Three Lessons in Life, Writing, and Learning from Super Mario

1. Face Your Demons

I’ve been having a tough time coming up with a topic to blog about this week. My informal weekly deadline of Wednesday has passed and, as I write, I’m not certain if or how this post will come to be. 

After sharing my sense of writer’s block with the lovely community over at Foster, I was encouraged to let go of the idea that I need to have a fully polished draft or idea before asking for help. By sharing rough writing ideas, rather than keeping them to myself, I’d have a better chance of them evolving into something more.   

The realisation that it was a sense of perfectionism holding me back reminded me of an article I read recently, Boo & the Writing Demons by Michael Deen. Boo is the ghost character in Super Mario who slowly but surely encroaches upon you when you’re not looking:

Like Boo, the true blocks preventing us from sharing our drafts, experimenting with voice, bringing our life into our work, or covering certain topics, are difficult to see.

You can stop Boo right in their tracks by facing them head-on, just like any other demons we may have. As Deen puts it:

Boo is a blind spot. “Nothing to see here!” when looking at it, but haunting our creative life when we look away.

I really want to get into the routine of blogging on a weekly basis. It’s important to me. But there are a swarm of blockers and “Boos” making it a challenge. The only way to overcome them is to face them head-on. I didn’t do that, though. If I was playing Super Mario, a Boo would have got me and it’d be game over.

2. Levelling Up Involves Lots of Failing

If you’ve ever seen Mark Rober’s incredible squirrel maze (as well as the equally incredible follow up) then you’ll know he’s a man with an appreciation for all beings who can overcome and learn from obstacles.

In his TED talk, The Super Mario Effect: Tricking Your Brain into Learning More, the former NASA engineer reflected on how playing Super Mario made him feel as a youngster:

We’d get to school and ask each other, “Dude, what level did you make it to? Did you pass the game?” We never asked each other about details on all the different ways we might have died. 

By learning from failures in the game, Rober and his friends got really good at it:

When it comes to games like this, no one ever picks up the controller for the first time and then after jumping into a pit thinks, “I am so ashamed; that was such a failure,” and they never want to try again, right? What really happens is they think, “I’ve got to remember there’s a pit there; next time, I’m going to come out with a little more speed and jump a bit later.”

Learning to fail has been something I’ve been actively working on, but it’s hard. It’s hard to fail, it’s hard to be vulnerable, and both of those things tie into that sense of perfectionism that prevented me from publishing on Wednesday. 

Although my weekly blogging habit is not of the greatest importance in the grand scheme of things, getting into the habit of applying the “Super Mario Effect” has the potential to help me in many ways: 

Think about anything that means anything to you in life, whether it’s a degree, a relationship with a friend or someone in your family, maybe a professional accomplishment. I can guarantee you it came from something that looks like the bottom and not the top: failing and failing and failing and eventually succeeding to the point that it now holds value, just like the most meaningful high-fives of my adolescence were those when I said, “Dude, I finally beat Bowser last night.” 

I get to learn from my failures and I get to try again. This is as true of blogging as it is for coding, cooking, careers, and any number of things you can imagine.

3. Remember to Celebrate Your Wins

At the end of every level in Mario, you make a final leap for the flag pole, a win that is punctuated with a musical effect and sometimes even fireworks. 

So, here I am, I missed my Wednesday deadline, but I’ve been able to reflect and publish this post this week, gaining some lessons along the way. I’m calling that a win. 🎆

Thank you for joining me at this flagpole of mine, dear reader, I hope you remember to celebrate your wins too.

2 thoughts on “Three Lessons in Life, Writing, and Learning from Super Mario

  1. Lol I love how you got that analogy from Mario’s boo. And that’s such a lovely one too. Sometimes it’s the facing of our fears that help us get over them, as unintuitive as that is. Thanks for this post, Siobhan!

    Liked by 1 person

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