You are Luke Skywalker.
You are the Goonies. You are Katniss Everdeen. You are Bilbo Baggins, Hermoine Granger, Jane Eyre, and Neo. Your humble beginnings belie the greatness that is within you. You have a destiny, and a role to fill that no one else can. Every experience, every thought, action, regret, and victory has uniquely shaped you like the fingers of a potter at work on a masterpiece. There is no one like you in all the world.
So why does it feel like you’re playing dead body #3 instead of the hero of the story?
Steve Kamb’s inspirational book, “Level Up Your Life,” takes readers out of the backstory of their lives and thrusts them straight into the action by showing us what we can learn from the great adventurers of film, television, and video games.
In the opening chapters, Kamb cites the book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” which reveals the number one regret of those in their last moments of life—“They wished they’d had the courage to live lives true to themselves, as opposed to the lives others expected of them.”
Take a moment with that sentence. Turn it over in your mind and dwell on it.
These people wished, above all else, that they’d had the courage to be the heroes of their stories, rather than relegating themselves to being extras.
Imagine what would have happened if Neo had taken the blue pill, waking up in his bed the next day, never finding out how deep the rabbit hole truly went. Imagine if Katniss had shied away from leading the rebellion, if she had simply opted to be like the many other contestants of the Hunger Games, seeking to kill and go home rather than to challenge and change a corrupt system?
The world would have been a much darker place, indeed.
But, fortunately, there came a moment in each of these heroes’ lives that forced them to choose, that shook them up and awakened the dissatisfaction latent in each of them—a dissatisfaction which proved to be the seeds of their future heroism. In the 1999 sci-fi film, “The Matrix,” the hero, Neo, is offered a choice by a mysterious stranger by the name of Morpheus. In one hand, Morpheus holds a blue pill, and if Neo chooses to swallow it, he will live out the rest of his days as a normal man, typing away in a cubicle somewhere in a hi-rise office building. In the other hand, however, Morpheus holds the red pill. It is this pill which will awaken Neo to the fact that his reality is actually a simulation in which most humans are unknowingly trapped within by sentient machines, which use their bodies for power in the real world. In Morpheus’s hands lie the choice Neo must make—will he maintain the comfortable-yet-uncomfortable status quo, or will he embrace the dangerous new world of his destiny, the world he was made for?
It was just such a moment which drove author and blogger, Steve Kamb, to swallow the red pill and take control of his life.
In 2007, the hands of Morpheus took the form of a panic attack as Kamb returned home on a flight to San Diego. Kamb realized that what he was returning to wasn’t life—it was a living death. His was a job he was ill-suited to, and he spent much of his free time trying to forget the stress and monotony of his days by plunging himself into pursuits which led him nowhere.
Kamb writes that his “afternoons were spent playing video games, weekends were spent getting drunk at bars or drinking and playing Everquest, and Sundays were reserved for walking along the beach, fighting back tears, wondering what’s wrong, and asking myself, “Am I really supposed to be this unhappy for the next forty years?”
At some point, we all ask ourselves this question. Are we doomed to unhappiness?
No. We’re not.
Kamb chose to take the red pill, and now lives a life of adventure, travelling, writing, and enjoying his life like never before. He has found his calling, and now uses his story, in the form of his book, to inspire others to do the same. He was inspired by the very games and movies which once held him prisoner in his off hours, and tried an experiment—he began to live his life as if he were the protagonist of an adventure game or movie, and now teaches his readers how to take what they love and use it for inspiration to level up their lives.
It’s time to start your own adventure. Don’t wait for Morpheus to come to you—his ways are mysterious, and he may not come at all. Here are three steps you can take to go to him, and begin the epic journey of reclaiming your life.
Find Your Alter Ego.
Kamb began his own journey by figuring out his “alter ego,” the superhero who lived within him—the man he ultimately wanted to become. This superhero version of himself was capable of bigger and better things, capable not only of realizing his dreams and ambitions, but acting on them as well.
You can do this, too. Start by bringing your innermost desires out of your mind and into the real world through the magical gateway to the realm of imagination, otherwise known as a pen. Write your desires down!
There. They’re real, right there in front of you. You have to confront them now. You’ve summoned Morpheus.
Now, your brain is going to act the antagonist and begin working against you, bringing up each and every reason why you can’t realize these dreams. It’s going to tell you that you don’t have the time, the money, or the energy. It’s going to tell you that you’re not talented enough or that your friends or family won’t accept the things you want.
Tell your brain to shut up.
Set Out on Your Quest.
Next, translate these dreams into quests. How can you go about achieving them? What are your next steps? Begin with small, easily attainable goals which will motivate you as you succeed. Beginning with a goal you can actually see is much more motivating than one which seems impossible. Aim at learning what a violin’s strings are before you make an attempt at smoking those strings in a rendition of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita in d minor.
Break your huge goals into smaller goals. Do you want to write your own novel? Break that goal down into the aforementioned small, achievable goals. Learn the parts of a story, how characters interact, how to write realistic dialogue, how to establish setting and scene.
But don’t stop at learning. Many people get stuck at this phase, “collecting underpants,” as Kamb calls it, in reference to the fictional Underpants Gnomes of the animated show, South Park—creatures which single-mindedly collect underpants for some grand purpose, but never bother to really think about how they’re going to convert all these piles of underpants into profit. They just keep collecting!
Don’t be an Underpants Gnome. Write that on a sticky-note and put it on your wall if you need to.
Rather, be a lifelong learner, but also act on what you learn. When you know enough to begin, begin! Don’t put things off in the hope that a less busy time will come, or—and this is the worst—for when “inspiration” strikes. Inspiration is fickle. It’s great for those breakthrough moments. But, in the long-term, you won’t succeed through inspiration. You’ll succeed through discipline, through working at your journey every single day by placing one foot in front of the other, beginning that proverbial journey of a thousand miles that begins with a single step.
Finally, don’t stop trying. An object in motion, as Kamb reminds us, tends to stay in motion, and it’s much easier to keep going than to stop and restart. Be realistic with yourself, and realize that achieving your dreams takes time. We can’t all just quit our jobs and work on becoming virtuoso violinists or writers or superheroes full-time. Most of us have to squeeze in an hour or two before or after work and between the crush of other responsibilities.
The important thing to remember here is to regularly schedule the work that will help you achieve the dreams you wrote down. Don’t stop to rest at every enticing oasis along your epic journey. Most of them are traps!
To go back to the example of writing a novel, this would look like setting aside an hour each morning before work to write, and doing this every day. 500 words a day becomes 2,500 a week. 2,500 a week becomes 10,000 a month. And six to ten months equals a finished novel!
Remember, Katniss Everdeen didn’t stop when she met with tragedy. If she had, both she and the world would have been broken in the end. You’re going to face hardships. Use them. Learn from them. Take what burns you, what makes you upset and angry about the world, and let that be the fuel that drives you to change it. That is the essence of your quest.
Heed the Call.
You don’t exist merely to exist. None of us do. You have something to offer the world that no one else does—yourself. Don’t deprive the world of your particular superpowers, because there is someone out there who needs you, guaranteed. Whether your dream is to be a corporate bigwig, a fisherman, a writer, or simply one who is wealthy enough to give loads of money to charity, use these tips to begin that journey. And when you’re ready, read up on Kamb’s story and teachings to learn much more. You won’t regret it.
Morpheus is holding out his hands, adventurer. Choose your path. Wake up in bed tomorrow, rinse, and repeat for the next 40 years? Or delve into the depths, and find your purpose?