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You have played Snakes and Ladders, haven’t you?

Most people have played this iconic game at one time or another, but for anyone who hasn’t, Snakes and Ladders is a board game for two or more people. All players start on square number one, and the objective of the game is to be the first to reach the final square.

The one-hundred square board is riddled with snakes and ladders. If you land on a square where the base of a ladder sits, you get a free pass to the top of the ladder, which takes you much nearer to the final square. However, should you land on the head of a snake, you will slide all the way down to a much earlier square. Anything can happen with the roll of the dice—winners become losers, losers become winners and there’s no way of knowing who the winner will be… until they’ve won!

Isn’t life the same?

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Things are going well, you’re progressing well in your career, there’s a child on the way or the children you already have are doing great at school, and you are just about to go on your vacation to some warm and welcoming tropical island. Then it happens—the letter, the phone call, the email or the text message—and that’s the moment when you realise everything has changed for the worse.

That’s the moment when you find out you’re out of a job, you’ve lost someone you love or the chickens that you were counting won’t be arriving. We all experience this at least once in our lives. Life has a habit of throwing curve balls, and yet most of us act as though these things can never happen to us… until they do.

But on the other side of the coin, life is also full of miracles, isn’t it? Remember finding out you were going to become a parent or the day you were given that unexpected raise. Nobody complains then.

We all experience snakes and ladders

Just as happens in the board game, you can be striving in life, achieving goals and passing milestones, when suddenly something happens that changes everything, taking you right back to square one. This can crush you or it can make you stronger. My first major setback happened forty-four years ago when my mother was murdered. That was the first of many setbacks, but I am still here.

Every challenge we face presents us with an opportunity to grow and to become more resilient in the process. Through learning to let go and accept there are some things we cannot change—I cannot bring my mum back—we can focus on navigating a path around obstacles.

But we also learn that just as disaster can strike when we least expect it, so too can the most incredibly good fortune. None of us know what’s around the corner. None of us know what we don’t know, and that includes the help and support available to us once we commit to a new and ambitious project.

Two steps forward, one step back (and one giant leap to square number ninety-nine)

Everyone’s heard the saying “two steps forward, one step back”, but that only tells half the story. Life is actually a series of steps forward and steps back, and although it can feel like we are running to stand still (or even to fall behind), ladders do turn up and they can propel us far further than we had ever thought possible.

In the game of Snakes and Ladders, anything can happen. There is no skill involved. You throw the dice, count the steps and accept what fate has in store for you. It’s a game of fortune. Now, for some people, their lives really are left to chance. When I look back at my early life, I can honestly say I was just staggering my way through, from one disaster to the next. “But don’t we make our own luck?” I hear you ask.

Load the dice in your favour

Unlike the board game, in life’s game of Snakes and Ladders, we have the power to affect how the game plays out. We can load the dice, and we can make sure there are far more ladders than snakes. How do we do that?

By taking responsibility

My life turned around when I took ownership of it, when I accepted that although there were things that were out of my control, I was solely responsible for where I had ended up, and the responsibility lay with me to change my future.

By knowing our purpose

This doesn’t happen overnight, but once you make a conscious decision to discover why you are here and what you should be doing, the choices you make become wiser. By listening to your heart, recognising your values and discovering the activities you are better suited to doing, your purpose becomes more obvious.

Don’t be afraid

Don’t let fear distract you from making the right choices. Many people dare not venture out of their comfort zones because of fears—fears based on false beliefs they have carried around with them for years because they have never questioned them. Those who shy away from risk, who play it safe and only ever stick to what they have done before, are more susceptible to life’s snakes. They are leaving their lives to chance. When you take more chances, in the right direction, you find more ladders.

Forget the cat that curiosity killed…

You’re not a cat. Yours is the most powerful species ever to have walked the planet. When people use their imaginations, ask interesting questions and wonder what would happen if… anything is possible. The more curious you are, the more opportunities you will find, and guess what? If you do accidentally step on the head of a snake, your natural intelligence will find a way to stop you falling too far behind.

Be open-minded

A closed mind will never see the full picture. Even worse, a closed mind with a negative attitude will only ever expect snakes, find snakes and step on snakes. An open mind with a positive mindset is constantly on the lookout for ladders. Yes, there are some snakes, but you can step over them. You’re human.

Keep your wits about you

If you only ever keep your eyes fixed on the ground six feet ahead of you, you will never spot the opportunities all around. Know where you are going, but also keep an eye on the periphery. Opportunities are what follow when you are able to spot the dots that others miss and join them up in a creative way. More ladders.

Make sure you enjoy it

I don’t know how my game of Snakes and Ladders is going to end. Nobody does. None of us can see the future, and none of us can know whether we get to play the one game or many. But one thing’s for sure—this is the only game I know I will play as Richard McCann.

So, I am going to make sure that whatever happens I appreciate every moment of my game, and that includes the setbacks and disasters. Your game of Snakes and Ladders really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Make sure you enjoy every moment of it.

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