Chess is a game of strategy. It is a game that many people play but only a few go on to the level of Bobby Fischer. My father taught me how to play chess as a teenager, and I was mesmerized from the start for its strategy and the high level of attention it demands. I would play with a family friend for hours until we hit a stalemate or a checkmate. The former was never a desired outcome. By then, we were both exhausted. Later on, I would play on Yahoo against anonymous users. The more I played, the more I found myself struggling with coming up with a different strategy for each new opponent and not to mention it was taking longer and longer to make a move against more advanced players. Fully aware of my limitations, I said goodbye to chess a few years later, but the lesson the game holds stays with me rest of my life. Chess teaches us to think and respond strategically, to be able to plan ahead in a world of uncertainty. Those who fail to plan and think ahead are bound to lose.
Isn’t life a bit like chess? There are people who map out what they plan to do every step of the way from elementary school to university until they reach their final destination. Even when they reach the final destination, there is a new strategy on how to progress through the career ladder. In other words, life consists of a series of plans. There are many living proofs of the value of methodical planning. A friend once wrote in the yearbook, in a departing message upon graduation, that his dream was to be a neurosurgeon. And years later, he is finishing his residency (not sure if it’s neurosurgery though). But the road to get there was a series of steps from volunteering at homeless shelters to taking leadership positions while acing the MCAT and structuring a curriculum to maximize his grade point average. Another friend was accepted at a law school soon after undergrad. We used to walk through University of Toronto as high school students and stop by the Faculty of Law. He would point out that “this is where I want to be.” He went on to a very successful career in business law but the road to get there was a series of planning: majoring in economics and accounting; volunteering at a rotary club to meet people; taking up leadership positions while working on his social skills to prepare for a career where one’s charisma plays a big role in moving up. Not surprisingly, he was also a chess player.
But what if life doesn’t turn out be a game of chess? What if some of us do not follow through with a plan or simply do not plan at all? Does that leave us vulnerable to expectations? My life, for one, has not followed a linear path. I don’t think I have sketched out a master plan or a Gantt chart consisting of one milestone after another. I knew that I wanted a great education and to learn everything I wanted to learn. A door was left open to the possibility of learning more about myself. I may not be that far along into my current career but I’ve had a rich set of experiences while exploring my interests and other academic and career paths in the years I graduated from school.
If life was planned like a game of chess, we would miss out on the diversity of experiences that make every single day not a potential milestone to be checked off, but a present to be unwrapped. This is not to mention the interesting characters we would meet on this journey, each person bringing us a different perspective and teaching us something about ourselves. But to each their own. My two friends know what works for them. But some people choose to live differently. Had my life been a linear path, I don’t think I would have met the writers, artists and creators that I know now, and how much I would have in common with them. I would not have found a friend in a much younger person who shares my love for writing and reading, and who challenges me to read 50 books a year.