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.