The Queen Gambit: The Glamor of Mental Illness & Some Life Lessons

When I first started watching The Queen Gambit, I thought it was one of those series that inspired you to pursue your passion, just like The Alchemist. What I didn’t expect was that I would learn a lot more about things I had been reading about, such as expertise, talents, and discipline. In the end, I did want my life to turn out like hers. But that’s something to talk about later, not now.

Queen Gambit 

A young girl started her life as an orphan and made it to the top as a world chess champion. That’s the basic summary in one line. But if you have seen it, you know that the line I have written did an injustice to the excellence of the plot and main character

The story is captivating and, yes, inspiring. In a couple of hours, you see everything that goes into going from a young girl to a top chess player in the world.

Arya Taylor, the lead role, is a gorgeous actress who carries a dressing elegance of the 1980s that makes you wonder if she should stick with the styles in real life, wonder if she were born to be an old-school model of some sort.

However, there is another revelation, which is not really new if you are used to telling stories or breaking them down. Many complex or interesting characters are always made to have extreme flaws, especially those related to mental health.

Mental Disorder, Success, and Television 

You might have come across some studies about how successful people struggle mentally. Aside from that, television is making this look a lot sexier than it should. In some popular TV series and movies, there is a culture of showing that the most successful people in many intelligent disciplines are usually those who have a kind of disorder.  Joker, Euphoria, and then Queen Gambit came to mind.

I remember watching Queen Gamibit and feeling weird. It resonated with one of my long-term beliefs about people who achieve great things in some fields. One, they are obsessed. Two, they have flaws, and often, these flaws are related to mental struggles or what some people call having a personal demon.

First, it is an obsession. People who become great at anything are often immensely obsessed with it. And we saw that in the series with little Beth Harmon to the teenage Beth and then with the adult Beth. 

When you look at it, she has a lot of talent for playing chess. But more than that, it is her obsession to know everything about how to play it that took her that far. 

In this post, I will look at the lesson and later ask one crucial question: Does TV make mental illness a lot more attractive? 

Lessons from the Queen Gambit 

Start learning at a young age. 

You have an advantage if you find what you love doing at a young age. It doesn’t mean you will automatically become great at it, but starting early is an advantage because it lets you practice more. If you’re a fan of the 10 000 hours rule, starting early is an opportunity to get to a certain level of mastery before you get to a certain age. It’s also easier for kids to ask for help than adults. Kids don’t see some things as studying or hard work when they love them. They see it as a challenge or a puzzle. 

Beth started learning in the basement with Mr. Sheibel when she was about 13 years old.

Be Obsessed with it. 

If you want to be good at something, you have to spend hours practicing it. You have to use a system called deliberate practice, too.

It is what Betty did throughout the series. She is always practicing — in her room, in her hotel, on vacation, or with random people. Aside from playing in tournaments, she just loves practicing. Her obsession also extends to reading about people who became successful at chess.

Have An Environment That Enables Development.

If you want to be good at anything, you need a place or avenue to practice regularly. Not only that, this avenue must be encouraging, or you will lose interest.

Although her first school didn’t have facilities for chess, she had the environment for practice with the janitor. That’s a good one because the janitor teaches and fuels her desire for learning chess. Then, when she left the school and started living with her new mother, she had the time to practice chess, too. As negligible as these things were, her story wouldn’t have been the same if she had nowhere to practice for a long time and if her mother didn’t want her behind a chessboard.

Good genes can contribute to your success. 

The gift of good genes is worth talking about here, especially in areas like sports. In sports, there isn’t much you can get from training or practice if you don’t have the body and stamina for that kind of sport. 

In Queen Gambit, we learn that Beth’s mother has a doctorate in mathematics. There is this subtle notion that Beth’s intelligence (and mental troubles) was inherited. She was better at mathematics than her peers. 

Substances can give talents superpowers, but this has worse consequences 

It’s pretty common sense that substances or drugs can enhance a person’s abilities. We know this. The consequences aren’t that great, either. 

Elizabeth Beth showed it when she used something that enhanced their abilities. They called it vitamins. With it, she could play the chessboard on an imaginary board in her head. As crazy as it sounds, it worked for her a lot of times. But the danger is overreliance or, in some cases, death. Beth could have died from eating too much of these so-called ‘vitamins.’ She got so addicted that she couldn’t play well if she didn’t consume it.

Read what the masters have to say.

Be a little considerate of what you read. You have to read what the masters have written about the subject. You have to understand their minds so that you can understand their games. 

In Queen Gambit, Beth’s obsession pushes her to read what many of her heroes have to say. There is an interesting scene when another chess enthusiast recommends books to her. This man, a talented player himself, would hand a book to Beth. Each time he picks a book, Beth takes the book with a smile and says, ‘I have read that.’ There, the man says something interesting. 

‘I am not as obsessed as you are. Maybe that’s why you are Beth Harmon.’

You need friends 

You need people who will root for you just because it’s you. These are people who would be as happy as you will be if you achieve some greatness. 

Beth has more than one of these types of people. Some people just like her. Others first have to learn about her passion for chess before they warm up to her. Mr Shaibel paid for her first tournament. Jolene, her friend from the orphanage, sponsored one of her most expensive travels. A team of friends gathered on her behalf in New York to solve a complex chess game while she was in Russia for a tournament, an action that proved pivotal to her eventual victory. 

Queen Gambit Is A Great Series

The series is so good that people are asking for Queen Gambit season 2. It was set in the early 1980s and has classic vibes, but it will teach you more about talent, hard work, tenacity, and chess.

Leave a Comment