5 Chess Lessons

Updated: Jan 07, 2014

It was down to me and a boy in the lunchtime chess tournament, the summer between the 7th and 8th grades. A recent article by BreAnna Fisher in Upstart Biz Journal reminded me of this story. I learned a lot of hard lessons that summer, lessons about being second, in more ways that one, lessons about not fitting in the existing, sanctioned box and, ultimately, lessons about making my own box.

I was the chess champion the previous year, and there I was again in the finals. I remember I was just as surprised as anyone. I hadn’t really been keeping track. For me the playing was the fun part, not the scoring or the winning. It was an elimination system. We had both beaten all the other students in our section, so the boy and I hadn’t played each other yet. After we were announced as the finalists, the male teacher supervising the chess club came up to us and said to the boy, “we can’t let the girl win.” He then proceeded to take him under his wing and personally coach him. There’s more to this Chess story (it’s in my book) but, needless to say, left there dangling on my own, I lost.

We both learned many lessons that day. He learned that it’s ok to cheat to win and, if you do, the adults of power in your life will sanction, applaud and reward it. (Yes, there’s more to the story.) I learned life isn’t fair, especially if you are born a girl, and a host of other gender discriminatory and just plain bad lessons, encountered at an impressionable, formative age. But as I look back as my adult self, I see there are deeper, less obvious lessons here. Over the years, I have wondered what lessons the boy ultimately learned. I wonder if, since in his experience he benefited from life not being ‘fair’, he thinks it’s ok to be unfair and blindly follow any leader. I wonder in what other ways this incident affected his life. I know it did, even though he may not know it.

This experience taught me these five, basic lessons in the end that I share with you below. They are lessons not about how to play a good game of chess, but rather how to play a good game of work-life.

  1. What is good for the gander, maybe not be right for either one of you.
  2. Believe in you. You can get pretty far on your own (remember, I had won the year before).
  3. Look for other, different paths for success. Start by re-framing the old ideas of win and achieve.
  4. Stand up for yourself, even if no one else will.
  5. Play a different game. And play the games differently, but keep playing.

Even though I never play chess, I never stop trying new things or stop being my creative, inquisitive self. Some of you probably think I should have gotten right back on the chess-horse, stayed focused and learned how to be #1 at chess. I say nuts to that. We have to stop believing that single-focus, replication and repetition are the formula for success. Lance Armstrong is just one of many recent examples of this wrong-headed, the-end-justifies-the-means, short-term thinking. He may or may not be the greatest cyclist ever. Since he cheated, we’ll really never know and now he will, rightly, lose everything. In retrospect, any way you look at it, he wasn’t the best.

There are many paths to success, as so well illustrated in the article, and many other, good choices that can be made along the way. If the Do Drinks app designers just kept trying to make their first idea succeed, by their own admission, they would have failed. Instead, they looked outside the box, kept an open mind and found another, different path to success. Now they “have two possible wins.” So, instead of bashing your head in trying to break through those immovable, brick walls, look for other ways, under, over and around blocked paths. Try to find new and different answers, accomplishments and goals. I guarantee you; they will be more meaningful and more fulfilling.

It’s really all about playing your own game, not someone else’s. That’s the number one lesson. I now seek out games that work for me, games of work and games of life — games of work-life. I look for games where fairness and equity are needed to win. Where there aren’t any pawns to manipulate or be manipulated as. Where moving across the game board isn’t about conquest, but about accomplishment. Most importantly, if I can’t find those games, I make them. I know I can be my own game master, and so can you. Come play with me. In my games, there will always be more than one way to win and more than one winner.

Y YouWhat if doing work different meant believing differently in you?