I have a confession to make: Despite being into games for my entire life, I have never beaten the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I know. How can you trust anything video-game-related that I have to say? I haven’t even been through the core literature of our genre! It’s like loving science fiction without having seen Star Wars, or liking fantasy without having seen/read Lord of the Rings.
In truth, I’ve never been able to beat the Forest Temple… until today.
I’m not exaggerating here, but after dying against Phantom Ganondorf over fifty times, I had given up hope. But it wasn’t like I died fifty times all in one go: I have start and quit Ocarina of Time at least four or five times.
There was a point in my life where I had given up and, no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to beat this game.
I can count the number of times I’ve said that one hand, so I’m a pretty persistent guy, but there’s something gravely sad about not being able to do something that so many people have clearly done, which leads me to the point that some of you may be thinking:
BUT THE FOREST TEMPLE ISN’T EVEN THAT HARD!
JUST WAIT UNTIL THE WATER TEMPLE!
YOU THINK OCARINA IS HARD? TRY “DEMON’S SOULS” OR
“DARK SOULS” OR…
And some of you may not be, and that’s fine, but sometimes we have these benchmarks where we assume (wrongly, I think) that these are things the average person should do. Well, it may be that there is no “average,” there are just people who are just trying to get through life and get a little better at it as they go along.
One of my former students posted this on her instagram and it was the catalyst to my return to the dreaded Forest Temple:
I love how it compares these actions to Mount Everest because it correctly contextualizes the amount of effort it will take to surmount them. It accurately responds to the three prompts from earlier:
But the Forest Temple isn’t even that hard! – WELL, IT’S HARD FOR ME.
Just wait until the Water Temple! – I NEEDED TO DO THE FOREST TEMPLE FIRST.
You think Ocarina is hard? Just try… – I DO THINK OCARINA IS HARD AND NOW I’M GOING TO BEAT IT.
Because that’s how it ends: We beat it.
I’ve had a really successful year and I’m grateful for everyone who’s helped and I’m pleased as punch that things are going so well, but none of those things have made me howl and scream like finally killing Phantom Ganondorf. It was like I was ten years old and the house was filled with my cry of victory. For a good 30 seconds, it was like the Winnipeg Jets winning the Stanley Cup in Game Seven with a goal in overtime. Solid screaming. It was that kind of elation.
And it wasn’t because I beat the level, it was that I conquered something that I had failed over and over again. That was my Mount Everest. Sure, it wasn’t the tallest mountain or the hardest game (or even the hardest dungeon), but there was something in my mind that told me I couldn’t do it, then I pressed on and succeeded.
And we’ve all been there. We’ve all done something that we’d failed on time and time again. The difference for most of us is that those experiences probably happened most often when we were kids and we were less scared of our feelings and the world. It is easier to give up when you aren’t a child because, when you’re young, you have nothing to lose.
I had to remember that today because I started the temple dying over and over again as usual. In fact, I thought to myself “why am I even trying? I’m never going to be able to do this,” but I also knew that this was my Everest, not anyone else’s. As the boss rode out of the pictures and I kept dying, I finally started to systematize where I was going wrong; in this case, my bow technique was poor. I started to look at each round with him as practice, instead of a life-or-death struggle and I started to tell myself that I would just restart back at the beginning if I died and that I really had nothing to lose.
As I mastered the horse-riding part of the boss, he took on his spiritual form and we played some Zelda tennis with his energy balls and I died again… and again… and again. I needed to swing sooner.
And even though I figured out the way to beat him, it doesn’t mean that I could do it. Just because I understood the problem cognitively didn’t mean that I could solve the problem physically. It became the same as music: Just because I can read it doesn’t mean I can do it.
So I died over and over and over and over again… until the one time I didn’t.
Let’s not try to climb the biggest mountain ever today, but let’s do what we can and try and do a little more each time. We don’t arm curl 60s on first day at the gym, but maybe someday we’ll get there. And we aren’t lesser people if we can’t curl 60s on our first day, we can only do what we can do. We might start at 5s or 10s or 20s, and wherever you start is fine. When that feels easy move up a little bit.
Musically, we would never start a 4-year old on their first day of piano with a Rachmaninoff concerto. They might get there someday, and maybe there are four-year olds who can do it, but everyone’s fine with where they are.
And if you surpass whatever Everest you’re working on right now, allow yourself to feel good about it. If you let thoughts like “now I can finally do the thing that everyone else can do” get in your head, you’ll never feel good about anything you accomplish. Do what you can do and feel good about it. If you’re feeling ambitious, try something else just outside your realm of ability and work to do that, and feel good about that when you surpass it.
It feels good to let yourself feel good about accomplishments, no matter how small.
Have the best week,