A few weeks ago in Sociology class, we decided to analyze the movie Searching For Bobby Fischer during our study on human socialization. The plot revolved around a little boy who was discovered to be a chess prodigy after learning the game from a rather competitive group of street chess players. Believing that his skills could not improve unless he received professional lessons, his parents and his strict new instructor urged him to learn a more sophisticated method of playing chess. However, Josh’s lessons became so focused on teaching him not to lose, that he was unable to take risks in order to beat his opponent. As he struggled to take a risky move in competition, his old street chess player friend, Vinnie, said something that has stuck with me ever since I watched the movie.
“He didn’t teach you how to win, he taught you how not to lose. That’s nothing to be proud of. You’re playing not to lose, Josh. You’ve got to risk losing. You’ve got to risk everything. You’ve got to go to the edge of defeat. That’s where you want to be, boy – on the edge of defeat.” – Vinnie (Searching for Bobby Fischer 1993)
I thought back to all the important decisions I have made and all the risks I have, or had not taken. This one quote in an old movie about chess really nailed it.
It’s so much easier to go through life only moving when you know you won’t lose. After all, taking risks can be scary! But if we only play to prevent loss, we still won’t win. By making the excuse that staying safe will pay off in the end, you will never be able to take that one risky move that will allow you to achieve victory. Now of course, taking risks doesn’t always end in a win; sometimes you WILL lose. But by making calculated risks, balancing potential loss and gain, taking a chance is definitely worth it.
Several months ago I decided to try out for Dance Team. I’ve always loved to dance but I had always just been way to anxious to perform in front of others. The particular dance team I tried out for mainly focused on ballet and jazz dance, which didn’t align at all with my mostly hip-hop and step experience. Regardless, I decided to give it a shot. I spend the months leading up to tryouts stretching everyday to get my splits and learning all the required leaps and spins that the other girls had been doing for years. Compared to most others, I was severely under prepared. I didn’t give up so easy though.
The first day of tryouts was one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life. I was not informed of a last minute time change so I end up walking into gym full of current members, late and not stretched. That was my first mistake. I ran into position as fast as I could and struggled to learn the new routine at the same pace as the other girls. They all looked so graceful and sported fancy shoes and outfits; meanwhile, I looked like a lost puppy in my sweatpants and sneakers. I was already feeling bad when one badly landed leap send a wave of pain up m leg. I had physically taken a leap of faith… and failed. Great. I had hurt myself within the first few minutes of day one. I burst into tears and limped to the side of the gym as everyone looked at me with pity. “Poor girl. She can’t dance and she hurt herself.”
I was completely devastated but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. As soon as I returned home from tryouts, my mom and I rushed to find proper jazz shoes and a leg brace for my damaged ankle. I spent the next several hours attempting to learn the part of the routine I had missed from my injury without much success. The only thing keeping me going was my desire to prove myself. Day two was not much better. The second routine was much more physically demanding and every other move sent pain rushing up my leg. Less than halfway through, I had to call it quits. I called my mom to come get me and cried on the way home. I made the decision to not attend the final day three audition.
But don’t worry! This is definitely not a sob story! A short time after the disaster that was my try outs, I received a very special email. My application to intern at an intensive arts day camp over the summer had been accepted and I was given the opportunity to be on the other side of the dance-learning experience. I was going to get to help teach step team and hip-hop class to beginners who were probably ten times more nervous than I was at dance team tryouts.
Months later, on the second day of my internship, I stumbled across a young, very nervous, first year camper who had transferred into my step team a day late. I saw myself in her; she was nervous, late, and inexperienced. I was determined to make her experience better than mine had been a few months earlier at dance team tryouts. After a brief pep talk, I took her aside and taught her the part of the routine she had missed. Her progress and speed was incredible. Now in step and hip-hop, we all have dance names; so when I told our newest edition that we’d decided to name her “Quickness” due to her quick adaptability and willingness to learn, she was overjoyed.
By taking a risk, AND failing at dance team auditions, I was ultimately able to help a younger dancer overcome her nerves and successfully perform at our final stage with me, and my other students. It made my failure completely worth it.
You see? Taking risks is so important. If you win, great! If you lose, there is still something to gain. Ever since I took that leap, I’ve been able to handle other situations easier and help others. I know it’s difficult and definitely easier said than done but best of luck to all my risk taking readers.
See you at the edge of defeat,