“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope."

-Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

A Game of Chess

A Game of Chess

My brother-in-law and I decided to get the chess board out over Christmas. We had fun playing, but I lost. It bothered me that I lost, and it wasn't because of my competitiveness. I saw losing at chess to be a manifestation of my weakness for long-term planning and predicting outcomes. I was frustrated with myself. What lost me the game in chess has also created obstacles for me in my own life.

Chess players must think ahead and predict outcomes to be good at the game. I thrive in improvisational situations, but rarely think more than two steps ahead. I can make it up as I go and fly by the seat of my pants all day long, but I have never been good with calendars or setting myself up for future success. Playing chess with my brother-in-law reminded me of this weakness, and prompted me to do something about it.

Since then, I have downloaded a chess app on my phone so that I can play every day. I am not just trying to get good at chess. I am trying to get good at planning and thinking ahead. When I arrived in California, to my delight, I discovered that my new roommate also plays chess. We have been having a great time playing together (he beats me every time).

The Old Wooden Bookshelf is about reading for growth and improvement, but I don't want to neglect the fact that growth can happen in other ways. Playing chess is helping me to grow and develop, just like reading is. Long-term planning may never be my greatest strength, but I think that I am on the right track for improving this skill.

Here are three ideas for identifying and working to overcome a weakness:

1.       Identify a weakness. Is there something that has consistently created obstacles, ruined opportunities, or cost time and money? Weaknesses are often spotted during failures and disappointments. For me, losing that game of chess brought my weakness in  planning to the forefront of my mind.

2.       Find a way to develop this weakness. What activity would challenge you to overcome your weakness while still having fun? I started playing more chess to engage the part of my brain that does long-term planning and predicting outcomes. It's not enough to only practice during the game. I am actively trying to use “chess thinking” in my daily life.

3.       Play, practice, and don’t cheat. I could probably get good at chess quickly if I started finding and memorizing all of the best moves. I'm good at researching and memorizing. But that would defeat the purpose. If I just memorize all of the best moves, I will be circumventing the mental exercise of planning ahead and predicting outcomes. Don't cheat. Don’t lean on your strengths as a crutch to avoid your weakness. It will undermine the purpose of the exercise.

Keep reading. Learning through books will compliment whatever you are trying to work on in your life. If you are trying to learn patience and focus, then the activity of reading itself may help you cultivate these skills.

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A Drive Across America: Day 5

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