Happiness, Self-Sufficiency, and the Soulfire Sword

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When I first started playing Everquest, I rolled a Paladin named Qrusafix Crossbones. It was great to be a holy knight, fighting undead hordes to the death. I loved being a dwarf paladin so much that over a five-year span, I created a dwarf pally three different times. My favorite quest was the Soulfire quest.  This was a paladin only adventure where a diligent player could complete a long chain quest and eventually obtain the Soulfire: a flaming sword.  It was the mark of an experienced paladin, and everyone in the realm knew by the sight of the sword exactly who you were and the epic challenge you had endured. It was iconic. On the road to becoming an elite player of real life, we begin to get opportunities to “upgrade our armor” beginning with the high school years. Here, we begin to become expected and trusted to branch out on our own, bit by bit. One could say that it is in high school where the first part of our own Soulfire chain quest is introduced. Teachers and speakers address the students, casting vision for what lies beyond the walls of safety and within the forest of uncertainty of the real world. They provide “maps” (for the ones who are keen enough to listen) for avoiding pitfalls and finding shortcuts through the thick of things. They supply the listener with tools that will aid their success such as how to communicate, network, set goals, invest, take risks, apply knowledge, seek out mentors, and much more. However, each one of these “tools” always comes with a cost: the life adventurer must take action and face a challenge to receive them. For instance, to become an effective communicator (whereby one can learn the art of persuasion in order to open career opportunities,) the adventurer needs to practice communicating. At first, one’s writing or speaking may be unfocused, unclear, awkward, and unintentional. However, with each subsequent effort and reflection on what worked and what didn’t, the life player learns how to hone this skill and eventually earn an armor “upgrade” in the communication department. Earning upgrades are little victories on the road to self-sufficiency. Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics proposes that when something is self-sufficient it is perfect. He says, “For the final and perfect good seems to be self-sufficient…we define as “self-sufficient” that which taken by itself makes life something desirable and deficient in nothing. It is happiness, in our opinion, which fits this description.”(1097b – 6, 14-15). As many would agree, happiness is the goal of life. We all want to be happy, and we all do various things to try to make that happiness a reality. When we take on a challenge and earn a small victory, we are slowly building toward the “happiness” that we envision when our quest for our own “Soulfire” will be complete. The little victories contain the same seeds of happiness as the reward of the Soulfire does. Each victory IS happiness. Each stepping stone on the way to the end contains its own happiness, and each time we succeed, we, at that moment, are self-sufficient. Little victories = happiness. Little victories build self-sufficiency. They say that the joy is in the journey, not at the end of the journey. I would propose that there is joy in both places. Upgrades to your armor, whether large or small, are still upgrades; they both contain happiness and both speak to self-sufficiency. When we feel that we can confront life and stand on our own, we feel alive. We feel we are making progress on our epic chain quest. And when we finally obtain our own Soulfire sword, we love both the artifact and what it represents: the little victories that made the journey so enjoyable. Stay Tooned, J.P.

Being a N00b

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Almost 20 years ago, a student of mine Greg made a comment about being a n00b in the ground-braking MMORPG game Everquest. He said, “Being a n00b is so much fun.” Greg was much further along in the game than I was and had rolled many characters. However, he always liked creating noobs and leveling them up from 1-20 before losing interest, and then starting all over with another new character. He had his mains, but every so often, he liked to go back and just be a n00b. One of the reasons being a n00b in an MMORPG is so fun is because gaining XP happens rapidly. The game consists of learning the basics, and with each successful completion of some very simple tasks, and without much effort or risk, you get to level up.  When you die, it is no big deal; no one gets mad at you, you don’t lose experience, and you just get to act silly and frolic through some low-level, low-risk lands with great names like North Freeport, East Commonlands, Misty Thicket, and the Butcherblock Mountains. The stakes are low, and the enjoyment high. You get to try things out, explore, and learn about the game in a safe way. The practice you get helps you understand how to play your role, so that you can be an effective contributor once what you bring to the table matters a lot more. Being a n00b IRL is similar. Whether it is just being “new” to life itself as a kid, or being a new player in a particular career field, the newbie stage allows for some awesome opportunities to grow in a safe environment. The veterans of life or of a career love to watch you learn and help out as they can. They have been through some of the more challenging aspects of the world, and want to offer you advice and support, so you don’t make the same mistakes that they did. In the last post, I mentioned looking back upon our formative years to determine why we have the passions and interests that we do. Part of these formative years take place at school from Kindergarten through fifth grade. These ages, five to ten, are the first half of the n00b experience. During these years, we are to take advantage of low risk, high reward opportunities. Here, we begin to gain confidence in our abilities. The learning curve is gradual and safe, yet our minds are developing and changing rapidly. Learning how to handle failure during these stages is very important. When we fall and skin our knees, the good trainers will tell us to “shake it off, you’re ok, so get back up and keep going.” Under their confidence and guidance, we don’t focus on our failures, but rather keep focus on completing tasks and reaching our goals. Obstacles don’t get time or credit. We move around them with eyes fixed on what really makes us feel capable: achievement. It’s like a kid who has a mom who ignores the bloody knees, calmly wipes them off with a rag, and tells the kid to keep playing. Her confidence becomes the child’s, too. For the mom who freaks out and cries, “Oh my poor little baby! Your knees are bleeding!” the child then learns to focus on the failure – the obstacle – the problem – the fear. This is where we can get stuck on our journey to level up. Whether moms or third-grade teachers, our early trainers set the tone for us. Remember that the n00b stage is supposed to be a time of safely learning through trial and error. It is supposed to be a time to brush failure to the side and focus on what can be learned instead. It is a time for keeping the eye on the prize until you receive it.  The cost of the mistake is very low. Learning how to navigate and stay confident during the n00b stage is directly related to competence during the soloing stage (ages 18-29.) Looking back, if we find that we were “trained” to focus too much on the “skinned knees” instead of the goal, that might be why we are disinterested or fearful to set goals and achieve them even now. However, if we can look back and find those trainers who helped us overcome a mindset or obstacle and kept us focused on achievement, we can channel that perspective into a confidence that can help us continue to upgrade our armor and level up in our lives and careers. Remember that being a n00b is a gift. It is a chance to learn with low expectation, responsibility, and risk. At the same time, these proving grounds can be the greatest time to impress the veterans. How you handle the newbie failures sets the tone for the respect you gain for yourself and from others. Stay Tooned, JP

Why Am I Passionate about XYZ?

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There is common question that most people ask at some point in their lifetime: Why I am here?  This question seeks an answer that will give the asker purpose. We want to know why we matter and how our existence makes a difference in this world. I think it is important to look back upon our childhoods as the place where we began to form our values, opinions, fears, passions, self-worth, ideologies, and trust thresholds. Though at the time when we were children we didn’t realize all that we believed in or why, now that we are older, we can look back and make some connections as to why we are the way we are. In an MMORPG like World of Warcraft, your newly created avatar is directed to go visit your class trainer. If you chose to be an undead warlock, for example, you might be sent down into a crypt to find a robed skeleton hunched over a pile of books. When he notices your presence, he begins a conversation with you and tells you about your abilities, gives you a simple quest to complete, and provides you with a simple weapon or spell to use to assist you.  Here, you begin your first training exercises.  As you practice your new abilities, you begin to gain a bit of affinity for your class role: your contribution. You slowly start to envision how your special abilities can be used, and at the same time, what your abilities can’t achieve. As you complete a set of small training exercises, your mentor rewards you with in game currency, better armor, and/or experience points (XP.) IRL, our parents, relatives, and teachers all play the role of different “trainers” in our lives. Some of these trainers what to teach you how to be something you are not, while others see how to bring out and shape the innate predispositions you already display. These influences greatly shape our thinking and confidence. We believe we are smart or not, good or not, worthy or not, accepted or not, and valued or not due to how these mentors relate to us.  If we were treated well, we slowly began to believe in ourselves and our abilities. If we were treated irresponsibly, we slowly began to develop insecurities, doubts, and fears. Looking back on your own childhood experiences, how did your trainers treat you? Which ones helped you flourish in confidence and sense of value, and which ones impeded your self-assurance and progress? Ask yourself how those influences may have shaped your thinking. These influences have something to do with the answer to the question: Why am I here? If you have had some significantly positive mentors in your life, your mind will generate some possible answers to this question. If you have had some significantly negative influences in your life, the answer to this question may be harder to acquire. These considerations are important as you begin to make decisions about your future. As you take a step back and look at your life from a bird’s-eye view, what have been your patterns? What is it that you have found that you consistently repeat? If you look closely, you discover that you already do what you are. That is because when we were young, we were either affirmed or discouraged when we began to take risks. These affirmations and discouragements shaped us.  They made us believe a certain perception of reality about the world, others, and ourselves. Now that you are older, the real fun begins: you get to decide which ideologies, values, fears, etc. are worth holding on to and which ones need discarding. They were all just humans, just like you. Some got it right and some didn’t, just like we all do. You may discover that after playing for a while, that an “undead warlock” just isn’t your style – you aren’t gaining an affinity for that kind of experience. So, you make a decision to roll a new character. Perhaps it is a Dwarf warrior or an Elf druid. Whatever the case, it is important to know yourself and the influences that have shaped you in order to choose a life that you can be passionate about: a life that brings you joy as you navigate the game. You can’t go back and start over like you can in a video game, but you can do something similar: you can make a decision today to make the changes that will set you on a new course – one that makes you passionate about XYZ. Stay Tooned, JP