I have many fond memories of the popular card game UNO — of the many afternoons spent with friends and acquaintances in classrooms, in our school library, under our school’s covered court. It was a great way to pass the time when we weren’t catching up with our schoolwork. It meant a few minutes of escape from all the stress of life.

I was about 14 years old when I first played UNO. I loved it the first time I played it. The competitive side of me always liked being the first one to finish. The colorful UNO cards were a source of joy; at least with these cards, I felt like I was winning. The opposite could be said about my life at the time. There were personal struggles, ones that came with being a 14-year-old from a low-income household. There was a lot of anger in my heart; I was just starting to realize how unfair the world was. I felt there was nothing that I could do to change my circumstances.

It was difficult to process everything at 14. Aside from external problems we were facing as a family, there was this inner battle inside of me. Who am I? What am I meant to be? What if I can never be what I want to be? What if I make the wrong decisions? What is it that I truly want? These were all questions running in my head. There was the anxiety of not knowing what was to come, and there was no assurance that life would bring you the best possible outcome. The universe was full of uncertainties: That thought scared me. I had a fear of the unknown.

I felt too young to be able to change my circumstances. I felt that I had little to zero influence over what was happening in my life. I prayed every night for things to turn out right, but deep down I was still scared and unsure of everything. Day after day, night after night, I was losing my sense of optimism and feeling hopeless. I think now that this is normal for any 14-year-old, perhaps even more so for kids like me who grew up with little privilege, knowing that we had to work harder than most people to be where we want to be.

I guess the same can be said with UNO. There is no promise that you will be the first to finish. We are given a set of cards that we have to do our best with. We do not choose the circumstances we are born with, but we can choose how to deal with them. We may start off with less powerful cards, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have better ones along the way. We deal with the cards we are given, and work our way into achieving the things that we want to. It may be difficult, it may feel like you’re losing, but the life that offers the bad parts also offers the good ones. The bad patches are there just as much as the miracles. We will occasionally get the draw four, draw two, change color, reverse, and skip cards in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to wait for them to come in order for change to happen. We work little by little, taking our time, until the bigger picture starts to unfold.

Both UNO cards and life offer the same type of promise: that we will all reach the finish line, no matter the circumstances we are born with. No matter who’s first or who’s last, who holds the power cards or who don’t, we will all finish in our own way. That finish line will not be defined by where you are standing at the end, but by how you played with the cards you were dealt with.

So, let’s keep playing. Have a laugh, smile, get frustrated, get stumped. This is all part of the experience. The 14-year-old me has since learned how to deal with the cards. The 20-year-old me can finally say, I am in a much better place.

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