Prodigy Myth

The movie Searching For Bobby Fischer makes it look like Josh Waitzkin look like his chess skills came out of nowhere. The movie has a few scenes of his mother and him walking through Washington Square a few times, a rainy scene in which he finds a knight piece on the ground and decides to keep it over a baseball offered to him in exchange, and then a scene where his mother exclaims how she doesn’t know where he learned how to play chess. Finally, we see him beat his father at the game pretty easily.

The audience wants a story of a prodigy. For some reason, people like to believe that sometimes, for some people, things just come naturally. As I am very fascinated by Josh’s story (I’m literally trying to catch up with him), I rented the audio book by Fred Waitzkin. What I found out was not that surprising.

Fred and his son Josh played many, many games together before Josh won his first game. What he has a gift for, which you can find in his own book he wrote many years later, The Art of Learning, is a mindset that allowed him to pick things up quickly and get better and better.

If you try something for the first time that you’ve been wanting to try for a long time and you are not amazing at it, or maybe even suck at it, as long as you have a desire to do it and get better than you are just like the “prodigies” you believe are out there. You’re just at day 1 rather than day 10,000. If you want to get good at something, then it takes work and a mindset to get past those plateaus when they inevitably arrive.

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