My Grandpa and uncle used to own a tavern. Once in a while, they’d close it to host family parties. I remember the dimly lit atmosphere and the ghosts of spent cigarettes that hung in the air, but my favorite feature was the row of arcade games lined up against the wall. They were blinking, bright doorways to amazing worlds and grand adventures.
I don’t remember ever being given any money from my parents to play them. But no matter. Each game had a preview segment, showing a minute or so of the gameplay to entice you to feed it some coins. I just delighted in going from machine to machine, maneuvering the joystick and mashing buttons while pretending I was the one controlling the game.
Eventually, the novelty wore off, as the preview always ended the same way. I could pretend for hours, living in a fantasy world, which was fun for a while. But if I wanted to experience the game for real I had to insert some coins.
Sometimes we live “preview” lives in our own heads. Imagining what it would be like if we made the decision to ask her out. Or put the house up for sale and embark on that quest. Or ask for that raise. Or quit that godforsaken job once and for all. Sometimes those visions in our heads have amazing endings, others have disastrous results, but either way, it’s all fake.
No matter how certain you are of the likely result (good or bad), you don’t know what will really happen until you actually go for it. Knowing for sure? That costs something.
You have to be willing to insert the coin.
It might be a financial investment, of course, but that’s not usually what holds us back. Not really. More often it’s the fear of the unknown, of not measuring up, or the risk of failure (and the embarrassment that might come from it.) Sometimes we shy away from the pain and discomfort it will require. We’re just not willing to put in the work or serve the time to get where we want to be.
A few years after my grandfather closed the tavern for good, I had a friend who was great at video games. My brothers and I would sit and watch him play Super Mario Bros., delighted to see how far he’d get, fingers crossed over whether he’d be able to defeat Bowser and win the game. It too was fun, for a while. But the joy was always fleeting because his success was not ours. It was always more fulfilling to solve a level on my own, even if I never did make it as far in the game as he did.
This painting is inspired by that original Nintendo classic. I’m intrigued by the idea of coming across one of the game’s iconic green pipes in the middle of a wide-open field. What’s it doing there? Where does it lead? And most importantly, would I have the courage to find out?
Life is a lot like a video game. It’s filled with challenges, obstacles, and opportunities to level up. But unlike most video games in which you have a few “lives” to get it right, real life only gives you one.
What a pity to waste it watching someone else’s game or settling for an imaginary version of your own.
What a shame to let fear keep you from fully owning your story and who you are meant to become.
Don’t miss the adventure of a lifetime.
Insert the coin.