January would not be January in Australia without tennis, soaring temperatures and random torrential rain. It was on one such afternoon last week when we decided to christen the new wooden chess set the boys had received for Christmas.
As a bit of a chess enthusiast in my youth (yes, I was a nerd…ah, am a nerd) I fancied that I may well be able to impart onto my sons some mild interest on the strategic game. To my surprise, the boys took to chess like naturals and it wasn’t long before a full tournament had been announced. The next couple of days were spent listening to the rain, glaring at each other across the black and white battlefield with furrowed brows.
I brought my best game, and yet it didn’t take the young men very long to defeat me. I experienced pride and a slight touch of humiliation. Several victory dances were performed. We all remained reasonably good sports.
Eventually, the rain dried up and the sun came back out. We were on our way down to the park when we started recapping the epic two day tournament. Suddenly, and entirely out of the blue, one of the boys commented that the best thing about chess, was that it was just like real life.
Curious about such a casually profound statement, I asked him if he could please explain to me what he meant. Soon enough, all the boys were piping up with little theories of the ways that playing chess emulates every day life. In their words, I would like to share what they came up with:
With each move you make, you have to be careful with what might happen next. It’s true, everything we do in chess and in life, has a direct consequence. My role as a parent is to help my sons understand that no action goes without repercussion, and it’s important to think ahead. We can usually track our mistakes two or three decisions back. The lessons that we don’t learn now, life will teach to us later. Only usually, with less mercy.
When you change positions, you gain some things… and you lose some others. Life is full of trades. We make career and relationship choices, financial trades, we surrender time, opportunities and lovers. We call these decisions sacrifices, but they are really trades. When we look back on our lives, all we can hope for is that we made those trades consciously and that each transaction was worth the price.
There’s always risk. All you can do is make sure the risk is not too big. Whether it’s in business or relationships, small decisions or big adventures, there is always an inbuilt risk within every decision. As my sons grow, however, I often talk to them about embracing risk. You’ll never see the view from the top, if your feet are always safely on the ground. Success belongs to the greatest risk takers and bold decision makers. The most dangerous risk, is not to risk anything at all.
Sometimes you have lose one good guy, to take down a better one. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but sometimes you have to walk away from something good, because you know that you deserve something better. It may be a job, or a partner, a friendship or even a lifestyle- it’s painful, but part of making mature decisions is the ability to surrender the pleasure of instant gratification for long term reward.
If you make enough bad moves, you’ll probably end up stuck. It’s true that it’s ‘never too late to change’, however when we stack one bad decision on top of another, it does become increasingly hard to turn back. We are all faced with the chance to make ‘comebacks’ in our lives: from neglected health, finances, relationships and from mistakes. Recognising incorrect choices early is one way to ensure that we don’t go too far down the wrong path, that it becomes too far a distance to come back.
Aside from these great observations that my young children drew from playing chess, I gained one additional insight myself. In the noise of life, caught up with everything that keeps me busy, ticking off all the boxes that I hope make me a good parent (like ‘would Jamie Oliver approve of the food in these lunch boxes?’)… I forget the value of offering my family some uninterrupted time.
It’s something that can’t be bought, but has more value than anything else I may be able to give them. My time. A simple game of chess, a little chat on the hammock, extra long cuddles at night. Really really listening when they explain why Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side. Really engaging in the game of soccer like the entire Real Madrid team was counting on me.
Like most parents, I have little free time and even less of an idea what to do with it. Sometimes I get discouraged that I can’t do more to inspire, impress and entertain them. What I learnt from our chess tournament this week, is that it doesn’t take much. A wooden board and some carved shapes provided two days of thrills and connection. Not to mention a myriad of lessons.
We are always looking for the big extravagant move, but at the end of the day, even a pawn can kill a King. There is power in simplicity.