It’s a standard reminder in multi-story parking garages, and I’ve been in and out of this particular one a dozen times in the last couple of years, but for some reason the sign caught my attention this time.
Years of writing combined with years of noticing have made it nearly impossible for me to see a sign as just a sign. My brain immediately started generating alternate wordings, and none of them were good.
Remember your level.
Stay in your lane.
Mind your own business.
Keep your head down.
Don’t get too big for your britches.
Know your place.
Sadly familiar territory. I hear those things all the time, mostly from myself.
What made me stop and take this picture, though, was the thought that jumped recklessly out in front of my speeding sense of doom.
Your level is where you are. That’s all.
I had a brief flashback to the many (many) hours I’ve spent playing Final Fantasy, all the time spent grinding, improving my party after getting smacked down by a boss or preparing to start a harder area of the game. You grind because your current level isn’t high enough to accomplish your goals (i.e: beat a boss, solve a puzzle, complete an ultimate set of armor).
But the key to leveling up is knowing where you are now.
Unless you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your current level, you can’t make any progress. If you try to push too far ahead, the fights are too hard and you waste resources, get discouraged, throw controllers, and give up. You aren’t meant to be there yet. But if you go back to where things were easy, the encounters don’t yield enough experience to matter and the equipment is worse than what you have. You aren’t meant to be there, either.
Knowing where you are in relation to where you were is how you get to where you’re going.
I am here. I was there. I’m going there.
I am this. I was this. I’m going to be this.
Remember your level.
Do I understand that my level is simply where I am at this moment, neither good nor bad, regardless of merits or flaws?
Do I understand that how it is now isn’t how it will always be?
Do I accept that just because I’m not “there” yet doesn’t mean I’m not better than when I started?
Do I fully exist in my present state–more than what I was but less than what I will be–without longing for or grieving my past, without grasping for or rose-coloring my future?
Do I appreciate the joys and challenges of this stage/season/turn of the spiral and hold it precious now instead of in retrospect when it’s too late?
All of these questions came to me in a millisecond rush as I walked across the parking lot. I know I’ve grown because rather than being filled with existential dread, I felt peaceful.
There was a gentle release in realizing that it’s okay to just be where I am.
In nearly every video game, the leveling system is different: it takes different amounts of experience to hit a new level, the monsters can level up with you, and/or you share power with your party. The way you progress is unique to that story.
Same for us.
There are infinite levels to reach for, achieve, and transcend in our lifetime, but each of us climbs to, through, and over them differently. What it takes for me to reach a new level will be different than what it takes for you. As long as we’re aware of where we are now and have peace with where we were, we can all keep growing and transforming into ever-better versions of ourselves, finding new adventures and new rewards along the way.
Look at your level with clear eyes. Where are you right now? Are you listing backward or pushing too far forward? How can you stand strong in your current state while you gain strength to level up?