If I could offer one nugget of wisdom that I’ve learnt so far, the kind that dawns on you at 3am in the morning, the kind that makes sense passing on to your kids - it would be that Life is like a chess game that you play with yourself, and one that is best played strategically.
It dawned on me (as these thoughts do, while I was doing the dishes) that the reason why my parents loved telling me as a child about what they felt I should do with my life, was because as time passes, and the more decisions you made, the more locked into your decisions you are. That certain doors opened close many others for good. That children never realize the severity of how locked in people become as time passes, because for them, having made few decisions of import in their lives, all doors are open, all pages are blank, all possibilities endless. And as humans, we instinctively draw on 20/20 hindsight, and the irrepressible desire to turn back time and re-write our histories.
This doesn’t mean I condone parents attempting to make decisions for their kids - their pages are written, let their kids write their own - but that I now understand the human spectator instinct to look upon the life of another and desire to signpost the here-be-dragons in front of some doors, and document through stories and shared experience the folklore of doors that will close when others are opened.
It would be great if we all had that special ability that Nicholas Cage had in “Next”, when he could explore the next few seconds of every possibility in his life before making a move. A genius ex of mine once tried to tell me that life had to be played strategically, and I think I ran, screaming, in the opposite direction. The thought was horrifying, that you should pick your job, your degree, your spouse… strategically. What about personal desire? What about love? What about following your heart?
And ten years later (OK, so I’m a slow burner in the thought process on this one…) I realise that he is right. It’s not exactly a bleak thought. In the game of chess, some people find themselves able to play to win without certain pieces. Some neglect their bishops. Others give up their knights quickly, never quite understanding the subtlety of the sideways movements of the piece, but would fight to the death before they lose their rooks. In the strategic game of chess as life, the only strategy worth pursuing, after all, is towards the goal of winning the game as you define in.
What about love? What about following your heart, or your mind? What does capturing your opponent’s king look like? And what about destiny? Do those that believe in fate see only one side of the game being played, the side that is being played against them?
I’ve realised that I’ve inadvertently castled my king early on without really understanding why I’d want to do that, that I’ve lost many pawns, would fight to the death before I give up my queen, and have sent knights to the slaughter. I’ve learnt that by playing a game of chess with someone, you can not only learn a lot about the inner workings of their mind, whether they know it or not, but also about yourself. It’s a meditation, not a game of win or lose.
If your glass is half-empty, you might say that no matter how you play it, you’ll never win. If your glass is half-full, you might say that regardless whether black or white wins, in the game you play with yourself, you will end up picking the winning side.