How to Level Up in the Game of Life



This may be the sweetest sound you can possibly hear when playing a role-playing game (henceforth referred to as an RPG).  “DING!” or something similar depending on the video game you’re playing, means that your character completed a certain number of quests, killed a specific number of monsters, and ran enough errands to level up.

Congratulations, or “grats!” are usually in order for this occasion. After a brief celebratory /dance, you purchase new spells, reward yourself with new armor, and then immediately start working towards  your next level.

It’s this particular reason that games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Oblivion, Everquest 2, and any other RPG are so damn addictive: there’s always another level to reach, another dragon to kill, and better armor to acquire.

Today, we’re going to turn life into a giant role playing game. If you’ve read the “What Is Your Profession?” article, then you’ve already turned yourself into a character. Let’s put that character into action.

Since day one, the tagline for Nerd Fitness has been “Level up your life.”

Today, you’re going to learn how.

Don’t complain about your starting zone

This trooper doesn't complain of his starting point.

Let’s assume that you hit the random button when creating your character in World of Warcraft – you were hoping for a good looking elf and ended up with a goofy-looking ogre.  Instead of starting in a beautiful city high up in the clouds, you start in a dank sewer down in the bogs.  Suck.  However, you agreed to play a random character, so you suck it up, and decide to become the best damn ogre you can be.

In the game of life: we’re all dealt a “random character.”  Some humans are good looking, some are goofy, some are tall, some are short, some are big, some are small.  Some people can build muscle quickly; others can’t build muscle to save their life.  Some people have fast metabolisms, while others have slow metabolisms.

That’s life.

It might not be fair, but it is what it is. If you think you were dealt a poor hand, try complaining  to anybody that will listen for the next week and see if it helps make you better, faster, stronger.  After that doesn’t work, try sucking it up and taking action for the next week.

Look at it this way, the more dire your situation now, the better your origin story will be when you create your own epic destiny.

Rule #1 of the Rebellion – “We don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going.”

We don’t accept excuses, only solutions.

Life as a newbie

This dino is just starting out in his game.

Whenever you start playing a new RPG, your character is generally wearing a plain tunic, carrying a wooden sword, and has no sense of direction.  Luckily, there’s a commoner near you that asks for a favor: “Go into the sewer and kill ten rats.”

It’s a crappy job, but you know that if you go into the sewer and kill those rats, you’ll complete the quest and be that much closer to level 2, where you’ll have access to more interesting quests and eventually better equipment.

In the Game of Life: Things are no different. If you’re 300 pounds overweight and live in your parents’ basement, that’s your starting point. If you want to get in shape, get a job, and move out, you need to start at level one by “killing a couple rats.”

These are the rats you need to slay:

  • Walk 15 minutes a day.
  • Put together a job resume.
  • Open a savings count.

These are things you need to do in order to start “leveling up.” They might not be fun activities, they might not be what you WANT to do, but you know that these actions serve a purpose. and will get you moving down the path towards a better life.  Never forget that undesirable and seemingly insignificant tasks up front can pave the way for success down the road.

Encountering Elite Players

This ninja is an elite player.

After you’ve gained a few levels, you’re finally allowed to venture outside of the safety confines of your city’s walls.

At this point, you get to do more important quests like delivering letters, killing giants spiders, slaying snakes and such. While you’re whacking away at these mobs, you encounter a level 50 player; the best of the best.

This dude has it all:

  • A glowing horse decked out in platinum armor.
  • A flaming sword and shield.
  • Badass armor crafted from the rarest metal.

You take one look at his inventory and you’re instantly inspired to play more. You know it took this guy days and days of questing, grinding, and dungeon crawling, but if he can get to level 50 and get all that stuff, so can you.

In the Game of Life: You’re standing on a treadmill at the gym, huffing and puffing after two minutes. You peak over to the free weights section and see a guy that is absolutely ripped doing pull ups with 45 pounds hanging off him.

Rather than get jealous/blame your genetics/get depressed at how much farther you need to go: GET INSPIRED. This guy might be a Level 50, but you have NO idea what he’s gone through to get to that point in his life – the hours in the gym, the nights at home cooking healthy meals, the early evenings in bed to get enough rest. He’s living proof of what’s possible if you’re willing to work for it. You might be level 2, but it’s a short leap to level 3…and a little larger leap to level 4…and so on.

Pick on somebody your own size

When you’re level 10, try attacking a level 70 dragon with your rusty sword. Half a nano-second later, you’ll be shouting “um, can I get a res(urection) please?” because you just got your ass kicked. Lesson learned.  You get a good laugh out of it, realize you’re WAY out of your league, and quickly run back to the proper zone to fight things that are your level.

In the game of life: If you’re severely overweight, underweight, or hopelessly out of shape, don’t try to run a marathon tomorrow…you’re going to get your ass kicked and get very depressed. Start with walking 15 minutes a day, and then 20, and then 30, and then 45, and then jogging for 15, and then jogging for 20.

Tackle challenges that are level-appropriate. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Perfect physique, superhuman strength, and unlimited endurance won’t happen overnight either.

One day at a time, one level at a time.

Determine your Level 50

want to be a superhero like these legos? do circuit training!

In games like Everquest and World of Warcraft, finding out what happens at Level 50 is easy – it’s the level that comes after level 49. When you get to level 50, you get to enter special zones, wear special armor, and it comes with a certain amount of prestige.

In the game of life: you need to decide what your level 50 is, which will certainly depend on where you’re at now and what your life goals are.

Your “level 50” doesn’t need to be something incredibly dramatic, outlandish, and extraordinary (though it certainly can be), but it does need to be something that you can visualize perfectly so that you have something to work towards:

My life at level 50 looks like this: From a fitness perspective, I’m in the best shape of my life – handstand push ups, pistol squats, pull ups with 45 pounds hanging off, 300 pound squat, and a 400 pound deadlift. I’m also flexible as hell, well trained in Kung Fu, a great breakdancer, and a damn good cook.

I live in a nice house on the coast somewhere in the States. I wake up without an alarm clock and grab my surfboard for a morning session. I spend the middle of my day working on Nerd Fitness and the Rebellion (while also booking a business trip to…Hawaii? Japan? and a free vacation to Tahiti using airline miles), and then sneak out to play 18 holes of golf in the afternoon at a local course. I come home, crank out a quick strength training workout or martial arts session, cook a healthy dinner for my wife and I, and then relax by inviting some friends over for drinks, music, (Halo), and hanging out.

That’s my life at level 50…I still have a long way to go, and I’m sure my definition of level 50 will change drastically as I get older and my priorities change, but I have something to work towards.

Plot your path to 50

It's important to know exactly how you'll get to 50!

RPGs are so damn addictive because it’s easy to say “one more quest.”

As soon as you level up, there are new quests that become available to you.  If you’re level 14, you know that you’re 36 levels away from Level 50 – it’s a long way to go, but it’s a fun journey, and you get to explore new zones, fight new bad guys, and do more fun quests with each new level.

Everything is documented, and you know how many more quests you need to complete in order to level up. You know which zones to fight in for your particular level, when its time to move on to the next zone, which mobs give the most experience, and so on.

That level 50 carrot on the end of the stick keeps you walking in the right direction.

In the Game of life: Once you’ve determined your level 50, you can start making decisions based on whether or not they’re bringing you closer or further away from that end goal.

Games are fun, life is fun, why can’t life be a game?

For example, I’m currently traveling on my world trip and I don’t have access to a gym, but I want to come back in better shape than when I left.  I hope to be able to do handstand push ups and pistol squats by the time I get back to San Francisco in June.

In order to get to that point, I have MANY MANY levels in between. Every other day, I level up by getting stronger than the previous workout. With no weight, I have to continually “upgrade” my exercises to make them tougher and tougher until I’m at the point where I’m happy.

This is what my progression looks like push ups to hand stand push ups

  • Regular push ups
  • Divebomber push ups
  • Shoulder press push ups
  • Handstand push ups

I’m currently doing regular push ups until I’m at a particular number of reps that’s high enough for me to “level up” and start again with divebombers.  Once I can do enough of those in a row, I’ll move onto should press push ups, and then eventually to handstand push ups.  It’s going to take me months to get there, but I have a clear, distinct path to take, and know what I need to do in order to succeed.

This works no matter what type of life you seek at level 50:

  • If you want to run marathons: sign up for a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, and so on.
  • If you want to be a power lifter: start by learning the basic lifts with just the bar, and begin with just 5 pounds on each side of the bar. Every week, add more weight.
  • If you want to become a black belt in Tae Kwon Do: you have to start as a white belt, and then work your way up to yellow, then green, then blue.

Don’t just kill rats for the hell of it

Don't just kill rats for the hell of it. Level up!

When you start playing a RPG for the first time, you’re always sent out to kill level 1 rats. You do it because that’s what the quest asks for and you know that completing the quest will open up other quests. However, once you’ve leveled up a bunch, going back to kill another 100 rats probably won’t be that fun, and it won’t get you any closer to level 50. You have bigger fish to fry, tougher mobs to kill, and more important quests to complete.

In the game of life: Live your life with purpose – if you’re doing something, make sure you know WHY you’re doing it. And if you don’t like the thing you’re doing, and it’s not bringing you any closer to your life at Level 50, find a way to stop doing it  At least put a plan in place so that eventually you don’t have to do it anymore.

Reward yourself with better equipment

This Knight knows equipment will help level her up.

The big draw in RPGs is that whenever you level up, you get to use better weapons, wear cooler armor, cast cooler spells, and so forth. Better equipment will help you fight tougher monsters, which will in turn give you more experience and get you closer to the next level up. It’s a viciously awesome cycle that keeps people playing for days and days on end.

In the game of life: reward yourself with stuff that will reward you back.

I don’t love the concept of rewarding yourself with unhealthy food or habits when you do something good. It drives me nuts to see somebody that spends four months training for a marathon, and then rewards himself then after the race is done with two weeks of binge eating and no exercise (which becomes three weeks…and then a month…).

According to Rule #2 of the Rebellion, “When you join, you’re in for life.” We’re not in this for diets and quick fixes. We don’t accomplish a goal and then backslide with an unhealthy reward system. We accomplish goals and celebrate with rewards that push us to be even better:

  • Hit a new weight loss goal? Great! Buy yourself a new bathing suit to show off that body.
  • Just ran a 5k? Awesome! Buy yourself some vibrams and start considering barefoot running for your upcoming 10K.
  • Completed the advanced body weight routine? Great! Reward yourself with a gym membership and start learning how to lift weights.

The above are just examples – it’ll be up to you to determine your rewards, but if you can find ways to reward yourself with things that help you level up, you’ll get to level 50 far quicker than if you reward yourself with stuff that has you backsliding.

Don’t turn life into a grind!

Make sure you live a little, and don't just focus on battle like this lady.

If you’ve ever wondered if I was a true nerd, these next two paragraphs should just about do it.

Back when I used to play the original Everquest, WAY back in the late 1990s, I remember hanging out with my friend Saint at the wizard spires in North Karanas. We weren’t doing any quests, we weren’t killing any bad guys, but it was the first time I had ever met up with a friend from real life in a video game. We giggled like school children, and took turns cracking each other up by typing “/flex” and “/dance” which made our characters perform those actions.  I think three hours later we finally moved on to fighting stuff.

I also remember going to Kelethin, a city up in the tree tops, and having races with my friends Cash and Seth after drinking mead (which made my character “drunk” and thus unable to run in a straight line) to see who could run from one end of the city to the other without falling off the pathways.

Did these things have ANY purpose or advance my character in any way towards a higher level?


Was it fun?

You’re DAMN right it was!

In fact, those were probably two of my favorite memories from playing Everquest.

In the game of life: I know earlier I said “always have a purpose,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun too. I like to live a life worth living, knowing that each activity or action puts me one step closer to  my ideal life. However, I still go out drinking with friends, stay up too late playing Halo: Reach (how I miss thee), and eat foods that are unhealthy for me every once and a while.

These things keep me grounded, keep me sane, and keep me happy.

Although I’m fanatical when it comes to my gym sessions, I also seek out “fun quests” like ultimate frisbee, hiking, climbing, surfing, and other activities that make me happy but might not necessarily get me any closer to competing on Ninja Warrior.

I’m okay with that.

Stay out too late every once a while. Eat bad foods while watching sports or playing video games. Do stuff that makes you happy.  Just make sure you’re also doing stuff that makes you a better person and gets you closer to a better life.

What’s life like for you at Level 50?

Landscape shot of someone who has built muscle and strength.

In the comments below, tell me what life is like for you at level 50. Then, tell me one quest that you’re going to complete TODAY in order to “level up” and get closer to making that dream a reality.

Let’s hear it – your life at level 50, and your quest for today to make that dream a reality!


Photo Sources can be found here: Pascal: Knightseeing, Bixentro: Green Dragon, stromtrooper Lego Egg, pre-historic world, Winter in the bamboo grovelego custom by HOBBYBRICK, Mouse Trap, Tomoe Gozen, Achieve.

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