Being a young grown-up is hard. Society expects you to work toward achieving myriad family, education, career, and financial goals – all at the same time. I’ve struggled for years to devise a system that allows me to get through the day, let alone work toward these longterm goals. After spending a painful amount of time and money filling out workbooks, attending groups, and searching online for tips about how to be an adult, I’ve realized a life-changing universal truth: no one else’s system is going to work perfectly for me. I have to come up with my own motivation for being responsible, and my own rewards for being successful.
And that system needs to play to my interests. After years of tweaking my sense of self, I’ve come to discover that I like bright, pretty colors, animated movies, and video games (so essentially, I’m a five-year-old). With this self-discovery in hand, I came up with a points-based method of “adulting” that suits me.
The basis of my system draws heavily on the adventure games I grew up playing, like Legend of Zelda and Phantasy Star Online. Games in this genre typically follow a common structure: they present you with the main plot, which is one large task that you build toward completing, while also giving you many options for different side quests. The latter are small, fun adventures you can finish quickly and easily for modest rewards, like experience points that allow your character to level up. Completing a side quest doesn’t usually further the main plot of the game, but it does embellish your gaming experience, and it provides you with creative options for gameplay instead of forcing every player down the same path.
I’ve found that life is built on a similar structure. People follow a main plot, which generally means gaining wisdom and contributing to the overall wellbeing of the human race. Meanwhile, life also involves pursuing countless side quests, without which the experience of living would be pretty dull.
The biggest difference between being a human and being a video game character is that the character’s life is much simpler. As a little kid, I liked to imagine my life could be that straightforward and colorful – and then I realized that with a little imagination, it can.
I may not be a sword-wielding Hyrulian, but I am a damn creative human woman, so over time, I’ve crafted a points system for myself that isn’t unlike the experience points video game heroes earn. In it, every sort of responsible behavior I do – from finishing a college course to buying coffee grounds (before I run out) – earns me experience points, or EXP for short. This is both motivating and rewarding. Since EXP have inherent value – they denote my personal levels of wisdom and achievement – I’m driven to earn as many of them as I can. It’s also extremely satisfying to picture a little gold number appearing over my head every time I complete a task, announcing to the world how many EXP I just earned by successfully adulting. Instead of thinking about my mundane responsibilities as boring chores, I conceptualize them as opportunities to build EXP.
Because my system is imaginary, I can reward myself with EXP for everything I achieve, no matter how small. For example, whenever I go to the grocery store, I ask myself: Did I bring my Safeway card? Did I leave enough money in my food assistance account to cover the expense? Did I buy healthy foods, and things that were on sale? Did I avoid the snack aisle (for the most part)? Whenever I can answer “yes” to any of these questions, I award myself EXP. Now, instead of dreading my grocery runs, I see them as a chance to gain a ton of EXP for my “character” (which is me).
As I accumulate points, I can almost picture myself leveling up, standing taller, and glowing a little more brightly – and when I say “glow”, I mean it literally. In adventure games, objects of importance often light up. This is how you know they matter in your quest. Copying this concept, I like to to picture the significant objects in my life glowing. When there are a half dozen books scattered on my desk, for example, I picture the most relevant one gently pulsing with a golden outline to let me know that I need to attend to it first.
What I love most about my imaginary EXP system is that it’s tailored to me. I’m positive there aren’t any books at Barnes and Noble that tout a “video game method” for living a satisfying life that follows the exact structure mine does. It may be silly, but I’d rather live by my own colorful imaginary system than by a dull set of rules thought up by someone else.
The other great aspect of this adulting points system is that I gain EXP for what I do accomplish without losing it for the things I don’t. The points system encourages me to always do my best, without punishing me for not being perfect. That’s a really important concept. I tend to count my achievements as downright failures if I don’t pull them off flawlessly, which is an unhealthy way to live. I’ve suffered for a long time at the hands of my perfectionism. So I’ve crafted my points system to encourage me to do as well as I can, instead of getting caught up in pure perfection.
That said, it may not be helpful to go overboard with this premise. I don’t literally tally up the points I’ve earned – that would cause me undue stress. I don’t want to spend time assigning specific values to the things I do, or else I’m afraid I’ll get caught up in perfecting my numbering system, which would bog me down emotionally and defeat the purpose. Instead, I just acknowledge when something I’m doing feels important enough to give me EXP. Then, at the end of the day, I very figuratively “count up” my accomplishments, and I allow myself to glow a little brighter the next day.