The room was well lighted. Big windows pouring light in. No other buildings were visible from this height. It was level 99 after all. I still can’t believe I was on level 99. I really wanted to go near the window and look at how the ground looked from here. But I had to restrain myself and sit straight on the chair I was supposed to sit while waiting. Appearing unprofessional would not work. I had to show my best possible side to ensure that I too get moved up from my current level 35. Level 35 had been my level for the last ten years. God its been way too long. My husband had moved to level 45 and was getting impatient. He started feeling that he was being tied down by a level 35.
I just had to find a way to move up. This career counselling is supposed to do just that. I finished my assessment over an hour ago. What was taking so long? Why didn’t I get a caseworker assigned already? Is it supposed to take this much time? Maybe I am just thinking too much. I know nothing of this process. Maybe it takes time. Maybe I will have to come again for the next step. I could feel the thoughts moving inside my mind and spiralling out of control. I could almost see my thoughts in the form of the white mist like swirls around my head. I almost moved my hands up to clear the smoky swirls from around my head.
That’s when the door opened and a short man entered. Maybe he wasn’t short but was appearing short under the huge stack of files he was carrying. There were just a few feet between the door and the desk in front of me but the way he was moving I was afraid that the entire stack of files will collapse and then we will be chasing the papers all over the room. I don’t know why that image came to my mind.
The man expertly maneuvered his way and came and sat on the other side of the table. The files placed in two neat heaps on the desk did not contain paper as I initially assumed. They had some kind of circular disks. He opened a drawer and took out a tablet-like gadget. Then he proceeded to feed all the disks into the tablets one by one. One the disk was inserted into the tablet, it didn’t come out and yet there was space to feed another of the disks. I had never seen any gadget like this before.
We sat in perfect silence until he fed all the disks in his tablet. I started counting but lost count after 20 or so. I felt my panic rise as I thought that he might ask me the exact number of disks that came out of those files.
Suddenly he closed the last file like box and spoke.
“Welcome to the career counselling centre. I am your assigned guide. I will help you navigate for as long as you need me. Do you want to take a break before we begin our first session?”
He asked a question but I felt it was a trap to see how serious I was about my level-ups. Naturally, I declined. I couldn’t wait anymore to get started. My mouth was suddenly feeling too dry and my tongue would not move for some reason. I just nodded my head in what I hoped indicated a No. But he understood and just continued like he never asked me a question in the first place.
“So, I have all your details loaded here on my tablet. We can begin the analysis and hopefully by the end of this session we will have a roadmap helping us how to move forward.”
He was the only one speaking and I don’t think he wanted me to speak anyways. But he got up and got two glasses of water. Was it too apparent that my mouth was dry? Could he read my mind?
“I see here that after your studies you started directly at level 18. That’s very impressive considering you don’t have parents or relatives rich enough to buy you a jump up.”
Jump Up? What the hell was that? Although he was right that my family was poorer than most. Did rich people buy themselves what he called a Jump Up? That would explain how so many started much higher than me and kept moving up. Buying Jump Ups. What a privilege.
I couldn’t keep thinking about it. He kept speaking.
“You moved up the levels quickly. You reached level 35 in just 8 years of working. And you have been on that level since right?”
Finally, he stopped speaking and waited for me to say something. I drank all the water in the glass he brought in one big gulp. Finally, my tongue started moving.
“Yes, that’s right. I have been on level 35 for the last ten years. I did everything I could to move up but I just stayed on level 35. I don’t know what else to do so here I am.”
“That’s perfectly understandable. You will be surprised to know how many struggles like you. Many either give up and stay on the same level for the rest of their lives while others take extreme steps to move up. Coming to us is an option that not everyone likes to take.”
He was so right. Coming to career counselling has so much stigma attached to it that whomever I asked tried to talk me out of it – including my husband who is so eager for my level up.
I just assumed it was because of the cost associated. But I honestly didn’t know what else to do to get a level up. He was not speaking. Was he waiting for me to say something? Did he ask me a question? Shit. What did I miss while getting lost in my own thoughts? This is one of my worst habits. He is still looking at me. I need to say something. Anything.
“So what do I need to do next?”
Good. Asking a question will show proactiveness. That should help.
He took a deep breath like he was getting prepared for something big. He too drank his glass of water and cleared his throat before speaking again.
“There are a lot of options depending on which level you are targetting. We can plan for your skill up or even changing career paths if you are looking for a shorter jump. In case you are more interested in a faster level up then there are some other extreme options. It will all depend on you and what you want. We will guide you at every step. So, what do you want?”
“Faster level-ups sound good. I have been stuck for way too long.”
“Ok. So, there are several options we can explore. I will list them out and you can tell me what feels good. Ready?”
He was still looking at his tablet but he still saw me nod yes. I’ll be getting options now. Finally.
“Are you comfortable with murders?”
What was he talking about? My mouth was open but I don’t think any sound came out. He finally looked up from his tablet and say the expression on my face.
“Very well. Moving on to the next option. Harming the environment? How do you feel about that?”
What was he talking about? I wanted options for level up. Why was he giving me options for different crimes? I finally found my voice and spoke up.
“I don’t want any criminal options. Are there any other options?”
“Got it. No crime. Well, that would limit the speed of level up. But these next set of options will also give you major jumps.”
“Good. I want to know more about these options.”
I was again feeling optimistic.
“Are you willing to give up your family members? Your Husband? Or maybe one of your children? You have three I believe.”
“What do you mean to give up my family members? How is giving up family related to level up?”
“Your records shows that you gave up your mother when you got your last six-level jump. That was a huge jump. I am sure giving up a child will move you up at least five levels. Giving up your husband might convert to eight to ten levels. If you add some friends I am sure that will also add up to one or two levels. In total it will get you somewhere around level 45 to 50.”
I was suddenly struggling to breathe. I can’t do this. I can’t give up my family. My children, my husband. Is that whats going to cost me to level up?
“Focus on your breathing. Four seconds in. Four seconds out. Look at me. Do what I am doing. Slow breathing. Slowly and deeply.”
He kept saying inhale and exhale. He guided me until my breathing came back to normal. Then he got me some more water.
“I don’t want to give up my family. Why are you doing this to me? Why are you giving me such options? Crime or giving up family. Are they my only options? I don’t want to do either.”
He kept staring me for a long time then kept the tablet on the table. Then he spoke again.
“Why do you want to level up? For better pay grade or do you need some specific benefit that comes with level up? Better house? Better health care? Maybe we can see what needs to be done for that specific thing you need instead of exploring the general options. I can see they are distressing you a lot.”
Why exactly do I need the level up? Well, that was simple or so I thought. Right now I was not sure about anything.
“I want to be happy.”
I said the only thing that mattered to me. I just wanted to be happy.
“Level ups don’t bring happiness.”
“Yes, they do. Ava was happy after her level up.”
“Well, she was happy because the level up came with a health care option which saved her daughter’s life. She was happy for her daughter. Not because of the level up.”
“It’s easy for you to say. You are at the highest level. You have everything available. There is nothing that you are lacking.”
“There are more levels above level 99. There is a separate elevator for next 100 levels and then a separate one for the next 100 and so on. We are not even sure how many levels are there in total. There is no end that we know of.”
I didn’t know what to say next. I just sat there dejectedly. When I didn’t say anything for a long time, he got up from his chair and walked over to my side of the table. He sat on the table awkwardly but it was too uncomfortable for him. Ultimately he brought his chair next to mine and sat there before speaking again.
“See, happiness and levels are not directly related. There is some dependency but that’s more applicable at lower levels. Once basic needs are covered then level-ups do not bring that much satisfaction. People keep on seeking the same happiness that they got but it doesn’t come from just level ups.”
I was understanding what he was saying but I was not sure how I was supposed to feel. What do I do now? He had more to say.
“I have seen many who come for guidance to level up. Everyone feels faster level ups is the right way to go. But personally, I think that slowly building your skills or even changing career path can bring more satisfaction. If you are interested then we can build a plan for you.”
He waited for my answer but I was not responding. I didn’t know how to respond. I just wanted to be happy and I really thought that levelling up will bring me happiness. I was so sure that I wanted to reach the highest level. Now I find out that there are more levels than level 99. What am I supposed to do?
“We don’t have to make any plans today. Go home. Think about everything. Then come back here. You said that you want to be happy. We will make plans for that. It may or may not involve levelling up but We will still get you what you want.”
Happiness. So there may be another way to find happiness. He was right. I was in no state to think about anything right now. I will come back and have a conversation solely focused on happiness and forget my obsession with levelling up.