Greg Smith Keynote Speaker

Leadership Expert on Resiliency and Inner Strength – Greg helps leaders and teams “Go Full-Strength!” for maximum productivity.

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Life is Chess, Not Checkers

My 13-year old cousin’s life lessons

Having left Mississippi at the age of three to finish growing up in upstate New York and the Chicago area, I have always felt somewhat disconnected from family roots. Yes, we would make the drive south every summer, but even today, I definitely benefit when great aunts and uncles and second cousins to wear their name tags at family reunions. My mother’s family consisted of 10 children. Heck, I have first cousins that I barely even know.

I met my second cousin Andre for the first time last summer when he was 11 years old. He flew in from California to spend some time with his father, my first cousin Andy. We immediately bonded and spent the next month fishing, going bowling, golfing, going to the movies and playing chess. He had never played before last summer. I taught him how to set up the board, the names of the pieces and how they moved. And slowly but surely, after dozens of games, he started to catch on.

Andre 12

Andre at age 12, learning the game of chess.

His dad and I are very competitive chess players. When we move pieces, we slap them on the board with authority! When we capture pieces, we drop them on the table so they bounce around and make noise to irritate each other. When we have disagreements about the game or where a piece was before it was touched, we argue. And when we win, we gloat. Losing to Andy sucks, and I must admit I have felt the agony of defeat about as much as the thrill of winning when playing him.

Young Andre was just beginning his chess life. After every loss, I would always encourage him. “Keep playing,” I would say. “One day, you will begin to see the board in a different way and you will beat me.”

I don’t believe in letting people win to make them feel better. That detracts from the thrill of the actual victory. We probably played 100 games last summer and I won 99. Until the last game. The little kid beat me fair and square. As a reward, I gave him my chess set and encouraged him to continue to play.

This summer, he arrived a whole lot bigger at age 12. And when we set up the board, I took him lightly and immediately paid the price. I haphazardly began my opening without thinking and the next thing you know, I was in big trouble. He won that game rather easily. For the rematch, he had my full attention but he won that game too! I’ve since beaten him several times, but he now has my respect as a worthy opponent.

Andre turns 13 today. His chess career will be a blueprint for his success in life as he enters his teens. We can use it as our blueprint regardless of our age: Commit to becoming a winner. Learn the rules. Practice. Don’t play in fear of loss. Dislike losing. Feel the thrill of victory. Define yourself as a winner. Keep playing and learning until you become just that.

Happy birthday ‘lil cuz. It’s your day but you’ve given us the gift in your example.


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