Level Up Your Life: Surprising Life Lessons from Super Mario Bros.

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(The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book Five Year You: Unleash Your Potential. Sign up for more updates and a free gift here. )

“Do you play video games, Galen?” Angel asked. The older man asked as his new student sat on a rock next to him overlooking the ocean.

“I used to play a lot, but the new ones just make me dizzy,” Galen replied watching the waves roll in.

“Me too,” Angel chuckled. “My favorite game was likely the first one I ever played called Super Mario Brothers by Nintendo. There are a lot of life lessons hidden in that game.”

“Really?” Galen asked.

“Absolutely.” Angel replied, and started to explain.

A call to action

“Like all of us, there is a choice,” Angel said. “We can show up and play the game of life, or we can stand still and watch time tick away.

It’s up to each of us to answer the call. And one thing is for sure, if you don’t start playing, you’ll never get anywhere.”

A Hero’s Journey

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“First, you have our hero, Mario, and he’s been called to save the princess.

It’s a noble mission, but just like every Hero on their Journey, they must start out at the beginning.

Remember, Galen, this is Mario’s journey, not Link or Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s designed for Mario. So, you can only work with what Mario has.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you,” Galen said.

“Let me put it another way then,” Angel said. “We often look at other people playing their own versions of life, and we want to be playing their game.

But just like Mario can’t play in Sonic the Hedgehog, we can’t do someone else’s version of life. Mario doesn’t have Sonic’s speed. He can only go at his own pace.

We accept that Mario’s game is Mario’s game, and we’re still willing to play. But, so many of us spend so much time longing to be in someone else’s life, someone else’s game.

We try to buy what they have, live where they live, and mimic anything else about their life because we think will help us level up.

But the truth is, the very best game we can play is the one that’s designed for us. We’re perfectly suited for our own game. The challenges and hurdles we face prepare us for each stage.”

“It doesn’t seem fair, though,” said Galen. “There are so many people who start so many levels ahead. They have more resources, more supportive parents, and better connections. Why is it wrong to want what they have?”

Angel smiled and nodded, compassion flowing through to the creases of his eyes. “Because our game is designed for us. If we can take the steps to embrace this and accept where we begin, we can be present and focused on our own path.

If Mario just stood at the beginning of the game, looking around, wondering why he was not in a different world with different skills, he would just stand there while time ran out. He dies.

You must move forward in your journey, Galen. We’re here to take steps, to overcome obstacles, to grow. We can’t jump into someone else’s set of circumstances just like Mario can’t jump into Sonic’s game.

It’s deeply unhelpful to long for someone else’s starting point. Instead, bravely turn to face yours, and find the gratitude within you for everything that has brought you to where you are.”

Lesson : Recognize you’re the hero in your own story, and take the first step. Play your game, not someone elses.

First Obstacles

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“I have been taking steps,” Galen insisted, “but every time I get to where I want to be, something happens, like an emergency at home or a problem at work.”

“Ah, you’ve encountered a Goomba. That’s great!” Angel replied.

“A what?”

“A Goomba. When Mario starts walking, he sees a little Goomba. The Goomba is an obstacle and a pretty big one. If he doesn’t move, the Goomba will touch him, and Mario will die.

Mario has a choice on how to handle this problem. He can jump on the Goomba and hurt him or jump over him. There is more than one way to solve the Goomba problem, and it’s Mario’s choice how to proceed.

An obstacle shouldn’t be feared, Galen. They help us hone our skills and enable us to make decisions. The Goombas help us to trust ourselves.

You can choose to jump on every single threat that comes towards you. Or, maybe you’ll see that stopping to squash a Goomba will only slow you down.

Either way, obstacles are a gift because they help us better understand ourselves.”

Lesson: This is your journey and no one else can play for you. How you handle the obstacles in your path is your choice. Learn which ones need your time and attention and which ones are a mere distraction.

Life’s Mystery Boxes

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Next, Mario comes across magical boxes. Again the universe has put them in front of him but it’s up to him if he wants to touch them.

He can keep running straight through life without doing anything and get to the end and be the small person he was when he started. Or he can see what his journey offers and if there are ways for him to grow.

When he eats the mushrooms (A.K.A. his vegetables) he grows taller and stronger. Suddenly he’s able to jump higher, run and jump further and also break bricks with his head. He has more strength than he did when he was smaller and malnourished.

Plus he can afford to try new things, and if he loses due to an attack from a threatening figure he will go back and shrink. But because he has gotten stronger he will not die like, he would were he to have stayed small.

Lesson: Exploring life’s mysteries is up to you, you decide which ones are worth looking into and what they might hold. Go big.

Life’s Obstacles

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As he goes along his journey, there are more obstacles that come up. There are also shortcuts. He can jump into a tunnel and come out the other end richer for having challenged himself and going into the unknown because there are often lots of unseen riches in these shortcuts. Or he can walk the slow path that is known and visible to him never the wiser that he missed out on that opportunity.

So many of us do that, we focus on what we can see and ignore the potential of immense possibilities all around us. There’s no wrong way to do it, it’s all a choice.

Lesson: You don’t always have to step on others to get to where you want to go often you can just jump over them and leave frog what they’re doing and get on your way.

Collecting Coins

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Another thing that I like is that he can collect coins, but in reality the coins aren’t as valuable as they might seem. The one thing the coins can do is buy more life when you get enough of them.

Much like our money the more money you have the more you can do, but it’s a side effect to the game not the purpose of it. You can also spend the whole level trying to make sure you get every last coin but you do that at the expense of your time running out.

Lesson: The coins aren’t necessary if you know what you’re doing but it helps keep you alive and in the game longer. Which can make the game easier when you make mistakes.

Turning enemies into allies

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Another neat thing is the turtles. I’ve always loved Turtles they’re one of my favorite animals. The turtles you can jump over, or you can jump on them.

When you jump on them, the turtle goes into its shell, and you can kick it in front of you to eliminate problems that might be coming your way. Effectively you’re turning the turtle, an enemy, into an ally, someone who is helping you on your way.

There’s quite a lot to it when you think about it.

Lesson: Don’t feel everyone is trying to hurt you as an enemy, rather view them as a misguided soul.

Standing Still

Another interesting fact of this game is once you do decide to move forward, you can’t stand still for too long.

If you stand still you’re not moving forward and something will inevitably come up to you and harm you and you die. So if you’re going to answer the call, know you’ll be moving forward. Because that’s how progress happens.

Lesson: When you decide to play the game, move forward and see what shows up.

Leveling Up

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Mario has to go through different levels to find his ultimate mission. Every four levels he has to defeat a dragon also known as Bowser. Again he’s presented with a choice.

Often he can just jump over Bowser and crush the drawbridge freeing the land of it’s oppressor, or you can get fire and also kill Bowser by viewing him as a threat.

At the end of the first level, he’s told that his princess is in another Castle. Which is just another way of looking at goals. Mario keeps thinking that he needs to get to a certain castle for him to finish his mission but in reality, he needs to keep going and achieving his goals and leveling up.

While pursuing a mission that’s greater than that finding his princess while freeing this world of the Bowsers. It’s the same for us, we carry on achieving things one bit at a time, and eventually, we achieve our goals.

But without having a greater purpose, which is to ultimately save the princess, the game is purposeless. So the idea is to always be achieving a higher level of insight and strength.

That way you can handle the new obstacles that come up when you get there. So many of want to be at the top, but we aren’t equipped with the tools to get there, so being at the top means we fall or can’t keep it up. This is common for many people who rush up the levels without developing the natural skills they need to maintain this new level.

And what’s the point of Mario going through each level unless he’s trying to get to something bigger? If that were the case, if there was no purpose he could just stay on the first level collecting all the coins that he could and never rise to the next level and the levels beyond that.

Lesson: If you focus on the end of the game, it’ll feel long but if you celebrate every win along the way you’ll feel a lot better and it will sustain your motivation.

End of the level

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At the end of each level Mario runs up the staircase and jumps at a flagpole to acknowledge that he has completed the level. sometimes there’s fireworks if you do it at the rightTime. sometimes you try for the top of the flagpole only to fall flat on the ground and eek out a small jump because the journey is taken so much out of you. Either way you have reached the end of that level and you are ready for something bigger.

Lesson: Take time to celebrate the moments when you level up.

Watching others play

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It’s fun to watch kids play. I remember my son first playing this game and he was obsessed with making sure he got every coin. I couldn’t understand why.

Sure it gives you an extra life, but if you got good at playing the game, you could make it through to the levels faster and finish it, which means you could then play the next level. The coins seemed like a distraction to me.

Getting to the next level, which would be more interesting and more challenging, was what appealed to me. But neither way is of playing it was a wrong way, our ways are just different.

Lesson: Watch how others play and see if you can learn from them.

It’s a little bit Woo with Cosmic and Earth Energy.

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There is also an energy from the Stars, well that’s cosmic energy. Cosmic energy. Some may call it celestial, god, or universal energy. But when you get a star, you power up like nothing you have seen before. You are lit up with energy. Nothing can stop you.

You want to go through the whole game like this, but it’s limited in the time you have it. So you have to make the most of it while it’s there. At first I thought it would be great to to always have the star, but then I realized that the game would be boring. Nothing would be able to stop me. Also going through life this way would be very boring, and not a lot of point if you didn’t have to figure out the challenges that lie in front of you.

Lesson: Enjoy the moments, the times when you are undefeatable and the moments you lose. They are all there to teach you something.

There’s a nutrition aspect too

Then there is eating the plants and being able to shoot fire. That’s Earth energy. Eating the mushrooms i.e. more vegetables makes you stronger. It’s not chocolate, it’s not a hamburger, it’s very interesting to look at that game.

Lesson: Eat your vegetables.

We control ourselves and what we do

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Another very intriguing thing is that we are the one controlling Mario are Spirit controls the little man. We are like his higher self. How we choose to play is up to us. We can come at it with an attitude of getting through it as fast as possible, so we can level up quicker, or we can take our time and get every coin break every brick and stomp on every adversary we see. Or find another way that is more suitable to us. There’s no wrong way to play the game so long as you’re moving forward.

Because if you don’t make progress, the time runs out, and you die. And guess what, you’ll have to do it all over again. This is a way of looking at reincarnation. You will repeat the same levels (lessons) until you learn them. Only when you learn them can you move on.

We don’t get to control what comes at us only how we react to it. This is why it’s so important for us to come at things from the right frame of mind and the right place.

If we come at things aggressively everything will be about stomping on everyone to get to where we want to go. But if we want to do everything peacefully we can simply leap over those that are trying to stop us by not giving them our energy and moving forward.

Lesson: The key to life is to keep moving forward, and not waste the time you have here.

Moving Up To Your Next Level

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The interesting part is when you get to the next level it’s completely different. Yes you still need to move forward, but the obstacles are different, the roadblocks are different, and the terrain is different.

What isn’t different is your willingness and ability to move forward. As long as you’re determined to get to the end you’ll keep persisting until you do.

So many of us get halfway through a goal and stop but if you stop in the middle of the game, the time will just run out and that will be it.

As you move up through the levels, the challenges get bigger as well. Suddenly, the turtles can throw hammers, and you have to navigate new obstacles. Some of what used to work won’t anymore. So you have to innovate, you have to change, you have to evolve into a new way of being.

Again, the choice is always yours. You can stay and fight or you can step to the side, jump over, or maybe even find a shortcut. There’s no right way of doing this game of life. It’s very interesting.

Lesson: Life only gives you challenges that you can handle, they are there to help you grow.

How You Play is Up to You

It’s up to you how you play this game.

Collect every coin. Rush through each level, or level up. Stomp on everyone you see along your way, or side step them altogether. It’s completely your choice.

Sometimes you’ll need to do things a way you’ve never thought. Other what’s always worked will keep working. but the clock is ticking and you need to decide if you’re going to step forward.

Lesson: How you live your life (play the game) is up to you.

It’s Two Players But Not How You Think

Another interesting thing I love about this game is that there’s the option to play two players. Each player has a similar Journey but how that other person plays it can be completely different so often we want to bring someone Along on our journey because we think it’ll be more fun, more interesting, and more pleasant. but the other person has to overcome those same obstacles we can’t jump over a Goomba for them.

We can only teach them by example what we did to get over that obstacle. It’s Up to them if that’s the way they choose to do it. But they can do it their way and still get to the final level save their princess and achieve their goal.

Lesson: You can’t play someone else’s game for them, you can only play your own game and let them watch. Then they can play theirs in a way that suits them best.

It’s a Lot of Fun

Lastly my friend this game of life is a lot more fun. But it’s up to you to see it that way. You can get frustrated, sad, elated, joyful. It’s all part of the experience. Enjoy the game, because it’s meant to be fun AND challenging.

Seeing it as this can help. And of course, once it is done, you can start all over and it’s all harder. But with all your skills you know you’re able to conquer it again.

It’s an amazing way to look at it.

Lesson: Life is more fun when you see it as a game.

Andrew Dewar is the co-founder of the person growth company Five Year You, where they help people become the best versions of themselves one day at a time. Learn more at FiveYearYou.com