“I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!” – Katniss Everdeen
Few moments in popular contemporary literature conjure up as much emotion as the monumental scene in The Hunger Games, in which the Capitol selects which children will fight each other to the death. It’s at this moment that we learn just what kind of hero the protagonist Katniss Everdeen will be, as she volunteers – almost certainly signing her own death sentence – to save the life of her sister.
I remember reading those pages and my jaw dropped as I realized the gravity of Katniss’s sacrifice. A close look at our favorite films and books reveals that great sacrifice is often required of the hero to bring about lasting change:
- Darth Vader at the end of The Return of the Jedi
- Captain America at the end of The First Avenger
- Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie (the animated 1986 version)
- Iron Man in the climax of The Avengers
- Harry Potter toward the end of his seven-novel journey
Our heroes are often faced with a choice that will decide the fate of thousands or millions, requiring them to sacrifice everything they hold dear, including, at times, their own lives. Other times, like with Katniss, a single decision made now can have drastic consequences many years down the road.
And while nobody is asking you to lay down your life here, make no mistake: if you truly want to make lasting changes in your life and turn things around, sacrifices will be required of you, too.
It might require putting short-term gratification on hold and sacrificing certain comforts in order for you to grow. It might mean saying painful goodbyes to long-term friends or relationships, or things that have provided us with joy in the past but no longer bring us happiness, meaning, or support.
Sometimes these sacrifices are painful, and that’s why today I’m going to walk you through how to let go of the right things to level up your life.
Make Your Cause Bigger than You
In The Hunger Games, we never would have witnessed Katniss’s potential for true greatness if she hadn’t volunteered to take her sister’s place in the tournament.
In fact, this is true of nearly all of our favorite heroes: these sacrifices are necessary in order to see our heroes transform.
In this game (or movie) of life you’re playing, there is a kickass version of you waiting to level up too. I believe this of everybody. But I also believe that very few people live up to their potential.
Socrates (the OG nerd) once said: “It is a shame for man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
Most people are either unwilling or unable to make the decisions and choices required of them, or they’re afraid of stepping outside a comfortable but unfulfilling existence to take a risk at finding out what could be. They get stuck saying, “what if,” or they let temporary discomfort or friction get in the way of true happiness or a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
It’s not easy either, letting go of those things that are holding us back, limiting our long term fulfillment but providing us with temporary satisfaction. It may be old friends, old habits, old eating styles, old game favorites, old relationships, or old occupations.
It can be hugely powerful to see how these sacrifices, no matter how small they might be, fit into a bigger purpose:
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry finally realizes what is required of him in order to defeat the Dark Lord, he marches into the Forbidden Forest to face the Death Eaters alone. Except that he’s not alone—he’s surrounded by the ghosts of those who loved him, cared for him, and were impacted by his life. They give him the courage to carry on, even when all hope seems lost. Harry’s scared out of his mind, but he knows what’s at stake.
One look at Katniss’s face as she approaches the stage to volunteer tells us the same story: these are two characters who are terrified, but they are fighting for something far greater than themselves.
If you are surrounded by people (or have that voice on your shoulder) saying “come on, live a little. What’s this one time?” – try looking at things in a larger context.
The fight is larger than saying no to pizza or skipping a night of drinking to work on a project that makes you feel alive… it goes much deeper than that. Every action is tied to the story and life you are building for yourself. It’s not about the pizza.
- It’s about creating a life that’s worth living.
- It’s about setting yourself on a path that’s true to you.
- It’s about finding out what you’re capable of and not saying “what if?”
- It’s about building a life designed for you, not designed based on expectations or social standards.
Are you fighting to get healthy so that you can feel confident in your own skin, find love, and start a family of your own? Are you fighting to feel alive for the first time in years? Are you honoring your fellow nerds and those that came before you to find out what you’re capable of?
What Will You Volunteer As Tribute?
Want to know what separates the “I’ll get to it some day” people versus the people on their own adventurous path? The ability to say yes to the right opportunities and no to the wrong ones — especially a willingness to sacrifice certain immediate comforts.
I hope none of us are ever faced with true life or death choices like the those faced by Katniss and Harry, but in a sense we all are. We are faced with a thousand decisions every week – each one placing us one step closer to a life stuck in Act 1, or a transforming life that grows and evolves.
If you’re going to become your leveled up self, it may take a serious, hard look at things that need to be sacrificed:
1) UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
It’s tough to admit when the attitudes expressed by our old friends or love interests might no longer align with our new lifestyle. These are:
- Friends who make fun of you for going to bed early so you can run a race or work out in the morning.
- The boyfriend or girlfriend who constantly tells you to stop worrying about improving your health, even though it’s really important to you.
- Family members who tell you to shut up and be happy instead of striving for a life they think is unrealistic, irresponsible, or unattainable.
Sometimes, you need to fire your friends, and even fire certain family members if they’re proving to be truly destructive to your growth. I’ve had to sacrifice certain relationships until I was more sure of myself and better prepared to not be swayed by their opinions.
It’s painful and difficult, but if these people aren’t ready or willing to change, they can drag you down with them. Life will go on, and you will find that there are plenty of forward-thinking people out there who will support and celebrate your new path in life. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few hundred thousand Rebels who would love to aid you!
2) UNHEALTHY CREATURE COMFORTS
We all of things we love that don’t necessarily add to our development. For me, that’s video games (not all of which are healthy). They shaped my childhood, inspired my book, Level Up Your Life, and I still play them occasionally.
Because I know I have an addictive personality, I have to prioritize things—fitness or personal development or playing music—over gaming.
Maybe your comfort isn’t video games or Netflix, maybe it’s something like spending money on unimportant stuff (more shoes, more clothes, a nicer car, a bigger house) instead of spending it on things that bring you lasting happiness.
Are you willing to give up some comforts in exchange for what you really want?
I’m not telling you to forever abandon all things you love and that bring you small amounts of joy; instead, I’m asking you to dig deep and really look at how you’re spending your time and money, and decide what’s really important to you. Is that something you need, or a comfort that’s holding you back? Can you sacrifice it temporarily to get yourself in a better place?
3) UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHOICES
My friend Adam often jokes with me, “I really hope all this fitness stuff is worth it for you. You know how good pizza and ice cream is, right?”
It can be hard to sacrificing certain aspects of a unhealthy lifestyle to become the best version of yourself, especially if you have certain personality traits.
If you’re overweight and unhappy and interested in living a better life, you might need to make more sacrifices when it comes to the comfort foods that provide you with temporary happiness.
When people tell me, “I could NEVER give up [pizza/ bread / beer/ pasta/ candy/ whatever]” or “but I don’t want to make that change,” I say “Great! Is what you’re doing currently working? Are you healthy and happy with how you look? Keep doing it. If NOT, then maybe you could try making a sacrifice or two until you’re better emotionally equipped to have those things in your diet.”
Don’t sacrifice what you really want long term for what you want RIGHT NOW. Be better than your lizard brain (“gimme gimme gimme now now now”).
4) YOUR COMFY HOBBIT HOLE
Sometimes being the happiest and most fulfilled version of yourself can only come when you are spending your day on a job that is challenging and aligned with your skills (and ideally your interests). It might mean you have less money in the bank. It might mean certain “luxuries” are no longer possible.
I had to quit great jobs (twice!) in order to get started on my Hero’s Journey and create Nerd Fitness. Both decisions required me to downsize my lifestyle and drastically cut my expenses.
Your journey might require a big sacrifice.
Hopefully the job you have allows you to be who you are and gives you enough free time to do the things you want to do. Indiana Jones can be both an adventurer and archaeology professor, and plenty of members of The Rebellion work regular jobs they love and live out their free time as superheroes!
However, there are definitely instances in which sacrificing a crappy job or a pivoting to a different career path is the right choice. As the saying goes, “It’s better to be on the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than at the top of the one you don’t.”
If you you are a level 30 Ranger, but you know in your heart you are an Assassin, it’s better to be at the beginning of the path, but on the RIGHT path.
Your future level 50 self thanks you.
The Rebellion Needs You
Years ago, I had an idea to start my own website about helping nerds get fit. However, because I was spending so much time at my day job, playing video games on weeknights, partying on weekends, and traveling for a long-distance relationship, I never had time to make it happen (nor was I in particularly great shape).
It wasn’t until I started making sacrifices and volunteered my current self to save my future self:
- I sacrificed my video game time until Nerd Fitness became self-sufficient.
- I sacrificed my AMAZING job to try and turn Nerd Fitness into a business.
- I sacrificed a good (but unhealthy) long distance relationship to learn to stand on my own two feet.
- I sacrificed unhealthy comfort food and too many nights out at bars to improve my health and fitness.
Just as Katniss’s sacrifices inspired a movement and Harry’s sacrifices saved the Wizarding world, your sacrifices can create amazing, permanent changes in your life and the lives of those around you too. You never know unless you try:
- Anthony sacrificed more time gaming to go for 30 minute walks, went on to lose 200 pounds, changed jobs, moved, and started dating.
- Ryan sacrificed potato chips and junk food to fix his relationship with food, and lost over 100 pounds.
- Josh and Leah first sacrificed soda, and ended up losing 160+ pounds as a couple and becoming an inspiration for their child.
One small sacrifice can set you on a new path forever.
What’s one sacrifice, no matter how small, that you’re going to make this week to further your cause?
Leave a comment and I’ll pick 3 winners at random to send signed copies of my book, Level Up Your Life!:
- Can you sacrifice buying more clothes or gadgets to save up for your first big adventure?
- Can you sacrifice hanging out with friends that have long worn out their welcome to spend more time with people that you actually enjoy?
- Can you sacrifice junk food and soda and pizza for a few months while you reset your unhealthy relationship with food to something that is balanced?
- Can you sacrifice your video game addicting to finally get your side business off the ground?
Let’s hear it! I VOLUNTEER!
PS: If you enjoyed today’s post, it’s an adaptation from my book which is available on Amazon, iBooks, and in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide!