Learning to win by learning to lose: What an 8-year old really taught me about business and life by teaching me to play chess.
I’m not here to give advice on parenting styles, or right and wrong. But I will make this statement: I don’t believe in “letting” anyone win. So when Aidan brought out his Harry Potter chess set that I had gotten him for his 8th birthday, I was ready to learn how to beat him.
There was an ease with which he set the board - proudly naming each piece while laying them out. His careful movements as he moved from piece to piece and the speed with which he explained how each could move made it very evident: he’s played a game or two (thousand). Overwhelmed with information, I quickly moved a pawn forward, hoping, if nothing else, to remember what could move where and how. In response to my first move, Aidan gleamed, knowing that his first victory against me would be in a matter of minutes.
If you’ve ever questioned what makes some people incredibly successful at work, in sports, in relationships, in life… I witnessed it first hand from across a Harry Potter chess board by game ten against Aidan. Each move he made was carefully calculated, so much so that he typically had the next 5 (with subsequent plans B and C) already outlined in his mind.
For someone new to the game, I was brought to my demise again and again at the sound of an excited, “Checkmate!” each game before I realized where I was making my mistake. I was focusing on each move individually: the same mistake we make every day in our professional and personal lives. We kick ourselves, wondering how to get ahead of the curve without seeing the trap that our myopic, “right now” mindset has us in.
When I stopped watching which piece his hand carefully placed, and instead watched the way Aidan was watching the board, I realized what made him so good at chess (and hockey, and math, and reading, and well… I could keep going). While some, particularly a beginner like myself, would pay attention to moves individually, Aidan was looking at the board as a whole. With each flutter of an eyelash, he would look to each piece individually and every potential scenario that could arise. He was watching my eyes and what pieces they lingered on as a sign for which I would move next before my hand ever touched the piece.
By playing out every scenario in his head, he was able to calculate each move that I had available to make, set traps for me to fall in, and more importantly, win each and every time. In learning how to lose a game of chess to Aidan, I learned how to beat him by the 35th game. (For those of you reading this, it’s fair to clarify: that number is not an exaggeration.) Over the course of two days, we played many more rounds and I can now say I would feel confident to play anyone in a game of chess.
The way we lose: our reaction to it, our takeaways from it, and our ability to identify the steps we missed along the way speaks volume to the way we win. If we can’t take a loss and use it to learn to breakdown how to avoid the mistakes made along the way, we’re bound to face it again and again.
It’s easy to be discouraged by losing — but really, we’re learning how to win — bigger and better each time.