Growing up with a Korean background and immigrant parents, I only hoped to be their American dream. I was focused on becoming who and what they wanted me to be without having an understanding of who I was. Unravelling this pattern of behaviour and thought was easier said than done as I had always equated my worth through my academic performance. However, the deciding factor that changed my view on progress was from an important lesson I learned during my teenage years. This lesson took place across a dusty checkerboard mat covered with strategically placed black and white plastic figurines.
Chess has always fascinated me. This led me to become the first female president of my high school’s chess club and only female in the club at that time. The game is fairly simple on the surface. Each piece is limited by rules regarding its movements and can capture an opponent’s piece on the board. The ultimate goal isn’t to capture the most pieces, but to manoeuvre the king in a position where it cannot escape.
I came to realize that chess is a miniature version of life. To be successful in life and chess, one has to be disciplined, make sacrifices, and adjust to unfavourable situations. Like chess, life is not defined by the number of games that we win or the number we lose. In fact, a career as a competitive chess player doesn’t end with one game. Success begins with the idea that you learn from your mistakes and failure only indicates a new beginning.
We are given the pieces and the rules, but these are useless if one can’t figure out how to utilize both at the same time to have a better understanding of the game. Although the rules are simple, interactions on the board are paradoxically complex and delicately balanced. I would like to think that I will win, checkmate the king, and achieve my hopes and dreams. But after restructuring my view of what growth really means, I found myself personifying change, the strategy of persevering in the face of failure, and the mentality of refusing to be discouraged by current circumstances.
It is easy to get side-tracked, to count the number of pieces captured, and agonize over being the perfect adult. Sometimes we learn the most when we lose. This was difficult for me to grasp because I believed that my entire future hinged on my grade point average and that my worth as a human was reduced by each wrong answer. But that’s what chess is all about: some days you give your opponent a lesson and other days, you’re given one.
As Michael Foucault stated, progress is determined by where you are now compared to your beginning. Throughout my entire life, I only knew where I was because I didn’t allow myself to dream of where I could be. Equilibrium dictates that success only comes after multiple struggles and failures. Although there are some instances where one might get lucky enough to achieve success without making the climb, I learned through chess that anything worth receiving is worth struggling and failing for. There is no way to win a game of chess without losing a piece, but every chess player knows that to win, one must make sacrifices in order to prioritize their king.
As I sit in front of the chessboard, more than a decade after I started playing this wildly beautiful game, I take a deep breath. The game changes with every move, but I know what to do next.
Because I know how to checkmate my opponent.