Book Review: Level Up Your Life

Level Up Your Life is a book about self-improvement and adventure by American entrepreneur, fitness instructor, publisher, and writer Steve Kamb. The book shows people how to define goals and use a game setup of experience points and levels to accomplish those goals while avoiding various pitfalls along the way. The book is divided into six sections, each of which contains three to five chapters.

Kamb begins with a brief introduction, describing several of his most interesting adventures as well as the life he led before deciding to change his life. He talks about the online community he founded about changing one’s life to be more active and adventurous, then invites the reader to join.

The first section begins by going into greater detail about Kamb’s own experiences and backstory than did the introduction. The middle is a warning about getting stuck in the research and planning stages of an adventure without ever actually going on the adventure. The final chapter of this section is an exhortation to stop waiting and thinking you cannot live the life you want to live.

Getting started on a hero’s journey is the subject of the second section. Kamb begins by laying out the basic story arc that almost all heroic characters follow. Next, he asks the reader to describe one’s normal life and then create the superhero alter-ego that one wishes to become. The following chapter presents several common excuses that people use to justify not living a more interesting life and rebuts each of them. The sixth chapter contains advice on dealing with people who offer discouragement and resistance to one’s ambitions. Kamb ends this section by explaining how game mechanics such as experience points and leveling can be used in real life to help one learn skills and achieve goals.

In the third section, Kamb discusses how to set up one’s Game of Life. He lays out the rules that his group uses, but one can create one’s own list. The ninth chapter gives examples of character classes from role-playing games and how they might translate into real-world skill sets. The point of the chapter is to describe one’s ideal leveled-up character. The next chapter explores various quests that one could pursue in order to get from one’s current state to one’s ideal state. Kamb ends this section by sharing how he used the methods from the previous two chapters in his own quest.

The fourth section begins with more discussion of experience points and levels, then proceeds to discuss the need to self-impose both positive and negative reinforcement in order to cultivate discipline. An excellent bit of advice is given here: rewarding yourself should take the form of something that will aid in one’s quest, not something immediately pleasurable that will hinder one’s efforts going forward. In the fourteenth chapter, Kamb explains the importance of willpower. He suggests altering one’s environment to make pursuing one’s goals require less willpower and working against those goals require more. Following this, the need to create flow and momentum in one’s life is explained. The section concludes with a chapter about team-building that describes the roles of mentor, peer, trainee, and wildcard. Finding people to fill each of these roles helps make a quest more productive and interesting.

The fifth section uses the examples of four well-known fictional characters and how they overcame adversity in their stories to discuss how to prepare the body and mind for any adventure, nurture an adventurous spirit, and make necessary sacrifices in pursuit of success. The stories of Bruce Wayne, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, and Katniss Everdeen contain a multitude of lessons, making this the longest section of the book.

In the last section, Kamb reminds the reader that tomorrow is not guaranteed and whatever is worth doing should be started now. He encourages those who have completed their personal quests to share their stories and knowledge so that less experienced people can learn from them. The final chapter encourages those who have done great deeds to avoid resting on their laurels and move on to another adventure. The book concludes with a list of resources, acknowledgments, and a repetition of the offer to join Kamb’s online community.

Level Up Your Life is one of the better self-help books out there, and the online community is an added bonus. The greatest criticisms of the book would be that it is too much of an advertisement for the online community, and that while it is excellent for someone who is enduring life but not enjoying it, it is far less useful for someone who already uses similar methods with great success in some areas of life but is held back by failures in other areas. Even so, Kamb has created a book that is worth reading (and a website worth visiting).

Rating: 4/5

Defending The Reservation Scalper

On Sept. 9, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a new company called DiS Dining Agent is helping people obtain reservations at restaurants in Disney World. But unlike other such services, it does this by making registrations under false names and transferring them to customers for a price, currently around $15. The company also offers to cancel its reservation and immediately notify the customer for a fee between $6 and $10 so that a customer can quickly call the restaurant to claim the newly vacant time slot. A company in San Francisco called ReservationHop also operates in this manner.

Of course, such methods have their detractors. Anna Skamarakas, a Disney Parks Mom panelist, tells the Sentinel, “It just infuriates me… They are doing something to circumnavigate the system, which isn’t fair to the rest of us who are trying to play by the rules.” Disney says that it is “aware of the site” and is “currently reviewing the situation.” Other criticisms are that reservation scalpers create artificial scarcity and needlessly raise prices. But let us consider an alternative view based on Walter Block’s defense of ticket scalpers in Defending the Undefendable. This will show why such criticisms are unfounded, as well as how reservation scalpers are actually performing a beneficial market function.

First, we should point out the inconsistency of the outrage of those who oppose reservation scalpers. The grocer also buys large amounts of finite, potentially scarce products and sells them for a profit. So does the hardware store owner, the jeweler, and so on. But no one seems to be outraged by the idea of a business selling food, tools, or jewelry in the event that supplies are low and the particular item that a customer wants is nowhere to be found. This sort of logical inconsistency cannot be rationally advanced in argument.

Second, there is the fact that the very nature of restaurant reservations makes scalping possible and profitable. Any reservation price above the market clearing price will result in empty seats, which Disney would prefer to avoid. Any price below the market clearing price will invite scalping, and trying to calculate the exact market clearing price in advance is impossible. As restaurant owners would prefer to err on the low side of the market clearing price, there tend to be more people demanding seats than there are seats available. This leads to rising prices, which correct the imbalance. The act of scalping is simply a market force acting to correct imbalances in supply and demand.

Third, the reservation scalper acts as a risk mitigator on behalf of both a restaurant’s customers and owners. If the scalper makes a reservation and fails to sell it to a customer, then the scalper loses the entire cost of the reservation and the restaurant owner loses potential secondary sales, such as alcoholic beverages and extra side dishes. (Note: there is no alcohol served inside the Magic Kingdom, but other areas of the Walt Disney World Resort do have restaurants that serve alcohol.) If the scalper makes a reservation and sells it to a customer, then the scalper makes a small profit and the restaurant gets customers who might not otherwise find a reservation. The scalper is thus strongly incentivized to connect restaurateurs with customers who want their services.

Some people will argue that scalpers are responsible for higher reservation prices and lower availability, but this is merely a result of arithmetic, and would happen with or without dedicated scalpers speculating on reservations. Suppose, for an example similar to the case at hand, that restaurant reservations are selling for an average of about $50, there are 20,000 reservations for sale every day, and 25,000 people want a reservation. To avoid distributing reservations without price rationing, which would result in reservations being made available in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, prices must rise to a level where only 20,000 people still want them. This level may be around $65 in this case. How this $15 per reservation increase is distributed is what will vary from case to case.

Finally, there is the argument that reservation scalping benefits the rich at the expense of the poor. The opposite tends to be true. For poorer people, scalping is an easy way to make a large return on a relatively small investment. For richer people, paying a scalper a higher price is the overt cost, but there is also the hidden cost of not having to spend extra time trying to make a reservation.

In conclusion, it is clear that the reservation scalpers are not only not harming anyone, but are fulfilling a market role that helps everyone involved.