Leveling Up in Real Life


In case you need this, it’s a T-shirt! Click pic for link.

Someone posted on Facebook recently that we shouldn’t call a birthday “another year older” but rather call it “leveling up.” “Reaching level 50” sounds much better than “turning 50 years old.”

America is still a relatively young nation and is obsessed with youth. Youth is seen as innovative and dynamic, whereas older people are stuck in the past and inflexible. But in other cultures, age is revered. Like wine, you are supposed to get better with age.

It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .

It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .

And, if we really think about it, most of us will acknowledge this as true. When we look back at things we did as teens or twenty-somethings, we cringe. If we could go back in time, we’d go back with all our knowledge and make better life decisions. That’s because back then we may have been healthy and good-looking and full of energy, but we were dumb as a box of rocks because we didn’t have any real life experience. Mistakes, tragedies, and the occasional triumph have taught us a lot since then.

What if instead of lamenting getting another year older (I have a birthday coming up, so this has been on my mind!) we really do look at it as leveling up, like in video game?


Ask me about the time a co-worker’s 50th birthday cake caught on fire during an office party . . .

Of course, birthdays come around regardless. You might have accomplished nothing–maybe you’re even worse off than the year before–but you still add another candle to the cake. But no one wants to be the same old person they were the previous year; no one wants to get to the end of their life and see, when they look back, that they haven’t improved themselves at all since leaving school.

So, what can you do to make sure that when the next birthday rolls around, you’re better than you were the year before? How about borrowing a page from D&D and other RPG games and work on gaining “experience” in the following categories:



This is a good category for fitness. Everyone either wants to get a little more physically fit or wants to maintain their current fitness level. I doubt there’s anyone who says, “No, really, I’m happiest when I wheeze walking across the parking lot.” Figure out what you most want to accomplish (make sure it’s realistic!) and make it a point to train to reach that new level.

For instance, if you are really out of shape and overweight, your goal may be as simple as “walk up the stairs without wheezing.” If you practice it regularly, you will soon find that you can do it (and probably more besides). Then, when your birthday rolls around, you can look back and say, “A year ago, I couldn’t even do stairs. Now, I can walk up and down them without a problem.” Or maybe you’re recovering from an accident or surgery and your goal is to regain flexibility. Or maybe some part doesn’t work well (or at all) and your goal is to do physical therapy or strength training so you can be more independent.

Remember . . .


Sometimes life hits us hard and wounds us–to the point that we “lose” some of our experience points. Maybe you were an Ironman athlete, then an accident crippled you and you can no longer do it. Maybe you had a successful business, but a divorce and an economic downturn left you bankrupt.

If you think about life as one big quest, you have to realize that sometimes you are going to fight some huge monster or get stuck in some trap and lose. And it will hurt. But you always have the ability to build back up from where you are right now. Instead of giving up the game, salvage the situation and try to regain your lost ground.

Constitution (aka Endurance)


This is where I would put things that take a lot of willpower, but not necessarily a lot of physical ability. For instance, dieting/healthy eating. Having a kid and successfully getting it through another year of life (despite its seemingly repeated attempts to kill itself or you) is endurance. Keeping a clean house or decluttering both require endurance, as does getting (and staying) organized. Even making it a point to be on time when you normally run late is a level up in the constitution category. And don’t forget novel writing!

  • Chore Wars – Have your housemates (or even co-workers) compete against one another to gain experience points and gold or treasures (which you can allow them to cash in on real-life rewards) by doing chores (or anything else that you dread doing).
  • Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui – Still my favorite book for clutter-clearing and organizing motivation.
  • Scott H. Young – He’s all about focus, willpower, and leveling up. Be inspired!



This is a category for things that require work with your hands or creativity. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano or pick back up an instrument that you played long ago. Or maybe you’ve been meaning to spend more time on your carpentry or painting. Or it can be something a little more simple: you want to redecorate or even remodel your house this year. Or you can take cooking classes, pick up knitting, etc. Learning to dance also requires dexterity.


This is all about knowledge. If you’re in school, you are automatically leveling up in this category, but then you graduate and it’s like it’s the end of the game.


Except it’s not. You spend 18-22 years learning how to be a functional adult, but after that you still have 50+ years to live! Don’t let your mind atrophy! Studies have shown that working puzzles and learning languages and other things that exercise the mind lower your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s as important to give your brain a workout as it is your body.

If you wish you were more up-to-date on what’s happening in the world, make it a point to read newspapers or the online news. If you think your career would be aided by learning a programming language, find some courses online and work on it. Or go back to school for your degree (or another one or a more advanced one). Make it a point to read more or listen to books on tape so you at least have something to talk about at a dinner party. Enter competitions like spelling bees, geography quizzes, or maybe even tryout for Jeopardy! Even if you don’t win the competition, the study and practice you have to do just to compete is a win for you personally.

Lynda – This is a subscription service for video classes, but if you are committed to learning a lot in a short period of time, you can almost certainly get your money’s worth out of it. We have a subscription at work and I have used it to learn new software products and have even taken a few classes on work organization, leadership, and public speaking. Someone I worked with used it to learn better photography skills.

  • Coursera – Free classes by top colleges.
  • EdX – Same concept as Coursera.
  • LibriVox – Free audiobooks (Mostly older books that are out of copyright.)

Wisdom (aka Intuition)

In RPGs, this is where you track your ability to do magic, repel magic, or sense things like booby-traps or whether or not someone is lying. In real (Muggle) life, this is a category for all your inner stuff and spirituality.

If, for instance, you are in a bad relationship, make it your goal to get out of it! Or, if you look back and see that you have had a string of bad relationships because you keep winding up with the same kind of person over and over again, take the time to be introspective. Why do you keep falling for that kind of person? Does it stem from a childhood trauma? Is it because your self-esteem is low? Is it because you feel a need to save every wayward person? Work on getting your emotional/inner house in order.

indexAlternatively, if you are spiritual or religious, you may set yourself a goal of praying daily, keeping a thankfulness journal (or any other kind of journal where you work through your feelings and can analyze how you view yourself and others), going to religious services, etc.


This is all about interactions with other people. If you’re an introvert, this will be a challenging quest. But even introverts need human contact. If you are lonely and feel that you have few (if any) friends, make it a point to join some sort of social club, gaming night, etc. Or maybe you’ve been busy and need to put your friends on your calendar so you can stay connected. Or maybe you want to become a manager or leader, but you find yourself feeling a bit awkward around others or people have complained that you don’t handle work relationships well. Find some classes to help you be a better speaker, learn leadership skills, or even just learn the art of interviewing well and giving a good handshake.

mosaic7This category can also include things that really put you out in front of people, like modeling or acting, leading or volunteering in a social organization or charity, teaching, and even running for office or campaigning on someone’s behalf! And don’t forget learning languages; the more ways you have to communicate with others, the more you will be leveling up your charisma. Oh, and travel also requires charisma, since you are out of your normal element and have to interact with all sorts of new people in new circumstances.

  • Fluent in 3 Months – Intensive language learning. (This is what encouraged me to give learning languages another try.)
  • Duolingo – This is what I’m using to learn Spanish.
  • Memrise – A smart flashcard website that has a lot of languages, but they also cover other topics.
  • Toastmasters – Costs to join, but many people swear by it. Helps you with public speaking, selling, and social and business interactions.
  • Nomadic Matt – Advice on traveling cheaply and long-term.


Some things will overlap categories. While learning a language is mostly charisma (especially if you make it a point to speak to others in your target language), it’s also intelligence. Dancing is a lot of dexterity and creativity, but also strength. When things overlap, either put your goal into the category it most closely matches, or put extra effort into it and let it fulfill two categories at once.

Level Up!

63166726As I mentioned, I’m less than a month away from my birthday. And as I see (and feel) my youth slipping away, I find myself wondering what I’ve done and what I’m going to do. The last thing I want is for one year to be like the year before, and like the year before that, until I realize I’m just piddling around, wasting time, waiting for death to arrive. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, one thing everyone agrees on is that one you’re dead, you won’t improve. Heaven, hell, or non-existence: in any scenario, you only have what you came in with.

groundhog-day-drivingEven if you believe in reincarnation, you enter the next life with only the spiritual progress you’ve made in this one; if you make no strides at improvement, you will essentially just repeat your life over and over again. How boring!

So, if you have a birthday coming up (or just recently passed one), consider making yourself a “character sheet” and decide on what things you want to improve about yourself over the course of the next year. (Or just set goals for 2017 and allow yourself a little head start.)

Constitution (Endurance)

Wisdom (Intuition/Spirituality)

Don’t make the goals impossible. Losing 100 pounds in a year is probably not going to happen. If you’re really out of shape, running a marathon next year is also probably not going to happen. Set goals that you know you really could do if you just set your mind to it. For instance, I know I couldn’t be native-fluent in Spanish in a year, but I could certainly finish the Spanish tree on Duolingo in a year.

Remember when you’re setting your goals that you won’t really have a year to accomplish X because you have to also spend time on the other categories. (You don’t want to be a caveman with incredible strength and no intelligence. Or a know-it-all with absolutely no people skills. It’s okay to be better at somethings than other things, but to be a socially-acceptable and well-adjusted human being who is tolerated and not mocked by others, you have to work on everything at least a little bit.) Just like being in school and taking six classes, you are going to have to find a balance between your categories. Maybe you will try to work on a little bit on everything every day. (Some things, like exercise and journaling, certainly work better if you do them frequently.) Or maybe you will do one or two things at a time in big chunks of time. (Travel, performing a play, or completing a craft project are all things that tend to be a do-them-and-be-done challenge.) Whatever works best for you and your type of goals, spend at least a portion of your year working on each one.

And don’t be afraid to change your goal mid-stream. Like I said, life sometimes hits you and you find your goal is no longer attainable. (Or maybe you’ve just realized that you’ve set a goal that’s unrealistic or it’s really not something you wanted to pursue in the first place.) So just change goals. That’s always better than just giving up entirely and not even trying. At least then, when you get to the end of your year, you can look back and say, “Things were pretty bad, but I managed and I’m better off than I was when things were at their worst.”

file4991280736472Judaism teaches that life is like a spiral staircase: you appear to be going in a circle–seasons come and go and your birthday and holidays come around, pass, then come around again–but in reality you are moving up (or down!) a spiral. Every time a holiday comes around again, or you read the same passage in the Bible that you read last year, you’re supposed to see it in a different light because you are supposed to have changed over the last year. Of course, when you take stock of the past year, you will hopefully see that you have moved forward in a positive way! No one wants to go down the spiral.

I’m going to spend a little time thinking about what I want to accomplish and I’ll do a follow-up post once I’ve decided. Feel free to discuss your own goals in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s