Have you ever played the video game Tetris? The game where there are seven different sized blocks falling, and you have to maneuver them so that they fit together, perfectly, and when you have a solid line it disappears?
I’ve been playing it since I was about three years old, first on the family computer, then my iPod, and now on my phone. I have a special fondness for the game — maybe it has something to do with being slightly OCD. I like to get things to fit together nicely.
But until last week, I never reached the end of the game.
To tell the truth, I didn’t even know it had an end, because I could never get past level eleven. I didn’t play it all the time — just when waiting at the chiropractor, or in the bathroom, or on a road trip late at night. Still, you’d think that since I’d been playing for eighteen years, I would have gotten to the end before now.
But I didn’t. Because there was a problem with the way I played.
With each level of the game, the pieces fall faster and faster, making it harder and harder to tell where to put them. Actually, the first level is rather slow. The blocks move along the screen, one pixel at a time, at their own sweet pace. Fortunately, there is an option to speed up a piece once you’ve rotated and moved it so that it will fall into the right place.
So, for the first few levels, I’d do just that. Get them where I want them quickly and decisively, and then hurtle them down as quickly as they’ll go. Of course, I’d stop once I got to level six or seven. They started falling too fast at that point.
But try as I might, I never got past level eleven.
Recently, at long last, I figured out what I was doing wrong. In speeding up the early levels, I was making it impossible for myself to think fast enough to move on to the lightning-paced levels beyond. Once I left the blocks to fall at the pace the programmers chose for them, I was able to increase speed gradually, building my skills from the ground level up.
Before I realized it, I was on level fifteen, moving pieces by instinct, so quickly that I hardly had time to think about where they should go. And when I cleared the last required row, I received a “game over” screen, and a notification of my new high score.
To learn to speed up, I had to learn to slow down.
Life can be the same way sometimes. I think this step is going too slowly, and if I can just speed it up and get through it quickly, then I can move on to the next phase. But that doesn’t work.
Each step comes after another. Every level in the game of life has something to teach us, and speeding them up will only make us fail later on. But embracing each stage as it comes gives us room to build on what we’ve learned, and take it one step further.