The Chess Match: 8 Life Lessons in Success Through Chess

 

The Chess match
Photo Credit: Katherine Harris

“It’s like the game of life…the most prepared, determined, and flexible thinker wins.”

From the opening move it was going to be an epic weekend. My 5-year-old son and I home alone. Usually a recipe for adventure, and a few moments of concern. Our tradition is turning the lower level of our house into a G-rated man-cave. By the time mom returns home on Monday everything should be back in place. Hopefully.

Past father-son weekends have resulted in basketball hoops and backboards being drilled into rec room walls, Afros turned into Mohawks (his hair, not mine), and more than a few scraped knees and elbows from park and playground escapades. We have fun. Quality father-son times spent bonding.

This weekend we planned to party hard, staying up late every night and waking up early every morning. By ‘party’ I mean playing with Hot Wheels cars, transforming the downstairs room into a monster race course. By ‘up late every night’ I mean lying on the sofa under a blanket, eating snacks, watching Disney and Pixar movies on Netflix until we fall asleep. Living the life of pre-kindergarten excitement.

For two days we went strong, partying as planned. By early Sunday morning our father days had me in a father-daze, but we had one more adventure to go. Our last adventure transformed into an extraordinary day, providing several distinct ironies and one special epiphany.

My favorite moment of that day is captured in the photo appearing at the top of this piece. Nicknamed The Chess Match, it was taken in a North Minneapolis barbershop while participating in a Black Excellence Father’s Day photo shoot, captured by a young and talented photographer named Katherine Harris.

I love this impromptu photo, partially because it reminds me of special moments shared with my father when I was a child. My father taught my older brother and I to play chess at a young age. He passed away several years ago, so I cherish his memories strongly. It seems so fitting this photo was captured in the spirit of Father’s Day.

The huge black & white poster hanging in the background, a powerful and gritty image of jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis, is dear to me. During my college years I had this exact poster hanging on my apartment wall. It triggers nostalgic memories of simpler times and the pure energy of genius-level talent.

The Miles Davis poster is flanked on either side by smaller framed photos of other iconic African American personalities, like Barack Obama, Spike Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and Afro-beat legend Fela…all moving muses inspiring excellence-level ambition. In the background played upbeat classic soul music…perhaps a track by Marvin Gaye or Earth Wind & Fire.

The photo captures a spirit true to the barbershop and photo shoot mission of Black Excellence. The proprietors of the barbershop have striven meticulously, and succeeded, in creating a space full of welcoming energy and an atmosphere of greatness. An environment instilling positive energy, leaving patrons in a more empowered place than when they arrive.

The entire day reminded me of a very simple principle; a strong and well-prepared foundation is the most important part of any structure. Nothing great or lasting can endure on a weak or shaky foundation.

The greatest epiphany I realized this day, watching my son play chess, observing how he felt his way through the game, was witnessing how the success principles of chess were being subconsciously ingrained into his knowledge base. This made me proud, and I realized an important ingredient of his foundation was being solidified.

When I was a teenager my father purchased an empty lot of land and a separate existing modular house located many miles apart. He planned to move the existing house onto the empty lot, but before he could do so a solid foundation on the empty lot had to be laid.

I remember the painstaking care it took to measure the correct dimensions for the foundation, dig the hole for the foundation, frame the foundation, and finally lay the concrete for the foundation. The foundation process took planning, precision, and time. Then, after weeks and weeks of planning and execution to lay the foundation, the house was moved and dropped on the foundation in a single day.

In a simple way, the example of my father’s foundation applies directly to the epiphany I realized with my son. By learning the lessons of success in chess, he is gradually learning the same success principles for life. His familiarity with the chess pieces was nothing new…he’s been able to name all the pieces on a chess board since the age of three. But until this day, I had never witnessed him to possess the mental ability to actually think the game.

“Life is like a game of chess, changing with each move” – Chinese Proverb

Since the invention of the game, great leaders, strategists, and thinkers have portrayed how strategies of chess can mimic many of the challenges, strategies, and concepts of life. Going forward, I’ll continue encouraging my son to discover, study, and develop chess strategies so he may advantageously apply these concepts to life.

Ashtapada is another word for chess. According to some, this word translates to mean “8 steps”. Following, briefly, are 8 classic lessons of success in chess that I feel mirror success in life. The list is by no means exhaustive, but every lesson is valuable:

1) Know the Rules: Rules exist for a reason – to put everyone one the same page, but not every rule is concrete or mandated to be followed. In chess, for example, forward-thinking mavericks have often broken traditional strategy rules and literally changed the game, all while playing by the rules of the game. The same applies to life. First, however, a thorough knowledge of the rules is necessary before the option of outwitting the rules becomes an option. Learn the rules.

2) Have Patience: Great things develop over time. Whether a game of chess, an amazing meal, a business plan, or a world-changing military plan, the best strategies require time to manifest. Show your hand too soon, before all parts are in place, and very often the end-game will be lost. Let it cook. Let it simmer. When making game-altering decisions in chess and life, allow the virtue of patience to clarify thought and action.

3) Memory & Focus: The term is Neuroplasticity –  the brain’s ability to grow in strength and function. We are what we repeatedly do. Developing excellence is no random act, but a habit. With repetition the ability to recognize winning patterns, plays, strategies, etc. becomes easier, like second nature. Combine memory and focus with intent, and success in the game of chess, and life, becomes much more likely. Use the power of memory and focus.

4) Learn Your Opposition: It’s a base law of the universe – nothing exists without its opposite. Some call it Yin-Yang, positive-negative, push-pull, male-female….one cannot exist without the other. Even within our best planned intentions, there exists an equal and opposite force desiring the opposite of what we intend. Our opposition. The more we know about our opposition, the easier it is for us to plan, adapt, and stay one step ahead. In chess, and life, learning the threats, skills, and intentions of our opposition serves greatly to our advantage.

5) Think Multiple Moves Ahead: Life is chess, not checkers, for those with the knowledge, experience, and opportunity to play. Like it or not, we’re all playing the game. Making an analogy to health, the habits we develop and act upon today, in terms of our eating, exercise, and lifestyle, will determine our well-being many years into our future. Being proactive, not reactive, determines how the game will progress. In chess, and life, choose to be proactive. Think multiple moves ahead.

6) Action is Necessary: Make a move or lose by default. Chess is a thinking game, which is excellent, but eventually all that thinking must result in a move. Or voluntarily lose the game. The same is true in life. It’s possible to get so caught up our thoughts, wondering which move is best, that we make no move at all. Some call it paralysis through analysis. A move must be made, otherwise nothing will ever change. In chess, and life, action is necessary to win.

7) Actions Have Consequences: Choices determine results, good, bad, or neutral. Make a good choice, more than likely enjoy a good result. Bad choice, endure a difficult result. Risk is necessary for reward, but the downside result must always be considered. Consequences are not always proportionate to the magnitude of events that produce them. In chess, and life, every action has a consequence. Act accordingly, and be prepared for the results.

8) 100% Responsibility for Results: In the game of chess, blaming anyone other than self for moves made on the board is difficult. Ultimately, the same is true in life. Many lives begin with undeniable disadvantages, for many reasons, but we must grasp the possibility of our greatness, do what is necessary to change situations, and do what is necessary to bring forth the results we desire. What is necessary is not always easy, but it’s still necessary. In chess, and life, taking 100% responsibility for results is a must.

Playing chess together is an amazing opportunity to strengthen the relationship between a parent and child. It’s a pursuit of present-time consciousness. Everything stops. Two people. Shared thoughts. Intellectual stimulation and free-flowing creative energy. As special as it was to capture The Chess Match in a photo with my son, the bond of our time together exists immeasurably greater.

Just as chess is an amazing game, fatherhood is an amazing privilege. With privilege comes responsibility. With responsibility, properly executed, comes excellence and reward. Excellence is a reward and opportunity to be pursued together.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

The Power of One: How One-on-One Mentorship Could Change The World

Dr. Juneau Robbins

“Instill in a person a higher vision of themselves, of their talents and worth, of their immeasurable value, and odds are favorable they will strive to live up to those expectations.” – Dr. Juneau Robbins

Shots, shouts, and sirens. Last night more shootings in my North Minneapolis neighborhood. An innocent grandmother sitting in her minivan was caught in the crossfire of gang violence. Tragically, she lost her life. Somebody lost their mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and confidant. In a separate incident an innocent 7-year-old boy was shot in the leg. He will live to tell the tale.

Stories like this are becoming commonplace, and it takes honest effort to not become desensitized into considering this foolishness the new normal. It seems every week we hear news of another shooting or killing. It’s personal. It’s close. The neighborhood echoes with frustrated and fearful calls for someone to do something, anything…and with due respect, many people are trying.

Small scenes mirroring a bigger picture playing the same scenario in cities all across the United States. Why are attempts at solving this crisis so seemingly ineffective? The causes are complex, mangled and entangled to be sure. Ranging from gun control issues to parenting discipline to racial and socio-economic dynamics. But the greatest cause may actually be the simplest to identify, diagnose, and define. One word. Mindset.

While there are plenty of “community leaders”, non-profits, churches, and organizations seeking to change the situation, striving to improve the odds for young people, neighborhoods, and cities, the reality is that no one person, group, or organization can or will fully be able to solve the problem. But every person, group and organization can contribute something, at least one thing, toward the solution. We are all pieces of The Power of One.

I used to believe creating significant change for the betterment of society had to be on a massive scale to really make a difference. A scale like the Civil Rights Movement lead by a Martin or Malcolm, or India’s Independence Movement lead by Gandhi. With age and experience I’ve realized these great leaders, while magnetic, special and destined for their causes, were as much a product of being in the right place at the right time with the right message, as they were their talents.

The movement necessary to curb gun violence in America’s cities, to curb violent and self-destructive behavior in general, is a mostly a movement of the mind….call it a “Mindset Movement”. A movement in which cultivating and growing young minds toward their maximum positive potential, able to visualize healthy lives for themselves, families, and communities, is the chief and primary aim.

Looking back on life, I realize the strongest influential forces during youth’s most impressionable years were the everyday examples in my life, like my business English teacher, high school basketball coach, and especially my father. They were huge influencers in determining my decisions and direction because of their consistent and positive presence, not necessarily their talents (though their talents certainly did not hurt!). It wasn’t their charismatic ability to lead mass political or social movements that created their phenomenal influence, it was their constructive and constant presence.

Over the span of decades each one of these men significantly influenced the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of impressionable young people like myself. Young people who have matured over time and are now in the prime of influencing others coming along behind us. Multiply each of those men by a hundred and in a few short generations their positive influence exponentially reaches tens of thousands. Quiet, exponential influence is an amazing return on influence investment.

Never underestimate The Power of One

Imagine this.

The passion of a youthful tryst creates the spark of life. Nine months later a child is born to a single mother, herself literally more than a child. She struggles daily to provide the most basic of needs to her greatest creation. It happens countless times daily, so common an occurrence it may seem like a MINOR thing.

Years pass and the child grows, their young thoughts and values shaped and molded daily by environments and events restrictive to their genius. Their self-image, self-talk, and budding self-esteem are strongly influenced by codes of the street, peers, and learned limitations passed down through generations.

Many in society would see these developments as expected and inevitable, occurring so frequently and commonly they seem like MINOR things.

Self-destructive choices and behaviors become the norm for this young seed. A victim mentality produces a short-sighted, selfish attitude and limited vision of what may be possible to achieve in life. For that child these are life-direction determining developments – these are MAJOR things.

Multiply that child by a few dozen and you influence the energy, attitude and safety of a school. Outside of school hours you literally affect the environment and livability of a neighborhood.

That child continues to age, grow, and mature. Physically stronger and independent to roam. Multiply that young person by a few hundred and you influence the energy, safety, and quality-of-life of an average-sized city.

Multiply that child by a few thousand and you impact the condition, vitality, and concerns of a major city.

Multiply that child by a few hundred thousand, even possibly a million, and you literally influence the politics, dynamics, and well-being of a nation.

So, the absence of a single positive and consistent influence in the life of one child is potentially powerful enough to affect the well-being of an entire nation. That is a MAJOR thing.

Backtrack to that child’s most formative years. Along comes an encouraging man or woman who is compassionate, grounded, and stable. An optimistic individual who sees the potential in that child, with a heart to give of themselves and their time.

Such individuals are plentiful around our cities and nation. In fact, so plentiful that as one person they may be considered a MINOR thing.

Say that man or woman routinely nourishes that child’s mind with positive reinforcement and encouraging words, consistently infusing that young mind with a confident vision of what they may eventually become. Individually, that initial exposure to a higher vision may be considered a MINOR thing.

That higher, positive image replaces the negative, self-limiting image in that child’s mind of what may be possible to pursue and accomplish in life. This may seem like a MINOR thing to the world, but it is a paradigm shift – a MAJOR thing to that child.

Multiply that encouraging man or woman (mentor) by a few dozen and you influence the energy, attitude, and safety of a school. Outside of school hours you literally improve the environment and livability of a neighborhood.

Multiply that encouraging man or woman (mentor) by a few hundred and you influence the energy, safety, and quality-of-life of an average-sized city.

Multiply that man or woman (mentor) by a few thousand and you positively impact the condition, vitality, and concerns of a major city.

Multiply that man or woman (mentor) by a few hundred thousand, even possibly a million, and you literally influence the politics, dynamics, and well-being of a nation.

Multiply that man or woman by a few millions and you literally impact the well-being of the entire world.

Mindset…the master maker. Having a consistent and positive presence in a child’s life during their most formative years is the most important factor in the healthy development of a child’s mindset. Initiating a higher vision-of-self while positively reinforcing talents, growing confidence, and exposing young people to safe, diverse, and healthy environments are keys to helping grow young people into healthy, contributing members of society, who will eventually pay it forward, acting as future mentors to future generations.

One-on-one mentorship is a MAJOR enough concept to build empowered human beings, communities, and nations all around the world. Not that “now and again” mentorship, but consistent and committed mentorship.

If only the solution were that simple. That’s what Edison thought about the electric light bulb at a time when humanity existed in darkness every single night. Now electric lights seems a pretty simple and taken-for-granted concept in our lives. It can happen.

Every problem has multiple solutions that can work in harmony toward a common goal, and every solution begins with a concept or idea. Very rarely a new idea. More often a refined and developed idea. Why should one-on-one mentorship be any different? The Power of One. Idealistic and simple. Powerful enough to positively influence the well-being of the world.

The Power of One is a piece of the solution available to everyone, and it may be pursued in many different ways. Whether choosing to participate in existing mentorship programs offered through local non-profits, churches, or organizations, or simply taking a consistent interest in a young person’s life accessible in everyday circles. It doesn’t need to be official to be effective. If you don’t know how to begin getting involved, simply begin asking questions. I guarantee the answer will present in short time.

Just a few thoughts from the mind of one who believes in The Power of One. If this post makes sense, please share. Let’s exercise our Power of One. Together we make a difference.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

Love, Sacrifice, Security – A Mother’s Greatest Gifts

Mom & boys

“Her deathbed confession was more like a selfless revelation – an ode of love to her children.”

 Happy Mother’s Day!

Every Mother’s Day our thoughts roll around to the gratitude, appreciation, love, and respect we hopefully feel, and should be expressing, to our mothers, wives, sisters, and others all year round. Only this day we feel an obligation to show how we feel, and fill the coffers of card-making companies with purchases that articulate our feelings in ways many of us could never imagine.

I feel guilty saying clear memories of my biological mother are relatively few, even though she was an amazing and committed mother. The epitome of love and grace. A stable and self-sacrificial woman who routinely put her children’s needs in front of her own wants and needs well into my high school years…and that’s when we lost her. She died way too young. My memories of her do not do justice to the parenting pedestal she deserves.

I could chalk the fading memories of my mother up to years gone by – it has been more than 25 years. But even though specific memories of times and experiences shared may be fading, there is something far more powerful I can never forget. A feeling so ingrained in my being that I experience it daily. The passage of time can never dampen in my spirit how my mother made me feel – loved, sacrificed-for, and secure. Those are the foundation elements, the cornerstone building-blocks, upon which every positive character trait and confidence I exhibit today has been built.    

People may forget what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Selfless. Even in her final days, for months prior to her transition my mother was bed-ridden and hospitalized, but I never heard her complain for herself. I remember my father spending every waking moment by her side. He slept in her hospital room every night on a narrow, hard, roll-away cot, holding her hand, spending time, making sure she knew she was loved.

Every day after school I would visit her for hours. Just sitting, spending time, sometimes praying, telling her about my day. Rarely did she speak back. In her final days she did not have the strength to say much. Just occasionally open her eyes, force a faint smile, and acknowledge appreciation for the company.

Then a day or two before she died I remember her struggling to speak the final words I remember her saying. Simply she said, “I don’t want to leave you. You and your brother are too young. I need to make sure you’ll be okay.”

Her deathbed confession to me was more like a selfless revelation – an ode of love to her children. She was not thinking about herself at all. Rather, her thoughts were for her children. She wanted to express love and concern for her two sons. Wow! The briefest choice of words summarizing the deepness of a mother’s love. Selfless. Even as her end drew near, showing more concern for the future well-being of her children than for own terminally-ill situation.

My mother gave me the irreplaceable building blocks of love, sacrifice, and security. The building blocks of everything I continue to grow into and become. For that I can never repay her, and I highly doubt she would ever expect repayment of any kind. Still, it would be nice to tell her how incredibly much I will forever be grateful. Her early belief in me allowed me to grow greater belief in myself.  A belief that continues to grow, succeed, achieve, and evolve. Invaluable traits. Just a few of the gifts my mother gave me.

It is impossible to truly know something until it is experienced.  For example, I could describe to you how to swim, but you could never truly know how to swim until you get in the water and swim. Certain things can only be known through experience. Such it is with a mother’s love.

No child can truly know the deep sense of love a mother has for her children, except that mother. We can attempt to know. We can express our gratitude and try to reciprocate that love. But a mother’s love for her children is more powerful, deeper, and more expansive than we can ever authentically know. It’s a love beyond human comprehension, expanding into the spiritual.

Shortly after my mother’s passing I stumbled on an old, dusty book in the basement of my parent’s house. It had been there decades, untouched. Later I discovered what a classic it truly is. The book is The Prophet by Khahlil Gibran. In this book I found a verse that struck me in the greatest way. The verse reads:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Amazing words, and I somehow believe all mothers know, whether realized or not, the truth in these words.

Mothers are like great vessels, in a spiritual, physical, and psychological sense, through which each of us are born, nurtured, and developed. A mother’s most basic gifts begin with love, sacrifice, and security, then evolves into countless other attributes that cause us to grow into the individuals we eventually become.

Mothers often consider children their greatest blessing, but the reality is the reverse. Mothers are our greatest blessing. The gift of a loving, caring, and sacrificing mother is greatest gift of all. We should make a commitment daily to treating our greatest gifts as they deserve to be treated.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”

Juneau&JaionShoulders-toronto

“Action expresses priorities.” –Mahatma Gandhi

It’s Super Bowl weekend.  My 5-year old son and I are downstairs playing in the carpeted rec room of our home.  He’s clad in a miniature-size game-day jersey, pretending he’s the superstar quarterback of the winning team, excited to be romping around, full of energy, playing and interacting with Daddy.

We’ve been tossing around a mini Nerf football, soft enough not to damage the walls or windows as a result of its erratic episodes of flight. He pretends to snap the ball to himself, drops back in the pretend pocket, pump fakes his right arm one time, then throws the football across the room in my direction. A surprisingly perfect spiral.

Half-heartedly I reach upward to catch the ball with my left hand, glancing away from my smart phone where I had been checking emails, or text messages, or social media updates, or something else I deemed urgent at the time.  Then I recall hearing the most pleading, sincere, and wanting tone a 5-year old could ever muster…

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”

Boom. A eureka-moment reality check. A life-changing, priority-altering realization. Not only did I hear my son’s pleading tone…I listened.

Through his pleading tone, dejected body language, and despaired facial expression, my son renewed an already known realization in my mind. The realization that all things seemingly urgent are not necessarily important, and what is important needs to be prioritized. At that specific second, I silently vowed to re-assess and re-focus my priorities, not only toward my child, but in all aspects of my life.

We live in a furious-paced time, in a culture making constant unabashed attempts to demand our attention right now. The expectation of being constantly on and accessible via smart phones, instant messaging, urgent-sounding chimes, alerts and notifications…its madness. But how much of that culturally-ingrained sense of urgency is really important? What about in your life? That’s the question of today. The easy (and correct) answer is really pretty simple. Not much.

The offering to mindfully differentiate that which is urgent from that which is important is strong advice. Good advice. Perhaps most importantly, it is advice that can and should be applied to every aspect of our lives.  If you’re like most everyone I know, your days are increasingly becoming filled with obligations, commitments, and responsibilities. We must force ourselves to stop and ask, “How much of what I’m doing is really important?”

To prioritize what is important in our lives we must stop and think about everything biding for our time. Our work, health, family, friends, community, faith, finances, leisure, and more. Stopping to take stock is the first step, then we must identify what is seemingly urgent from what is truly important (if it’s neither urgent nor important it shouldn’t be on our “must do” radar anyway). Only then can we begin an uncompromising exercise of elimination and prioritization. An eliminectomy.

That which seems urgent will get in the way of what is important, just like the seeming urgency of checking my smart phone got in the way of the important experience I was spending with my son during Super Bowl Weekend.

How do we decide what is urgent vs. what is important? I like the statement by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Or, if a task or activity can be put off without dire consequence, it’s probably more urgent than important. If it’s something that contributes to long term happiness, close relationships, personal growth or goals, it’s probably important.

Here are 5 Action Steps I used to re-prioritize my priorities:

  1. Stop Everything. It’s impossible to think when your mind is cluttered with a million-and-one thoughts. Too many thoughts, can’t think. How’s that for irony? So stop, calm the mind, and give yourself a chance to authentically think.
  1. Write down values in priority order. Not tasks, but values. For example – Creator, Family, Finances, Community, Fun, etc.  These are items of personal value that contribute to long term happiness and fulfillment. Values must be known before they can be consciously pursued. Refer back to this list often – the things we see most frequently become ingrained in our subconscious, and will most likely become our reality.
  1. Write down tasks being done on a regular basis. Then identify items to reduce or eliminate that are unnecessary. Time is our most precious commodity, one that is so easily wasted. Reducing the unnecessary will create more time for what truly matters (that which is important).
  1. Group like activities and use technology for efficiency. For example, prepare multiple meals at the same time to avoid a tedious routine every meal, or have a set time for laundry, or checking e-mails or paying bills. When like activities are grouped together they are accomplished more efficiently. Offerings like auto pay to manage monthly bills helps avoid the hassle of opening envelopes, addressing checks, stamping envelopes, etc.
  1. Practice “Present Time Consciousness”. A fancy-sounding term that simply means “focus on what is in front of you with full attention”, one thing at a time with full presence. Make the task at hand the number one priority while it is being done. Avoid multi-tasking whenever possible…it really doesn’t save time, quality is compromised, and it creates stress!

By identifying what is most important in our lives, and prioritizing our actions to align with what is most important, it simply means we are becoming truer to ourselves. It’s an excellent process for everyone to undergo. A task we should pursue with knowledge and courage, helping us reach for our higher potential. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks along the way…we all have them. After all, we’re all just humans trying to become better version of ourselves.

Wishing Wellness & Empowerment Your Way,

-Dr. J