When I was a student at Urey Middle School, I decided that I was not quite nerdy enough being the captain of the Spell Bowl team, a Quiz Bowl participant, and a straight A student, so I decided to join the chess team. I had been playing chess recreationally for several years, so I thought it would be fun to compete on the school team. I did have a lot of fun, make some friends, and our team even set a school record for wins competing against other schools, but I also was taught an important life lesson through this experience. The wisdom I gained from my time battling other students over those 64 squares is something that has been a valuable resource as I have moved through life.
For you non nerds out there, here is a little background on chess competitions. A chess team consists of 4 players, with your best player sitting 1st chair, next best sitting 2nd chair, and so on. Your team of 4 players competes against your opponents team of 4 players, and your team score is the number of matches you win. So, a perfect round would be winning all 4 games. Depending on the tournament, you play anywhere from 3 to 8 rounds typically, which would translate to 12 to 32 total games for each team. One round takes roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes, which makes these tournaments really long days (and in some cases multiple days), and I know it probably sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, but for geeks like me they are a lot of fun.
My 8th grade year, our school chess team had 3 very strong players, of which I was one. Since we were all at about the same skill level, our coach was having a hard time deciding on the order that we would sit. She actually went back and forth thinking about this decision right up until the day of the tournament, when she finally announced over breakfast that I would sit 1st chair. I initially felt proud that she had picked me to go up against the other teams’ best players, but then it dawned on me that I was going to go up against the other teams’ best players. Most teams have 1, or at most 2, players that are pretty good, and the rest of their team is average or so. That is why the fact that we had 3 strong players put us in such good position to win a lot of games. Even though I knew it was the team score that mattered, I didn’t want to spend my whole day getting my ass kicked by the other team’s stud player, while the rest of my teammates wiped the floor with their easier opponents. I felt my nerves and anxiety grow as we arrived at the tournament and started waiting for the first round of play.
As I was listening to some music and munching on some Oreos to relax before my first match, my mother pulled me aside to tell me something our coach had said to her. She had said, “I really struggled with the decision of who to put 1st chair today. All 3 of them have the level of skill on the chess board necessary to compete at that position. I picked Scott however, not because of his knowledge of chess, but because of his resilience and knowledge about life. With Scott in 1st chair, I know that even if he gets beaten badly one round, that by the time the next round starts he will have completely put that loss behind him to focus on the current match.” I thought about this, and as I did I felt my anxiety diminishing. I realized that even if I didn’t win many of my matches, I was bringing another valuable skill to the table by being the sacrificial lamb for the team. By maintaining my confident, optimistic mindset and shaking off my losses, I was creating an atmosphere where the rest of our players could win a lot of matches for us. I ended up only going 2-2-1 that day, which is not too terrible, and our team set a Urey Middle School record by placing 6th in the state of Indiana.
This tournament is a great analogy of the importance of being resilient in life. When life throws obstacle after obstacle in your path, you can quite easily start allowing the setbacks you experience with one obstacle to negatively impact your ability to overcome the next hurdle in your path. You can even get to the point where you feel like no matter what you do you will keep losing to life’s problems, and let a sense of defeat take over your mind causing you to give up. With enough determination and the mentality that no matter what you will get back up when life knocks you down and keep fighting, you can avoid falling prey to this feeling of defeat. In the chess tournament, our coach knew that I had developed these tools to quickly get over the setback of losing a game and devote my full attention to the next match, because she knew that I had overcome much more difficult things in my life. Whenever I start to question my strength or resolve to get through the plethora of obstacles and setbacks in my life, I think about this chess tournament and what my coach said. And I realize that if I had that amount of resilience at the young age of 14, then now as an adult I am definitely strong enough to get through whatever life wants to put in my way.
You are going to have setbacks in life. You are going to fail, fall on your face, and get beaten down by life. This is something we all have to go through no matter how talented, smart, or rich we are. And you know what? That’s ok! In fact, it is a good thing. These failures and setbacks are opportunities for you to learn about yourself and grow as a person. In order to get the most out of these difficult times in your life though, you have to have the resilience, determination, and fight to appropriately work through these issues. You have to be resilient enough to let go of the negative feelings of failure before they effect your ability to overcome your next obstacle. This does not mean that you forget about your setbacks, it actually means the opposite. You need to think about why and how you were momentarily defeated, learn from it, and then admit that you failed and accept yourself in spite of it. Armed with this knowledge from your previous setback and having let go of the negative emotions associated with it by accepting yourself, you get back up and attack the next obstacle with the same tenacity and determination as before.
If you practice these techniques for approaching life’s hurdles, you can quickly develop the resilience and conviction to overcome almost anything. Keep in mind that sometimes you have to be the sacrificial lamb for the good of the team, like in my story about the chess tournament. By being resilient and maintaining your determined, optimistic attitude, you will be able to devote your full focus and strength to whatever adversity you are going through. Remember my coaches words the next time you find yourself feeling defeated before you even begin trying to overcome an obstacle, and take a moment to call upon your resilience, learn from your previous mistakes, and accept yourself in spite of your failures. And only then, after achieving your usual determined mindset should you tackle life’s next problem. You will be pleased to find that by doing this you are not only more effective in overcoming life’s obstacles, but you get a lot more out of the process and feel much happier doing it.