Let go of (some of) your dreams

Darts in a dart board

In the self-improvement world, saying something like that is sacrilegious. But let me explain what I mean with a story.

In the past year, I’ve become obsessed with chess. Yes, mostly inspired by watching Queen’s Gambit. But I play every day and will be entering a tournament soon.

I’ve had it in my head that I want to become an International Master. To the layman, this means being in the 98th percentile of chess players. Players at this level and above study for hours in a day. They enter professional tournaments. They read all the best chess books.

This would be me, I confirmed.

But over the last few months, that’s panned out to be much harder than I anticipated.

I would set time aside to study and build my chess skills, but if something else came up, that allotted time would be the first to go. When I would sit down to work through a dense practice book, the Resistance would be so high that I would quit and just play matches online. My chest would fill with anxiety when I would be practicing my endgames instead of working on my business or anything else to make money. One of my favorite hobbies was becoming a guilt-inducing chore.

It took a while to realize what I had to do…I had to give up on my dream of becoming a world-class chess player.

This statement sounds more dramatic than it actually is. Let me explain.

I did not, and will not, quit chess. What I did quit was the mentality of invisible pressure I put on myself to reach some sort of benchmark.

Once I did that, there was a wave of relief. Since dropping the dream, I’ve actually been studying and practicing chess more—not because I have to, but because I want to.

In a session yesterday, a client wisely said, “Going to the gym doesn’t mean you have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Playing on a wreck team doesn’t mean you have to make it to the NFL. Doing an open mic night doesn’t mean you have to be Bill Burr.”

We can simply do things because we enjoy them. We don’t always need a profound reason or purpose.

When I couldn’t study chess at the level of Master, I had to ask myself, Do I actually want this?

No. I just liked the idea of reaching that level. But I hated what it took to get there. And guess what…

That’s okay.

Maybe I’ll never get there. Maybe I will. Regardless, there’s zero pressure on my shoulders and that will let me have fun playing and studying the game I love.