When I was a kid one of my favorite video games was Donkey Kong. For those of you not familiar with this iconic game, the premise is that you are a carpenter (later called Mario) with a pet gorilla. The gorilla escapes and kidnaps your girlfriend and you have to rescue her and recapture the gorilla. During the course of the game you have to avoid objects like barrels thrown by the gorilla, fireballs and other deadly items. You do have opportunities to grab a hammer to smash some of these object instead of jumping over them. There are four different screen stages that get increasingly difficult each time you complete them.

So why am I bringing up a video game from my youth? Well, I happened to see a show about the video game and the more I watched, the more I realized that Donkey Kong is a metaphor for our life journey.

There are four screens in Donkey Kong, each similar in some ways but very different in others. It makes me think about the different “screens” in our lives, such as work, family, health, and happiness. We spend our lives striving to reach our goals and attempting to get past the obstacles that are thrown at us. We have to decide whether we are going to avoid these obstacles and try to somehow get around them, or if we are going to grab our hammers and confront them directly. In some cases in the game it is better strategy to jump over the hurdles and in some cases it is better to face them head on. Kind of like life.

When we have issues with our boss, or our kids, or our waistline, we always have a choice whether to confront it head on or to find a way around it. Not every issue needs to be smashed with a hammer. Sometimes we have to decide which battles are worth fighting and when the best strategy is to simply jump over the barrel and let it go by. Either way, the objective is to keep moving forward to get to the end of the screen. It’s up to each of us to figure out our own personal strategy.

So as I mentioned, once you get to the end of each of the screens and you are able to move to the next level the game gets increasingly more difficult and each screen offers more challenges. Sound familiar? When we reach a goal in life, like a promotion for example, we’ve reached the end of a screen. But that doesn’t mean the game is over. Far from it. Now we are at a higher level of the game. We have more responsibility, more accountability, all new goals in front of us to achieve. Our screen looks similar but has become more difficult, with new challenges, and we must again figure out a strategy to get past it. Our strategy this time may involve less smashing and more jumping or vice versa, but the point is that we always have to evaluate our strategies toward reaching our goals on each screen, and sometimes we need to adjust our strategy accordingly.

So what happens if we try to get through a screen and one of the obstacles hits us? What if we are unable to either avoid it or smash it? Well, we learn from it. We put another quarter in the game (or for our younger readers, we hit reset on our game console) and take that experience and use it to plan better the next time that obstacle is presented to us. With practice we get better in all facets of the game, be it work, home, etc. We’re never going to be able to get through it on our first try, and to expect to sets us up for disappointment. Better to temper our expectations, knowing that even if we do not get to the end of the screen on the first try, we’ve learned and hopefully have become better equipped for the next that we are faced with a similar obstacle.

So, as we move forward in this video game we call life, here’s hoping that we all can achieve our own personal high scores while finding enjoyment in playing the game.