I get asked this question a lot and the question usually comes from two places.
1. Why did this become your passion?
2. Why not something that can pay you more?
I will answer both for you today.
In my preschool to elementary years I was very anxious and shy. Any chance that I had to choose my seat in class, I would sit in the back corner of the room. Not just the back – the corner, because it meant I would only need to sit next to one person instead of two and decreases my chances of having to talk to anyone.
Whenever I was called on to answer a question, my heart would start racing, my throat would feel tightened, palms got sweaty, I would do anything to avoid eye contact, and my muscles would not move. I would feel this way every time without fail. Even just thinking I was going to get called on scared me. If someone said a word that sounded like the beginning of my my name, like, “correct”, my insides would jump.
This anxiety made it very difficult for me to participate in school. Most of it stemmed from a fear of being wrong, the consequences of poor grades and being mocked by other children for not knowing or understanding something.
There were projects assigned to me that I was required to stand up to present to an entire class. Even after spending weeks on the project leading up to the presentations, I would take a zero because I could not bring myself up to present. When it was time to go up my body would freeze. The threats of a failing grade did not outweigh the expected ridicule of failure from trying.
It was in sixth grade that I joined our middle school chess club. I remember walking in nervously and seeing a room filled with people, but I was simply following a friend around who wanted to join and I knew I was going to ignore anyone who spoke to me to avoid an awkward encounter.
To my surprise, I got through my first meeting without receiving much more than a “Hi”. We had all sat down, shook hands, played our game, shook hands again and moved on. For the first time I felt like I had a connection with a stranger without even having to speak to them. This was huge! (To me anyway) And I didn’t have to worry about a failing grade if I lost.
So I kept going to the weekly meetings and then a second day per week opened up and I started going to all of those as well. Over time I was engaging with the chess lectures, asking questions (what? Me? Talking in front of a class on my own?), sharing ideas, teaching newer players what I knew, and so on.
Next thing I knew, I was doing the same things in school. The anxiety was still present, but I knew it was a feeling that would pass once I started speaking. I still jumped when I heard my name but I had the strength to rise to the challenge. Part of my problem was not knowing how to find an answer I didn’t know or how to ask the right questions in my head and anticipate what may be asked of me. I learned that in chess. In chess we have a lot of “If, then.” scenarios. IF this happens THEN we should do this or that. We ask ourselves, “well, why did this move get played?” “What can be done now?” “Okay how can this be broken down and made simpler?” “What do we already know and what do we need to find out next?”
Questions like these teach us to prepare for anything. Being prepared took a great weight off of me and I haven’t even mentioned just how fun the club meetings are, but I’ll get into that another day.
I was very fortunate to have this chess club. The lessons I learned have opened many doors for me and have me left feeling capable of anything I set my mind to. Now I want nothing more than to duplicate that experience for other students. No matter what kind of issue you’re facing, I know you can find solace here.