“It’s like the game of life…the most prepared, determined, and flexible thinker wins.”
From the opening move it was going to be an epic weekend. My 5-year-old son and I home alone. Usually a recipe for adventure, and a few moments of concern. Our tradition is turning the lower level of our house into a G-rated man-cave. By the time mom returns home on Monday everything should be back in place. Hopefully.
Past father-son weekends have resulted in basketball hoops and backboards being drilled into rec room walls, Afros turned into Mohawks, and more than a few scraped knees and elbows from park and playground escapades. We have fun. Quality father-son times spent bonding.
This weekend we planned to party hard, staying up late every night and waking up early every morning. By ‘party’ I mean playing with Hot Wheels cars, transforming the downstairs room into a monster race course. By ‘up late every night’ I mean lying on the sofa under a blanket, eating snacks, watching Disney and Pixar movies on Netflix until we fall asleep. Living the life of pre-kindergarten excitement.
For two days we went strong, partying as planned. By early Sunday morning our father days had me in a father-daze, but we had one more adventure to go. Our last adventure transformed into an extraordinary day, providing several distinct ironies and one special epiphany.
My favorite moment of that day is captured in the photo appearing at the top of this piece. Nicknamed The Chess Match, it was taken in a North Minneapolis barbershop while participating in a Black Excellence Father’s Day photo shoot, captured by a young and talented photographer named Katherine Harris.
I love this impromptu photo, partially because it reminds me of special moments shared with my father when I was a child. My father taught my older brother and I to play chess at a young age. He passed away several years ago, so I cherish his memories strongly. It seems so fitting this photo was captured in the spirit of Father’s Day.
The huge black & white poster hanging in the background, a powerful and gritty image of jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis, is dear to me. During my college years I had this exact poster hanging on my apartment wall. It triggers nostalgic memories of simpler times and the pure energy of genius-level talent.
The Miles Davis poster is flanked on either side by smaller framed photos of other iconic African-American personalities, like Barack Obama, Spike Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and Afro-beat legend Fela…all moving muses inspiring excellence-level ambition. In the background played upbeat classic soul music…perhaps a track by Marvin Gaye or Earth Wind & Fire.
The photo captures a spirit true to the barbershop and photo shoot mission of Black Excellence. The proprietors of the barbershop have striven meticulously, and succeeded, in creating a space full of welcoming energy and an atmosphere of greatness. An environment instilling positive energy, leaving patrons in a more empowered place than when they arrive.
The entire day reminded me of a very simple principle; a strong and well-prepared foundation is the most important part of any structure. Nothing great or lasting can endure on a weak or shaky foundation.
The greatest epiphany I realized this day, watching my son play chess, observing how he felt his way through the game, was witnessing how the success principles of chess were being subconsciously ingrained into his knowledge base. This made me proud, and I realized an important ingredient of his foundation was being solidified.
When I was a teenager my father purchased an empty lot of land and a separate existing modular house located many miles apart. He planned to move the existing house onto the empty lot, but before he could do so a solid foundation on the empty lot had to be laid.
I remember the painstaking care it took to measure the correct dimensions for the foundation, dig the hole for the foundation, frame the foundation, and finally lay the concrete for the foundation. The foundation process took planning, precision, and time. Then, after weeks and weeks of planning and execution to lay the foundation, the house was moved and dropped on the foundation in a single day.
In a simple way, the example of my father’s foundation applies directly to the epiphany I realized with my son. By learning the lessons of success in chess, he is gradually learning the same success principles for life. His familiarity with the chess pieces was nothing new…he’s been able to name all the pieces on a chess board since the age of three. But until this day, I had never witnessed him to possess the mental ability to actually think the game.
“Life is like a game of chess, changing with each move” – Chinese Proverb
Since the invention of the game, great leaders, strategists, and thinkers have portrayed how strategies of chess can mimic many of the challenges, strategies, and concepts of life. Going forward, I’ll continue encouraging my son to discover, study, and develop chess strategies so he may advantageously apply these concepts to life.
Ashtapada is another word for chess. According to some, this word translates to mean “8 steps”. Following, briefly, are 8 classic lessons of success in chess that I feel mirror success in life. The list is by no means exhaustive, but every lesson is valuable:
1) Know the Rules: Rules exist for a reason – to put everyone on the same page, but not every rule is concrete or mandated to be followed. In chess, for example, forward-thinking mavericks have often broken traditional strategy rules and literally changed the game, all while playing by the rules of the game. The same applies to life. First, however, a thorough knowledge of the rules is necessary before the option of outwitting the rules becomes an option. Learn the rules.
2) Have Patience: Great things develop over time. Whether a game of chess, an amazing meal, a business plan, or a world-changing military plan, the best strategies require time to manifest. Show your hand too soon, before all parts are in place, and very often the end-game will be lost. Let it cook. Let it simmer. When making game-altering decisions in chess and life, allow the virtue of patience to clarify thought and action.
3) Memory & Focus: The term is Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to grow in strength and function. We are what we repeatedly do. Developing excellence is no random act, but a habit. With repetition the ability to recognize winning patterns, plays, strategies, etc. becomes easier, like second nature. Combine memory and focus with intent, and success in the game of chess, and life, becomes much more likely. Use the power of memory and focus.
4) Learn Your Opposition: It’s a base law of the universe – nothing exists without its opposite. Some call it Yin-Yang, positive-negative, push-pull, male-female….one cannot exist without the other. Even within our best planned intentions, there exists an equal and opposite force desiring the opposite of what we intend. Our opposition. The more we know about our opposition, the easier it is for us to plan, adapt, and stay one step ahead. In chess, and life, learning the threats, skills, and intentions of our opposition serves greatly to our advantage.
5) Think Multiple Moves Ahead: Life is chess, not checkers, for those with the knowledge, experience, and opportunity to play. Like it or not, we’re all playing the game. Making an analogy to health, the habits we develop and act upon today, in terms of our eating, exercise, and lifestyle, will determine our well-being many years into our future. Being proactive, not reactive, determines how the game will progress. In chess, and life, choose to be proactive. Think multiple moves ahead.
6) Action is Necessary: Make a move or lose by default. Chess is a thinking game, which is excellent, but eventually all that thinking must result in a move. Or voluntarily lose the game. The same is true in life. It’s possible to get so caught up in our thoughts, wondering which move is best, that we make no move at all. Some call it paralysis through analysis. A move must be made, otherwise nothing will ever change. In chess, and life, action is necessary to win.
7) Actions Have Consequences: Choices determine results, good, bad, or neutral. Make a good choice, more than likely enjoy a good result. Bad choice, endure a difficult result. Risk is necessary for reward, but the downside result must always be considered. Consequences are not always proportionate to the magnitude of events that produce them. In chess, and life, every action has a consequence. Act accordingly, and be prepared for the results.
8) 100% Responsibility for Results: In the game of chess, blaming anyone other than self for moves made on the board is difficult. Ultimately, the same is true in life. Many lives begin with undeniable disadvantages, for many reasons, but we must grasp the possibility of our greatness, do what is necessary to change situations, and do what is necessary to bring forth the results we desire. What is necessary is not always easy, but it’s still necessary. In chess, and life, taking 100% responsibility for results is a must.
Playing chess together is an amazing opportunity to strengthen the relationship between a parent and child. It’s a pursuit of present-time consciousness. Everything stops. Two people. Shared thoughts. Intellectual stimulation and free-flowing creative energy. As special as it was to capture The Chess Match in a photo with my son, the bond of our time together exists immeasurably greater.
Just as chess is an amazing game, fatherhood is an amazing privilege. With privilege comes responsibility. With responsibility, properly executed, comes excellence and reward. Excellence is a reward and opportunity to be pursued together.
Dr. Juneau Robbins is a Minneapolis-based author and wellness expert. This post was republished from his blog.