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Everything I learned in life, I learned from pinball.
Lesson one: Know the lay of the land. You may never be able to guess where problems are coming from or what they’ll bounce off of but knowing where obstacles might be and how they might affect you is priceless information. In pinball and in life, there’s a lot of guess-work. Taking a good look at what you’re facing before you dive in can be the difference between losing and getting an extra bonus round. Or whatever you would get in life.
Lesson two: Prioritize. Many pinball games have flood levels where all of a sudden you’ve got five or six balls bouncing about and they’re all going crazy. Learning which ones you have the chance to save and which ones might be out of your reach helps you focus your energy in reality as well. We’ve all heard the saying, “having many balls in the air.” Same idea. Many balls on the board, in this case, means a potential to score more but only if you know which ones to go for. If one’s coming straight down the middle and probably going to slip between the two flippers, don’t waste your time. There’s four others bouncing around the flashing lights that you can still save. Which brings us to…
Lesson three: Only accept what you can do. When you have too much going on, you’re overwhelmed and nothing gets done. If six balls is too many, let a few go. It’s more important to keep a few going for a longer time than to have a lot going for a short period of time. There’s no bonus round for being the most spectacular loser. Be realistic about what you can handle and what you can take care of and do that very well.
Lesson four: Don’t get pulled in by cheap distractions. Remember Tommy? He was the Pinball Wizard because he “ain’t got no distractions, can’t hear no buzzers or bells, can’t see lights a-flashing,” and though the rest of us can’t play pinball (or life) by sense of smell like that deaf, dumb and blind kid, we can at least learn from his example. Because he was totally a real person who looks just like Roger Daltrey. There’s plenty of flashy, easy distractions in the world that are all designed to make you forget what your goal was and eventually, your goal is going to be something important and not just beating the high score. Distractions here and there are fine, clearly pinball’s certainly one all on its own for me, but be wary of things you find pulling your focus away from your aim.
Lesson five: Don’t be afraid to get way too intimate with any challenge. To really excel at anything, you need to enter into it fearlessly. With pinball, it’s important to position yourself however you need to at the machine and work it till it begs you to stop or the nice folks at the Elbo Room ask you to please stop humping their arcade games. Forget fear, remember common decency, and be enthusiastic. I’ve been told that I get too excited when I get a replay. I have yet to see excitement as a problem. Which brings us to…
Lesson six: It’s just a game. As the mighty Bill Hicks once said, “it’s just a ride.” Pinball and life are just games that we have the chance to play. Enjoy both of them until you’re all out of quarters.