Leveling Up: Knowing When It’s Time to Challenge Yourself

Posted on Mar 29, 2023 1:12 PM


It’s a common question among learners: How does a 200-level course differ from a 100-level course?

The simple explanation is that 100-level courses are introductory and present basic concepts and terminology about a subject, while 200-level courses are for learners who are ready for an intermediate level of difficulty. At the 200 level, a learner should be able to proceed through the course with minimal comprehension difficulties while effectively demonstrating their application and analytical skills. Most 200-level courses require a solid understanding of basic subject-area knowledge, and they also provide learners with ample opportunity to test themselves.

Simply put, taking a 200-level means that things are going to get more difficult. And while those of us who are not pursuing degrees right now can avoid taking a 200-level course, it’s another thing to avoid other kinds of challenges that foster personal growth and development. A new challenge, whether it’s following a more complex recipe, developing a more robust exercise program, or pursuing a master’s degree, calls our knowledge and abilities into question. And although these challenges make us feel like we are starting over, they provide the opportunity to gain more knowledge, enhance our skills and perspectives, and foster self-fulfillment.

Many people familiar with video and tabletop games may refer to this experience as “leveling up.” Just as in education, progressing in some games requires players to advance or improve themselves—often by learning new skills and taking risks—to achieve their goals. But this progression requires a sacrifice of time, patience, money, and pride. In the fantasy-action role-playing video game Elden Ring, known for its intense difficultly level, you mostly learn by having your character die brutally at the hands of various monsters and unforgiving environments.

Over and over… and over again.

One reason the game is so difficult is that it constantly introduces different obstacles, concepts, puzzles, and opponents that also test your skills and knowledge of previous enemies and areas.

In a similar (but less gory) way, leveling up in your education can lead to a tremendous amount of personal growth and development. By investing more time and effort in your academic goals, you are able to explore new ideas and subtopics within your subject area, which will ultimately help you overcome challenges that you might never have thought to approach before.

A hard truth is that we’re not growing if we aren’t learning. Everything in the world is constantly changing, and the people who keep up best are the ones who continue to advance their education or refine their expertise. But growing and challenging ourselves can be uncomfortable—especially when we have already challenged ourselves so often just to get to where we are today. For many people, challenging themselves yet again feels like going back to Square One and starting over—requiring them to step out of their comfort zone and enter a zone of fear and uncertainty.

If you’re in a video game, it may be a zone of danger; in education, there’s less danger but still a lot of discomfort. In his book Leveling Up: How to Master the Game of Life, entrepreneur and Fortune 500 consultant Eric Siu talks about the struggles that come with starting new challenges. He argues that, whether in a game or in real life, “the beginning always sucks. It’s slow, it’s boring, and it’s hard to see where things are heading.” Whether it’s a new quest or a new course, it is within this zone that we face new challenges and, many times, fail at them. Taking on new risks and challenges leaves us vulnerable, and while vulnerability can be a great strength, it often holds many of us back. This can be especially true when we know contemporaries who are also leveling up and moving forward as we continue to struggle.

It is ultimately through this struggle that we gain new knowledge and skills—which means that the more we bravely push forward, the sooner we begin to learn, and, more importantly, experience the benefits of our personal growth. (Or, if you’re playing a game like Elden Ring, it means leveling up to the point where you are confident enough to proceed without having to worry about being killed by a dragon or a giant lobster.)

Of course, we can always quit the game. We can always retreat to a place of comfort and certainty, where the familiar can protect and immobilize us. But choosing to overcome our challenges can be so much more satisfying, because by doing so, we commit ourselves to moving forward and investing the time and energy necessary to make new concepts, ideas, and environments familiar. As Siu argues in his book, “the struggle is the growth opportunity that allows breakthroughs in life.”


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