If there is one skill that you have to have to be a successful chess player, it has to be the ability to plan ahead. The key to winning any chess match is to plan out a sequence of moves that either leave your opponent with only one legal move or make it so that no matter what move they respond with they will still lose (this is called forcing check mate). Since in most cases there are typically dozens of possible ways your adversary can respond, and this number grows exponentially the more moves you plan ahead, forecasting even three or four moves takes a lot of mental ability. To illustrate both how difficult this can be, as well as how critical this skill is on the chessboard, consider that an average player like myself, who has studied the game and is reasonably intelligent but only plays as a hobby, can plan out maybe five moves ahead. In contrast, the grandmasters, like Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov, often would plan a series of 10 or even 20 moves with great accuracy to beat their opponents. Just like this cornerstone of a chess player’s ability is the key to getting to check mate, it is also an extremely important skill to master in life.
As I mentioned in the third entry in this series, we often go to great lengths to meticulously plan out our lives. We do this both on a large scale by creating a life plan (i.e. go to college, get married, have 2.4 kids, etc.), as well as on a small scale by having a schedule for our daily activities (i.e. go to work, pick up kids from school, make dinner, etc.). We use tools like calendars, sticky note reminders, and more recently our smart phones to help us make sure that every minute of our life goes as expected (I think my tablet reminded me of six things just while I was writing this article). Planning out our lives this way obviously requires a lot of time and energy, but we are willing to put in all of this effort for two main reasons. First, by planning out your life you feel like you are in control of what happens next. Since being in control of your life is one of the things we care about most as people, feeling as if you are in charge of your day is very comforting. Second, and more importantly, by scheduling our daily activities and having a plan to follow we can best prepare for possible obstacles that could arise. As any boy scout knows, being prepared will allow you to avoid and overcome problems when they come up, which can make your life much easier. This powerful life skill is something that I was taught to do at an early age, and I apply constantly in order to get around with my disability in our able-bodied world.
When any family with young children goes out to do something, whether it is a trip to the zoo, going to an amusement park, or even just out to eat, the parents generally make some preparations for the family outing in order to avoid potential issues. They do things like packing snacks, having some toys on hand, and even having extra clothes in the car to make sure that whatever situation arises, they will be prepared to handle it and avoid a tantrum or meltdown by one of their devilish offspring. Now I know that every family does this to some degree while the children are young, but when you throw a child with a physical disability into the mix, you have to put this process into overdrive in order to have any chance at a happy, successful day together. In addition to having to prepare for all of the typical problems that might pop up, plans for issues related to the disability or using a wheelchair must also be made. This does not just add a whole heap of new obstacles to consider, but these potential problems also can have much more serious consequences than a hungry, cranky kid, so it is extremely important to be ready for them. As my parents, and later I, quickly learned though, if you are going to have any chance at being a functioning member of society as a disabled individual, this skill must be developed.
There are countless issues related to my spinal muscular atrophy and my wheelchair that can occur at any time, and some of these problems can have dire consequences if they are not handled quickly and correctly. When I am at home, with all of my medical equipment and medications, dealing with health issues that arise is no big deal. Once I go out into the world however, unless I have the foresight to plan for problems before they occur, I can find myself in a potentially life threatening situation (or at least an unpleasant one). Things like running out of suction kits, not charging my suction machine, and not bringing enough medication can all be very dangerous scenarios for me. Even things like my wheelchair’s battery dieing, not checking on handicap accessibility ahead of time, and forgetting an umbrella, while not life threatening, can all bring my trip to an end and ruin my day. Thankfully though, once you find yourself in a difficult, or even dangerous, situation a few times, you learn quite quickly how to prepare yourself to avoid and manage these types of issues.
Whenever I am getting ready to head out the door to go somewhere, in order to make sure I am as prepared as I can be for possible obstacles, I go through a mental checklist. To try to illustrate the immense number of things I have to consider before going out, I am going to list off all of the thoughts I have before leaving.
Do I have my wallet?
Do I have my phone?
Do I have my keys?
Do I look/smell ok?
Do I know where I am going?
Do I need gas?
Up to here anyone, disabled or not, could ask these questions. Now I will list everything my physical limitations add to the mix.
Is my wheelchair charged?
Is my suction machine charged?
Is the suction machine canister empty?
Is the suction tubing well connected?
Do I have enough suction kits?
Do I have a spare trache?
Do I have an ambu-bag?
Do I have enough pain meds?
Do I have my “emergency meds?”
How do my muscles feel (too tight, too sore,…)?
How do my lungs feel?
Is there a blanket in the van?
Do I have my wheelchair rain poncho?
How will I use the bathroom?
Do I need to bring food and drink to make sure my blood sugar and hydration are ok?
Is it too hot/cold for me to be out?
Can my wheelchair get in wherever I am going?
Will there be parking for my van?
As you can see, my mental list is a little longer than most, but by going through this ritual before leaving my apartment I can avoid ending up in an unexpected, unpleasant situation. It allows me to be as prepared as possible, which not only keeps me safe, but also gives me the courage to go out and live a happy life without fear, because I know I am ready.
Having the ability to plan ahead is something that has been extremely valuable to me throughout my life. By preparing some beforehand for potential obstacles that could arise, you can avoid being caught in difficult, or even dangerous, situations. It is important to remember though, that just like Bobby Fischer could not plan out every move correctly, you will not be able to predict and prevent every tough situation, which is when you have to “roll with the punches.” By combining your ability to plan ahead and “roll with the punches” you are now ready for anything that life can throw at you. This key to leading a fulfilling life will give you the confidence to explore your world and experience as much as possible, which will unlock in you entirely new levels of happiness.