October 11, 2021

There are several reasons why Squid Game has become Netflix’s must-watch series of 2021. It is morbidly entertaining yet intensely disturbing with its explicit images of violence and gore. Characters are relatable and achingly human in their struggles, plus Korean heartthrob Gong Yoo makes a cameo appearance (however short-lived).

The premise is simple: participants join a seemingly innocent game in a bid to clinch the million-dollar prize. But not all that glitters is gold; the stakes are high with the wager being death. In essence, this treacherous game of survival cruelly exploits the vulnerabilities of those already mired in debt, who have to fight to their end to emerge victorious. Reflect deeper, and you will discover how this dystopian drama presents several opportunities to learn from the mistakes of others, so we can protect ourselves from a crisis. For example, the main reason why most of the show’s characters end up in debt is due to a failure to prioritise their needs over their wants. Here are five life lessons from the South Korean phenomenon.

Prepare for the Future Early

To some, insurance presents an extra financial burden on top of all the other bills they need to pay. However, it’s one way of securing your future. Most of the time, when the need for coverage does arise, it might already be too late. When Gi-Hun [Seong] tells his mother to get her diabetic foot treated, she reminds him that she is unable to seek help as she is no longer insured.  It turns out that he had stopped paying for health insurance years ago, deeming it an unnecessary expenditure. Since they could not afford the exorbitant hospital bills, she is forced to pitifully limp her way out of the hospital. Never wait until the eleventh hour when you need a plan—safeguard your future now.

Be Kind

Even if you see your colleagues (or friends) as your competitors, there is no need to treat them with hostility. A little kindness can go a long way and may even be returned one day. Gi-Hun demonstrates remarkable empathy and warmth towards his other competitors even in the thick of action. When the feeble Il-Nam [Oh] looked like he didn’t stand a chance in the games, Gi-Hun didn’t look down on him and made him feel included (when no one would pick him). And despite initially disliking Sae-byeok [Kang], he treats her with decency, unselfishly looking out for her safety. Gi-Hun also displays remarkable strength of character throughout. When he and Sang-woo [Cho] are the only ones left, he asks Sang-woo to leave with him as opposed to brutally finishing him off.

Effective teamwork is an important aspect of any organisation’s success, and we see that in the show when immigrant Abdul Ali works together with Gi-Hun (and his team) instead of trying to trick or manipulate him. Lesson learnt? Whether you are trying to outdo competitors or climb the corporate ladder, you don’t have to bridge bridges or be a jerk. If you want to be respected, be respectful.

There’s More to Life Than Money

In Squid Game, money is the biggest motivator for all the players despite being fully aware of the risks involved. In a bid to win the huge prize money, many are even willing to forgo their morals and sacrifice the lives of others. As cutthroat as it may be, the show highlights a glaring misconception that being wealthy equates to happiness. 

Billionaire Il-nam [Oh] leads a meaningless and empty life; to feel a void, he creates (and pretends to be a player in) these barbaric games. Ironically, before he dies, his wish is to re-experience his childhood by playing his favourite games with his friends one last time.

In a turn of events, Sang-Woo, who made it to the last round chooses to end his own life rather than fight with Gi-Hun for the prize money. When Gi-Hun is crowned the winner, he chooses to lead a simple life, realising that money would not cure the emptiness of losing his loved ones. Moral of the story? Money is a means, not an end. It can help you achieve your goals and make life more enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean that you will be fulfilled.

Success Doesn’t Come Overnight

There isn’t a straightforward and easy path to success. Similarly, winning a game is not going to automatically solve your problems or guarantee security. Many are looking for a quick fix but those who are truly successful understand that life is about adapting to the many twists and turns on the way to the top. Embrace the journey, not the destination, without losing yourself in the process.

Have a Side Income

A big takeaway from the show is that running away from financial problems is not constructive. Neither is borrowing money from loan sharks or licensed moneylenders too. (Never be like Gi-Hun who takes a loan to feed his gambling addiction.) According to the central bank data, many South Koreans in their 30s are reported to be the most indebted, with their total borrowings amounting to almost 270 per cent of their annual income. In such uncertain times, having more than one source of income is a savvy approach. Take up a side gig or consider starting a small enterprise that will generate additional profits to advance your loans. Or think of how to generate a stream of passive income. Put your money in a high-yield savings account, create an online course via YouTube or even enlist a reliable broker to help you invest in dividend stocks.