When I was around seven years old, my grandfather (Pop is what I liked to call him) asked me if I wanted to play him in a game of checkers. I do not think, up to that point, that I had actually played the game. But he was well versed in it. He would play on the front porch with his friend Mr. Austin while we grandkids would watch. I don’t know about my brothers or cousins, but I always wanted to play. Maybe the kid in me wanted to have a turn too. So, when my grandfather asked if I wanted to play I was excited. Pop was everything a southern born man could be. He was hardworking, had no time for nonsense, and very much so the strong silent type. And maybe those are the reasons why I was surprised he asked me to play.
I sat down, and he set up the board. I don’t know why I thought it, but at seven, I figured this was going to be a teaching moment. A moment for my grandfather to explain the game. We started moving pieces. And little by little, I watched mine disappear. Now, I didn’t know checkers that well, but even I realized I was losing. When the game was over, my grandfather just looked at me. As if to say, “Better luck next time kid.” I got up from the table feeling a little defeated. I thought to myself, “He didn’t let me win.” As I grew up, the thought became, “Why should he have let me win?” Exactly what would that have done? How would that have helped me?
I didn’t see the lesson at seven, nor did I realize a lesson even existed. That game of checkers with my grandfather taught me one of my biggest life lessons: no one is going to take it easy on you just because you're at a disadvantage. My grandfather, in that moment, would have done more harm than good if he had let me win. I might have walked away from that table with a false sense of achievement. I would have walked away thinking people in general will always consider my feelings, or will walk me through everything that is new so that I can win at their expense. That just isn’t life. Sometimes we have to fail in order to learn. If I didn’t lose that game I would not have learned to be cautious, in terms of the moves I make, and the moves of others. That approach is not just a game strategy, but a life strategy. At seven, my loss was just part of a game. But in life, that loss became the foundation for which attention and patience were fundamental pieces in how to achieve.
If my grandfather were still living, I would have loved to say to him, "Hats off to you Pop, for teaching a lesson in the simplest way. No words, just action.