(Un)learning Completionism

In video games, and in life.

Growing up, you could usually find me glued to a library book and catching my breath as I chased down every sentence to find out what would happen next. I had resisted the urge to play video games for years, afraid it would take me away from schoolwork, reading, or time with my friends. But after saving up my allowance money to buy a used Nintendo DS, I discovered a video game I really loved: New Super Mario Bros. The gameplay was simple: Mario traverses various terrains to save Princess Peach, who has been captured by Bowser Jr. and his dad. Each world brought new challenges, power-ups, and opportunities to explore. I was hooked, patiently waiting until the weekends when I could have uninterrupted game time.

Playing New Super Mario Bros, I had my eyes on the prize – and just beating the final boss wasn’t enough. I had to find every star coin, secret exit, and Easter egg to earn 5 gleaming stars next to my profile. Until I had achieved this feat, I knew that this game would be in heavy rotation in my mind and in my free time. This is known as completionism, the desire to complete every objective in a game to consider it truly finished.

This mentality of completionism bled into other parts of my life. I had to visit every continent, apply to every company in my industry, and land bylines in every major publication for the niches I was in. This approach encouraged me to keep hitting milestones but often left me feeling unfulfilled because I didn’t celebrate the wins when they happened. When I won an award for business professionals under 30 in my area, it was on to the next one. When I published a story, I was already pitching the next 3-5 stories, afraid of sputtering to a halt. When I visited a new country, it was another tally closer to seeing the world.

I had started playing video games as an outlet to take a break from my to-do list and the mounting pressure to do everything. Now, I continue to push myself to pursue the next major milestone, but I’m equally proud of myself for the checkpoints I hit along the way. If I don’t celebrate the progress, it’s easy to run out of energy to get to the top – and I’m in it for the long haul so I know that I have to conserve my energy too. The next game, challenge, or opportunity will always be waiting for me tomorrow, even if I take the time to stop and rest today.

By Aleenah Ansari

Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who's rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She’s written about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, The Seattle Times, Byrdiei, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals in Seattle and beyond, reading a book by a BIPOC author, and planning her next trip to New York. Learn more at

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