7 Things I Learned from Chutes and Ladders

One of my neighbors has a little girl who likes to play Chutes and Ladders with me.  I think it’s because she can beat me. But whether I win or lose, I get a real kick out of seeing the unabashed excitement on her face every time we start a new game.

If only we could go into each phase of our careers with that same excitement!

The other day, after I’d fallen down a chute for the third time, it suddenly struck me how much like job search and careers in general the game was.  I mean, obviously it comes with the lesson that life has its ups and downs. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw just how much Chutes and Ladders can teach us!

For those of you who don’t know the game, the most common version in this country has a playing board with 100 spaces you can land on. Starting at the bottom, you spin to see how many spaces you move – from 1 to 6. As you slowly wend your way up the board, you sometimes land on a chute and get plunged down to a lower level or you land on a ladder and get lifted higher. The goal is to get all the way to the top (no glass ceilings here) where you win the game – if you don’t get tripped up first by yet another dreaded chute just inches from the goal.

So what are the career lessons?

  1. Just because you go up the career ladder, doesn’t mean you’re going to stay up there. Remember to build safety nets…and solid relationships.
  2. Even when you are at the top of your game, you can stumble. It happens to everyone.
  3. Sometimes, a failure can get you into a better position…or maybe a whole new game altogether.
  4. You can play your best game – and that’s all anyone can ever expect – but some things are just not in your control.
  5. You can be moving along slowly, feeling like you’re getting nowhere, and then suddenly, if you stay alert to opportunities, a ladder pops up from out of the blue and lifts you up.
  6. If you keep playing and don’t let the pitfalls stop you, no matter how many times you get knocked down, eventually you come across a ladder that’s just right for you.
  7. The ladders (opportunities) are out there, so no matter how hopeless it starts to feel (even during job search), the change in luck can happen in a second, so please don’t give up!

And for those of you who are looking for a job, although this particular article may seem a tad less serious than some of my others, I am very serious about the lessons – especially the last one. There is no rule about when a real job offer will come your way. And so there’s no way of knowing which possibility is the one to focus most on.

Best advice? Treat them all as if they are THE one.  Even if a particular job doesn’t seem like your dream job, you never know who you might meet in the process. And you never know when the job will turn out to be more than you expected.  So please…give it your all each time. And, no matter what it takes, stay in the game!


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. A great post, Ronnie Ann! I remember getting very anxious playing Chutes & Ladders when I was little. But the way you compare it to the real life game of careers (and indeed, it could be compared to life in general), it obviously can teach children to stick with it and keep going, even in the face of sudden disappointments.

  2. I love the idea of the excitement on your little friend’s face each time she starts a new game. What a great metaphor for how to approach each life opportunity, whether it turns into a great success or not. There’s always the hope.

  3. Thanks Terry and Susan for the great comments. Love your additions to just how much this childhood game can teach us. Not giving up and having hope no matter what is happening in the moment are great keys to career – and life. I am reminded of this almost every single day!

  4. Lastly Harvard business review had described this as territorial like an animal kingdom where there are prey and predators and the environment can be just like that. One thing I would like to stress is that I am very confident and what my peers have described as having a strong personality. Thank you for your advice.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Janice,

      I have been in the high-level consulting environment for a brief period of time, and my experience showed me that it is just as political, if not more political, than a corporate environment. Members of the client staff may be threatened by – and very suspicious of – the “outsider” who is brought in to do a project. They may also interfere and sabotage, depending on the strength of the management which brought in the consultants.

      Perhaps that does not happen to a VERY high-level consulting organization, but I suspect that it does.

      Where ever we have people, we have “politics” often getting in the way. I honestly don’t know of an environment where that doesn’t happen. I think it’s human nature, unfortunately, and I think women can be much more threatening than men (to the men!).

      Wish I had a good solution for you, but other than finding yourself a good, strong mentor/protector, I don’t.

      Good luck with your job search!

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