When I was a young teenager back in the 1980s, when home computers were only just beginning to catch on, most kids with a taste for fantasy and adventure would either play role-playing games with a few friends or get hold of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
These were similar to novels, but they were played like games, and so their stories were presented in short numbered sections instead of long chapters. You’d start at the first section and at the end of it, you’d be given a choice about what the main character should do next. Each choice would lead you to a different numbered section, and so the story would unfold according to the choices you made. The aim was obviously to get through the adventure successfully – something that was rarely achieved on the first reading.
Now here’s the thing: each book was its own self-contained adventure. In one book, the main character might be someone on a quest for hidden treasure. In another, it might be a special agent trying to save the world, or someone traveling back in time. And while each book was played in a very similar way, the actual choices presented were specific to the adventure being played.
What’s Your Story?
It recently occurred to me that people often get stressed in life simply because they are fixated on stories that really aren’t relevant to them. They resent the fact that they were born in ‘the wrong country’, that they had ‘the wrong upbringing’, or that they aren’t as young, mature, experienced, intelligent, intuitive, attractive, healthy, or wealthy as they’d like to be. Rather than playing the game of their own life, they spend most of their time fixating on how other people are living and end up drawing irrelevant comparisons.
One of the quickest ways of reducing the amount of stress you experience is to accept your life for what it is, right now. Warts and all. Your story is not my story. The choices that you have in front of you today are not the same choices that I have in front of me. This doesn’t mean that any of us are doomed to be trapped forever in our current circumstances, but it does mean that if we want to change those circumstances for the better, we have to focus on actually playing our own game to the best of our ability.
Someone who is bored with their current job or relationship won’t change that situation by envying another person who already has their dream job or relationship. In fact, resenting the situation will only prolong it. To change the situation as quickly as possible they have to start by embracing the current reality and making the best choices they can from that point on.
Play the Game
We are all exactly where we need to be at this present moment. And there’s a very good reason for why we are where we are. I don’t know what that reason is, and the chances are that you don’t, either. And I don’t think that any of us will really understand what every event in our lives was all about until the game ends.
What I do know is that we’re each here to play our own particular game as best we can, and not to stress about the fact that we aren’t playing something entirely different. I also know that regretting past mistakes or worrying about future events is also a waste of time. You can learn from your past mistakes, for sure. You can also make sensible plans for the future. But try to keep most of your attention on the here-and-now, and on the choices that you have right in front of you.
The best part of a Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook wasn’t actually completing it. In retrospect, the best part was simply playing it. Being surprised, wondering what would happen next, and thinking about the possible consequences of each decision you were asked to make.
Life is probably very similar. The important thing probably isn’t whether we win or lose, whatever that means, but how we play the game from moment to moment.
Look at the choices that face you today, this week, and this month, and try to make the best choices possible. By doing this, you’ll find yourself enjoying the unfolding story far more than you would otherwise. Sure, there will be twists, turns, and surprises along the way. But what kind of adventure would it be if that weren’t the case?