THE ART OF LEARNING by Josh Waitzkin

If you’ve ever thought success has passed you by, or you aren’t special enough to achieve your dreams, Josh Waitzkin’s memoir will rekindle your passion and prompt you to act.

The Art of Learning is divided into three sections: The Foundation—Josh’s rise to National Chess Champion, My Second Art—Josh’s assent to Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands World Champion and Bringing It All Together—concrete application of the lessons learned for repeated success. The first two thirds of the book were exhilarating in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon flying kind of way. I moved into the last phase of the book with enormous hope and crashed immediately upon entry.

Anger crept in. I am embarrassed to say I was angry with Josh Waitzkin. In some ego-centered corner of my brain jealousy raged. “Of course, he excelled. He had the time and a support system that made his explorations possible. But would he have been able to rise to the top of the Chess and Push Hands world if he had to wrestle with a day job and raise children, while balancing the budget to pay the mortgage and keep the car running?”

Then I reminded myself of Bobby Fischer and all the chess players in Washington Square Park—Masters and Grandmasters among them—who live below the poverty line because they have devoted themselves to the art of chess. In that moment, I knew I was being unfair to Josh. I wasn’t angry at him. I was mad at myself. Josh’s fortune stems from the fact that he recognized early on, how important it was to be true to himself, his voice and his heart. I cannot say the same. I am a late bloomer. Fortunately, I am open to inspiration, something Waitzkin’s memoir offers on every page.

Waitzkin brings Self-Awareness to a new level. Although his accomplishments in Chess and Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands seem magical, his journey has not been without struggle. He admits to feelings of anger and discusses the moments when ego interfered with his game. But he never beat himself up. It takes courage not to fall under the weight of our mistakes, not to let our missteps cloud our future choices, or muck up our instincts. Waitzkin gains our admiration with his honesty, while he underscores the importance of learning through loss.

The Art of Learning dispels the notion that success comes from luck or some secret formula not accessible to the masses. Waitzkin shows by example that his achievements in the world of chess and martial arts are the result of hard work, or rather his commitment to understanding his game from the inside out. In other words—homework. The task we dreaded all through school and hoped we would never have to indulge in again once we received the diploma.

Yet, homework is just another word for studying the intricacies of the game, the art or the craft we love. Isn’t homework the very thing Jackson Pollack and Vincent Van Gough did, on a daily basis, to uncover their own unique form of expression through the medium of paint? If we really love what we are doing and if we allow our hearts to guide us, going deeper will never be a chore because there is no other choice.

There is a powerful moment in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer when Fred Waitzkin tells his son, who has fallen into a slump, that he doesn’t have to compete.

Fred: You don’t have to do this anymore. You can give it up and that’s all right with me.

Josh: How can I do that? I have to win.

Fred: But you don’t…

Josh: But I do, I do.

Fred: But why? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a game.

Josh: No, it’s not.

When we have found what it is we are meant to do, from programming a computer to figure skating, the hours needed to excel no longer matter. In fact, the hours we put in never seem enough because we are doing what we love. Our passion drives us to find the art in what we are doing.

What Josh Waitzkin presents to readers in The Art of Learning is nothing that hasn’t been done by others like Picasso or Mozart. But what he has done, that these and other masters of their craft haven’t, is share his discoveries and provide us with a plan to uncover our own system for success. This is another lesson that comes through in Waitzkin’s book. In order to excel in our chosen fields we must find ourselves in the work, bring our personality into play and let our voices resonate.

The Art of Learning is a book to reference again and again. It will inspire, guide and ground you when the inner critic rises to snuff out your passion and halt your progress.  I can’t guarantee that the application of Waitzkin’s discoveries will lead to World Champion Success. However, I am willing to bet this new perspective will make your journey a happier one. I will recommend this book for the rest of my life.

Rise to your next level of excellence with The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.

Happy New Year!