Queen’s struggle – the story
Queen’s Gambit stole people’s hearts the second it hit Netflix. A limited series about chess? Not my speed. I knew that I would watch it eventually, when all the dust settles and the hype calms down. I’ve been down that road with Narcos and American Crime Story, even FRIENDS lately – I guess I really like to wait for something. But Queen’s Gambit was the best of them all – story about struggle, loneliness, teamwork and beauty.
And with one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever created. You can listen to it here.
Intuition can’t be found in books.
So, why now, you may ask. Let me tell you this story then. I have few favorite people in my life and one of them is also a great leader. One day she told me about a training she had at work – “Business learning from the Queen’s Gambit”. This training was based on 6 concept and you can read about them here. Thanks to Kate, I got an opportunity to speak with the author of that post and ask him, what we can actually learn from this series and pop culture in general.
I don’t think I am there yet, to think about pop culture from a business perspective, but Queen’s Gambit proved that it’s all a matter of a fresh set of eyes. One more thing about those conversations with leaders – I think of it as a great, extraordinary opportunity to get some insight leadership knowledge and share my love for pop culture. I can’t wait to share the results with you, Lot! 😊
For me, Queen’s Gambit was a story about struggle and how often we must fight with our demons; about beauty in simple things, desire, teamwork and how lonely being on the top can feel. And even though the ending was predictable, the sweet victory is something we all could use just about now. So, are you ready to play?
I feel like we could also use a definition of the move – queen’s gambit. One of the oldest chess openings ever: d4, d5, c4. No, I didn’t know that before, I had to look it up. But I played it on my godson’s chess board and a wave of memories hit me. I have a lot of board games buried in my basement, waiting patiently for my new apartment. Among them, there is a very old chess board – the one I got after my grandpa died. It’s been with me for… Almost 10 years now. 10 years. I remember that when I was a young girl, he tried to teach me, but I was too impatient.
I set the pawns and queen and knights, rook and kings with foggy eyes, because he tried to show me the beauty of patience, logical thinking and bravery on the small world that is a chess board. Perhaps, he could have taught me this particular opening, queen’s gambit. Well, for what it’s worth, I got my lesson: don’t wait. Seize every moment, cherish and enjoy it. Make time for the other side, especially when they want to teach you something.
I probably will try to learn how to play chess on my own. I am excited to get familiar with terminology and strategies and everything in between. So yes, if there is anything that chess reminds me of, it’s struggles and missed chances.
Do you ever go over games in your head? When you’re alone, I mean. Play all the way through them?
One of the struggles we witnessed in Queen’s gambit was overthinking and what it does to you. Sure, Beth played most of the games in her head, but… It does sound familiar, right? Last week I had some difficult conversations at work, and one of the things we talked about was my overthinking. I do that a lot and sometimes I can’t seem to stop. Oh, how I wish there was an “off” button! But it is hard, especially when you hear things that are hard to digest and process. It is hard, when you don’t see it coming and the one you once trusted, is the one cutting your wings off.
For Beth, re-playing the games in her head, was something comforting – it felt safe. No one could harm her there; nobody could access that little corner of her mind. But this state of mind is dangerous, it lures you in with the familiarity, safety and security… Only to make you feel lonely and alone. I think I learnt how to deal with that and how to trust my people – trust them enough to share the darkest thoughts.
But this isn’t something that comes over night – your head is your safest comfort zone. The one, that is the hardest to escape from. So, if we are the Queen or King on our chess board, what would be the best opening? What would be the opening that you want to start with? Would it be the queen’s gambit, to make it look like you are willing to sacrifice a pawn (piece of mind maybe?) to win in the long run?
Anger is a potent spice. A pinch wakes you up; too much dulls your senses.
Sometime ago, another leader told me that being emotional is fine. That being a woman is wonderful; that being pretty and smart is – sure, a deadly combination – not something I should apologize for. She told me, that revealing your emotions and feelings is and should be acceptable. We live in a society, where we should dull what’s happening inside our heads, we should control the chaos, control the noise.
And in a way, I agree – like with anger. Is it really worth it, lashing out on your friends, colleagues? People go through different things in their personal lives, and we should always take that into account. There are limits, though. So, instead of calling out being emotional, unprofessional, how about we switch the perception, and call out unnecessary anger the thing, that kills the vibe?
Beth Harmon was not angry at people. Mostly, she was angry at herself, for not playing the game right. But that kind of anger will always transfer to other people, sometimes not on purpose. But trust me, it’s always showing. And this is one of the emotions, we should never let out. No matter how hard it is. However, the vulnerability is important. It’s lonely at the top, and if we can show some parts of ourselves along the way… There is a chance, it will feel less lonely out there.
Someday, you’re gonna be all alone. So you need to figure out how to take care of yourself.
I believe this is true, but it all depends on what we want to achieve in life. And how we want to get there – if you rather get there fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, do it together. I don’t want to be alone. Humans are social animals, no matter how introverted in nature. Even people like me – with low waves brushing the shore, I like to feel low with my people around.
So, is it really that important to figure out how to take care of ourselves? Queen’s Gambit, beside the chess angle (which I think is pretty accurate?) shows how awful grief is. Beth lost her mother – a brilliant but unhappy scientist – at a very young age. She was shaped by the orphanage; shaped by the people around her – Jolene, who told her about the pills, Mr. Shaibel who discovered her chess talent. Gradually, Beth was losing everything familiar – best friend, mentor, drugs. That was the moment her journey began – journey to self-care. Counting only on herself.
Sounds like a lonely way of living, doesn’t it? But it’s lonely in our heads. That’s where the game actually begins and ends. Up there we decide, if we want to let people in and let them show us that they can help. It does not mean that one should throw away independence. But there is more to that, right? Every person that enters our life, even for a moment, teaches us something. Perhaps it will be a new variation of the queen’s gambit opening, maybe there is a twist to it.
In the end though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing how to take care of ourselves. Because there might be a moment, when your best friend is away, and can give you any advice. What then? Don’t depend on people, but rely on them as much as possible – they can show you the way, but it’s up to you, whether to follow it, or not.
The strongest person is the person who isn’t scared to be alone.
I would say that being alone with your thoughts, your body and mind is a form of art. How can you expect to get along with others, completely different people, if you struggle with being by yourself? Let me ask you: do you sometimes talk with yourself? Or ask: what would YOUR NAME do? No? Try it. You know, it’s so nice to have a conversation with the smartest person in the room 😉
Being too lost in the alone-ness is also dangerous. I don’t even want to being, what happens when you throw the overthinking into the mix – but this is something we see in Queen’s Gambit. Beth thought that no one understands her and what she’s going through until… Jolene came back to her life, changed but still the same. She told Beth: “We weren’t orphans, not as long as we had each other”. I told you while back that the key to my life is being alone with someone beside me. Learning how to do things one loves (like reading in silence, going to the movies, cooking) alone, but never lonely.
That might contradict the common saying that “we might be lonely, but never alone” – which is true at times. But hey – life works in mysterious ways and humans often feel alone, even if there are people around them, which I think is worse.
I guess it all goes back to the primary question: how do you want to reach the top? Because let’s be real – we all are aiming for A top. Personal, professional – any, that is important to us. Having a strong support system for me is absolutely critical. They – my family and friends – are there to make sure that I reach that top, being exactly the way I am, with them by my side. Letting them in wasn’t easy. I had to learn how to accept my weaknesses, my insecurities, my demons. This is the only way to be real in their eyes.
But worry not… It is a never-ending process that not many people can understand. And I don’t expect them too.
Creativity and psychosis often go hand in hand. Or, for that matter, genius and madness.
Being creative is a curse and a blessing – all at once. In Queen’s Gambit, Beth was called a chess genius, for which creativity is one of the key traits. Did I just call myself a genius? Oh, hell no. But I know that I am the creative one, and… It weighs heavily on my shoulders. Beth used that creativity to bring out the brilliance of her genius mind. She replayed the games in her head, she got lost in her mind.
Was it a step towards madness? Maybe. Probably, yes. If you count the drugs and alcohol – two things she struggled with – then the answer is yes. And I think this aspect of the show felt most personal. Because I know exactly how it feels, to have a head full of ideas (or moves) and no place to let them play out, no place other than your head… Because some of them are crazy (or bold). Some are ridiculous (or unorthodox), some are impossible (or one would just think so).
But it does go hand in hand – genius with creativity; creativity with madness. And you know what? Sometimes, a little bit of madness is the key; sometimes all it takes is a moment of crazy bravery to get there, out there to the top. And for that madness, creativity is the sugar-coat that makes it look a bit calmer. Do you really think this blog would ever happen, if I wasn’t mad enough to start?
Somebody asked me on Friday, how did I decide to go with it. Well… I started. Writing, putting it out there. I know my dreams are crazy, but they make sense to me. And in the end, that is the one (and only) thing that matter. Beth’s dream was to beat the Russian player, Borgov.
It’s because they play together as a team, especially during adjournments. They help each other out. Us Americans, we work alone because we’re all such individualists. We don’t like to let anyone help us.
Beth’s dream came true only because she decided to work with other, insanely talented chess players, as a team. And in my case – it’s exactly the same. Without help and support I got from my friends and mentors, Twin Peaks Café would not be this cozy, warm and interesting place. You can only go far, if you decide to go together. That means compromise, for both sides.
And compromise is not something that comes easily for everyone. It’s damn hard – but really satisfying in the long run. And chess… Chess is about the long run. It’s about predicting and thinking 20 moves ahead. In that way, it’s similar to life itself.
That does not mean that we should always minimize and undermine our own success. If you work hard for something, it’s yours to own. But it’s like giving a speech after receiving any award – patting yourself on the back for all the hard work feels nice, but never forget who was willing to compromise. Never forget, who decided to stick around to see this through and help out.
Be proud. Be thankful, mindful and present. Observe, learn, ask for help or guidance. Use that knowledge, but never forget the credit. That’s what happened in Malcolm & Marie, right?
The key is not to be tentative. You have to play with absolute confidence.
Both in chess and in life – and it does not matter, if you decide to start your day with queen’s gambit opening or Sicilian defense. Just do it with a healthy dose of confidence. Especially if you are a woman. Queen’s gambit was a perfect picture of a woman in a man’s world. So, with International Women’s Day tomorrow, here are two key pieces of advice from this miniseries:
- “Men are going to come along and want to teach you things. Doesn’t make them any smarter. In most ways, they’re not, but it makes them feel bigger. They can show you how things are done. You just let them blow by, and you go on ahead, and do just what the hell you feel like” – trust me, you don’t need that mansplaining in your life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because there is a difference between teaching and lecturing. Always go and look for the former. ALWAYS.
- “It takes a strong woman to stay by herself, in a world where people will settle for anything, just to say they have something. So, you never forget who you are” – I know it’s hard, I really do. From experience. But even in the darkest moment, don’t let yourself think that this is the point to stop, to settle. That maybe this is what you are meant for in life – romantically or professionally. If this is NOT what you want, then it’s not the end of your road yet. Keep going, because you, we, I – we are worth it.
Queen’s Gambit is a source of both life and business lessons – and so is the entire pop culture. And what I find most beautiful about is the difference in perception. I see it differently and so can you, Lot. And you know… Maybe it’s time I learn chess. They waited long enough. It’s time to be brave and turn overthinking into strategic thinking.