pay up
I was stone-faced. I was assessing all of her properties. Retiring her debt. And plotting my next phase of development on the Pacific Avenue line.
And then my daughter interjected.
“Mommy, I’ll give you $500 so that you can keep playing.”
Bless her and her magnanimous little heart.
(IRL she also wants to use her “own money” to buy her friends gifts.)
And TBH, $500 wouldn’t have moved the needle for Lisa. Ultimately, the board was stacked in my favor.
Standing in front of me was a potent teachable moment. One that had served me in my business career. And one that would set my daughter up well for the cutthroat world of capitalism she’d undoubtedly encounter.
Is hypervigilance the only game in town?
A capitalist engine that spits you out alive if you don’t come prepared to play.
The lesson: You have to play this game ruthlessly. Or you get played by the system.
But was that actually the lesson I wanted to impart to this sweet little 9-year-old?
After all, it was a board game. Was it possible that I was projecting a tad too much?
Aren’t generosity and collaboration critical life skills? They’ve certainly shaped my worldview to actively pursue positive-sum games. (And to steer clear of zero-sum thinking.)
Finally, it forced me to look at myself. When I was 9 years old, I lived in a constant state of hypervigilance. On behalf of my parents, who were trying to make ends meet in a new country. On behalf of my own safety, fearing that I’d get mugged (yet again) on my walk home from school. On behalf of my social environment, where I was an outsider – regularly teased by my peers.
9-year-old Khe figured out that playing the game of business ruthlessly was my own path to salvation.
But was it the best path for my 9-year-old? I genuinely don’t know.
My friend Thomas Frank came to the rescue and dropped some incredible wisdom:
Better to teach a kind child to be aggressive when needed, than to have to teach a ruthless child how to be kind.
Now it’s your turn – what would you do in my situation?