As I have said before on numerous occasions, I am, and always have been, a major geek. While as an adult being a geek is a trait that society values and is a title that I claim with pride, as a teenager in high school this was definitely not the case. I am sure you can imagine what getting straight A’s, being the captain of the Spellbowl team, participating in drama club, and being an academic decathalete did for my social status in high school. I would say that I was somewhere between Screech from “Saved By The Bell” and Booger from “Revenge Of The Nerds” in terms of my place in the social hierarchy. Just in case these activities did not adequately destroy my coolness factor enough though, I decided to remove all doubt as to my geek status by also being captain of the school’s chess team. Even though this put me on permanent “nerd alert” status amongst my peers, being a social outcast for a few years was well worth everything that I have gained from my decision to study this amazing game. On the surface it may only be a board game with 32 pieces and 64 squares, but underneath this simple exterior are complex and powerful ideas that are important not only in chess, but also in life. Over the next few posts I am going to share with you some of the lessons I have learned from my study of this game, and how they have had a positive impact on my life.
I first learned to play chess when I was about 10 years old, when my dad sat me down one day and taught me the rules of the game. Right from the start I thought that it was a beautiful, fun, and challenging game, and I have always been fascinated at how a game with such simple rules can be so difficult to master. From that point on I would play for fun against my friends and relatives whenever I got the chance. I was on the chess team in middle school and enjoyed playing, but I never studied the game or made any attempt to improve my play until a few years later. As I got a little older and more matured though, I started to really appreciate the complex nature contained on those black and white squares, and I began to study the game by reading books on tactics and strategy, working out chess puzzles, and taking private lessons from a master. After I had improved my game, in addition to playing on my high school chess team, I also played in individual tournaments on my own as often as I could. I continued playing all through high school, but when I went to college I no longer had time to devote to all of my hobbies and interests, and chess was one of the many things that I had to put on hold.
Now that I have completed my academic career, and I have gotten my professional life on track and stable, I once again have a little time to spend on hobbies and such. Additionally, since completing graduate school I have noticed that my mind is no longer being challenged much, so I wanted to find a way to exercise my brain. A couple months ago I realized that taking up chess again would both push me mentally and give me back a hobby I have always enjoyed. So, I downloaded some chess apps, bought a few books, and began studying the game again. I have been trying to spend an hour a day studying the game by playing online, reading strategy books, and doing chess puzzles again, and I am proud to say that I am getting much better. I have realized recently though that while studying the game is fun and something I like doing, chess is really a two person game, and it would be a lot more enjoyable if I had people to play against. To solve this problem, I did what everyone does when they are trying to solve a problem, I asked Google. After doing a quick search, I found that there is a chess club that meets weekly only 15 minutes from my apartment, and anyone can show up and play for as long as they want. Last week I decided to go check it out, and not only did I have a great time playing with real people, but I also had an important insight into my life.
Having such a wonderful time at the chess club made me realize that it had been a really long time since I had gone out to do something fun just for me. Not because family was in town or for some special occasion, but just because I wanted to. It is not that I don’t have a social life or go do things, but usually there is some special reason. Now there is nothing wrong with celebrating special moments, but there should not have to be a reason to get out and do something you enjoy. In order to bring the maximum amount of happiness to your life, it is important to take the time to do things just for you from time to time. Even if you are happy and completely content with your social life, you are limiting your happiness by not taking some “you time” on occasion. You should not settle for having a good life, when a great life is waiting just around the corner. By doing something just because you enjoy it, you will avoid falling into a social rut and increase your overall happiness.
I understand that I could have had this epiphany with any hobby, but if not for returning to my study of chess and going to that club, I would not have had this revelation about my social world and happiness. This insight has now motivated me to make myself get out more often just for me. Even though I have just started this new practice, I am already much happier after attending just this one club meeting, so I cannot wait to see how much happier I will feel after several weeks of “me time.” When was the last time you did something just for you? Make sure you are doing things just for you on occasion. Every week, try to think of the last time you had some “you time,” and if it takes you more than 5 seconds to do so, it has been too long. No matter how happy you may be, you can always be happier, so don’t cheat yourself. You deserve to be as happy as possible, and you will be amazed at how adding this simple practice to your weekly routine will improve nearly every other part of your life.