Hitting the Pause Button

On December 24, 1980, I became a Vidiot.

I was 7 years old at the time, and I’ll always remember the big box under the tree addressed to my brother and me. At that point in my young life, I couldn’t recall any jointly owned present, so I knew it had to be big. We both shunned our individual gifts for the time being and dove for the big box, tearing into it like ravenous hyenas. Once the wrapping paper was shred to bits, my brother and I stood back and stared in amazement at what lay before us: a brand new Intellivision home video game system.

Video arcades were a very popular phenomenon in 1980. To be 7 years old and walk into a dark room glowing with the artificial light of video games was a wonderful experience. That Christmas Eve morning of 1980, I was given a video arcade in my own house! To say I was elated would be the understatement of the century. That Intellivision was beautiful, and let’s face it. It knocked the socks off Atari.

Once the Intellivision had been opened, my brother and I looked around at our other gifts and noticed they were all the same shape and size. So we dove in, and much to our delight each opened present revealed another title in the vast Intellivision catalog: Armor Battle, Sea Battle, NHL Hockey, MLB Baseball, Dungeons and Dragons, Astrosmash, Space Armada. Oh, the joy we felt that day! At approximately 6:27 AM CST, we were begging our dad to pleeeeeeeease set it up. I seem to recall a marathon session of epic proportions as we bounced from game to game, world to world, and tried to polish our skills as best as we could.

As 1980 gave way to 1981 and beyond, a funny thing happened. While I still loved that Intellivision more than anything, and while I logged countless hours navigating through the shoebox full of games we had accumulated, I noticed that my initial feelings of joy were being slowly comingled with another more nagging feeling: frustration. If I lost to my brother at Baseball, was gobbled up by the demon in Dungeons in Dragons, or fell into quicksand while playing Pitfall, I would get upset (much more so than made sense to a rational person). But heck, I was now 8…9…10…11 years old, and I was developing into something of a Vidiot Perfectionist. Nothing less than winning or conquering a game would do.

As the years ticked by, technological advances in the realm of home video game systems brought new joys and frustrations into my world. Once we had worn our Intellivision into the ground, we jumped over ColecoVision and upgraded to Nintendo, which later gave way to Sega Genesis, which was soon replaced by PlayStation, and so on. With each new system came new games, new advances, new adventures and new challenges. As the artificial intelligence of my most hated opponent (i.e. the “computer”) became sharper, I had to work harder and endure more frustration as I tried to achieve victory.

Frankly speaking, it was exhausting. And playing video games finally got to the point where it just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. As I grew into an adult, I still found time here and there to sneak in a little Madden, but once my son hit his toddler years and my daughter was born, that time all but vanished.

By the end of 2009, my video game days came to an abrupt halt when my then-toddler daughter got her hands on my PlayStation 2. I don’t remember how she destroyed it, but I do recall that it was very clinical and calculating. And that was that.

As I initially thought about recounting my days as a Vidiot, I didn’t expect to find a life lesson that would apply to present-day Me. I simply thought I would talk about old video games, drum up some pre-Holiday nostalgia, and say that it’s always nice to have a diversion from the daily grind.

But as is often the case when I do any sort of self-exploration, I stumble upon something that resembles a life lesson—at least one that applies to me. Like many of my family, friends and colleagues, I spend one-third (and sometimes more) of my life at work. When I ask myself “Why do you work?” the answers I come up with are often complex, but I’m able to devise rational, logical answers that satisfy my internal curiosity, if only for a small time. However, when my kids start to ask me “Why do you work so much?” “When will you be home?” or “Do you really have to travel again?” it becomes much more of a challenge to find the right answers. Hearing what is essentially the same question from a slightly different perspective drastically changes the way I see my career and the general trajectory of my life.

I’m fortunate in that I do truly love what I do for a living. I enjoy the constant challenge of solving problems, I work with people who are intelligent, passionate and kind, and I’m able to comfortably provide for my family. But as with many things in life, my work presents me with a paradox—that something I love so much can bring such tremendous frustration into my life.

I’m only human and frustration is an inevitable part of the human experience, especially when it relates to something that, at times, seems to take my focus off things that should be the most important to me. I work to provide for my family, yet my family suffers when I work too much. I love the challenge of what I do, but sometimes that challenge drains my energy and leaves me tremendously frustrated. Paradox abounds.

Even at the tender age of 7, I somehow realized that when the video game I was playing became too challenging, I could let my frustration continue grow and fester…or, I could hit the Pause button and take a break. There was tremendous power in hitting Pause. I could catch my breath, assess the situation, figure out what was frustrating me, and apply what I’d learned to get better. Sure, when I came back to the game, I still found myself in the same predicament. But now I was armed with a calmer mind and new perspective on how to solve the issue at hand.

And there’s the life lesson, at least one that I can apply to myself. I have never been happier in my work situation, yet frustration still finds a way to seep in from time to time. And rather than let frustration get the better of me and take my focus off what is truly important, I will instead choose to hit the Pause button this Thanksgiving and step away for a bit. I plan to enjoy time with my family and friends, eat some turkey, watch the Bears, Blackhawks and Illini, and attempt to count the infinite blessings I have in my life. And once the Thanksgiving holiday is over, I will come back refreshed and refocused. I’ll un-Pause the game and go for the win. And I hope you have the chance to do the same.

— Jason Rohlf