My son started to play chess nine months ago; he will turn six next month. He has developed a passion for this game and has competed at the national, state, and regional levels. How can his young mind process such a complex game and become the reigning Florida North Regional chess champion? His basic methodology is quite simple and something that we, as academic surgeons can learn from and apply to our everyday lives. My son’s initial winning strategy is to develop, protect his king, and take his time. Sounds simple but how does this relate to our careers?
While his strategy for piece development is never the same and must be adaptable to his opponent, we too must be able to develop ourselves in a variety of ways in order to achieve success and satisfaction. Think about your most recent research idea or educational project. Did you develop it appropriately? Did you consider alternative hypotheses or strategies? Did you get all the necessary pieces of your project involved? The further we move in our careers the more important it is to develop collaborations that allow us to advance a project, grant proposal, or anything that give us job satisfaction. Development of our surgical mission allows us to strategically put into place pieces of different function that allow us to attack a problem from various angles. Working with one piece alone is not a winning strategy, you must develop.
With constant clinical and academic pressures placed on surgeons, it is easy to become enveloped by these obligations and forget about the well-being of one’s self and family. We must learn to protect the king – you and your family are the king. Early in a game my son will castle, a move in which the king becomes more protected, and to “build a house” which involves surrounding the king behind pieces to make it more difficult for his opponent to get to the king. Our everyday pressures can easily “get” to us and we must be cognizant to protect our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This can be as simple as taking a few extra vacation days, setting aside weekly family time, or building routine exercise into your day. In any case, you protect yourself and family so that you can be more effective when you need to be. Build a “house” and surround yourself with friends and family so that they can be an outlet when you are under pressure by outside forces. This will keep you safe and allow you to remain in the game longer.
Perhaps the most important concept that my son employs in the game of chess is to take his time. Can you imagine a kindergartener sitting still for ninety minutes to play a game of chess? I didn’t think it possible until he played in the national championships last year (why he can’t put on his shoes when I ask is a different issue). As academic surgeons we must learn this concept and integrate it into our days. Whether it is taking our time during an operation, when extra attention and detail is required, or taking our time with a grant application – rushing through things in our career is fraught with error. It takes many good moves to win a chess game but only one bad move to lose it. This can also be said for academic medicine. Success takes many good moves to produce a winning strategy and sometimes that takes time. Be patient and schedule your time accordingly by allocating certain periods during each day or week for things that you need to accomplish over a longer period of time so that you don’t have to rush when the deadline approaches. I have come to breakdown many aspects of my career and life into developing, protecting, and taking my time. What areas of your life could you employ these tactics so that you can finish your game with a checkmate?