Provision #807: Take a Risk

Laser Provision

Last week I wrote about the power of “Trial & Adjustment” after watching the movie Regarding Henry. This week I want to take that one step further, by sharing my reflections on the 2009 French-German film, Queen to Play. What a delightful story!  It highlights important, additional aspects of “Trial & Adjustment”. Trial always involves risks. Things don’t always work out the way we want. But if we never try we never know. So go for it! That’s what I’ve been doing in coming back to life and I encourage you to do the same if you hope to live, grow, and change for the better.

LifeTrek Provision

Perhaps I am becoming a movie “critic”; I am certainly a movie fan! Last week’s Provision, Trial & Adjustment, was based on the 1991 movie Regarding Henry starring Harrison Ford and Annette Bening. This week’s Provision, Take a Risk, is based on the 2009 French-German film, Queen to Play, starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Kevin Kline. It is the story of a middle-aged, hotel chambermaid (Helene) on the island of Corsica who develops an interest in chess. She has been cleaning the house of an American doctor (Dr. Kroger) who begins helping her to practice and improve her game. As the film progresses she becomes obsessed with the game and surreptitiously enters a tournament reserved for master players even though she has never played before in any tournament at all.

There was a sad and tragic aspect to the film, in that Dr. Kroger was ailing with a life-threatening disease. But the evolution and eventual triumph of Helene, against all odds, was the real story (not to mention the ways in which the film depicts the playing of chess as a very sensual art form). There was nothing physical about this sensuality; it was a pure exchange of minds. On a certain level, Helene had no business even entering the tournament let alone making it to the final round. On another level, she took the game to new heights of engagement and delight, proving to be a master at seeing how the moves develop progressively over time.

I would encourage you to watch the film, if you get a chance. It was, for me, pure delight. For this Provision, I would share with you three of the most memorable and famous quotes from the movie and encourage you to reflect on them as to your own approach to life and work.

As the movie proceeds, the first quote that jumped out at me was the notion that, “It’s better to play a lousy plan logically, then to have no plan at all.” Wow! Talk about great coaching. Coaches often work with people to not only come up with a plan but also to find the courage to work the plan. “Make a plan, work the plan” is a famous aphorism that Queen to Play illustrates in dramatic and engaging ways. It is truthful and I would encourage you to look at your own life through that lens.

I know my wife and I have done that consistently throughout this long ordeal with my own recovery from autoimmune limbic encephalitis. There is no clear path to recovering my brain’s memory functions. My situation is not a simple problem;  I suffer from a complex condition that requires constant Trial & Adjustment as I go through the recovery process. But trying and trying again, especially after a setback or loss, requires courage. One has to be willing and able to set aside one’s ego, to pick up one’s pride, and to try again.

That was the message of last week’s Provision; this week, the message has to do with planning. Trying again is not just a matter of striking out randomly and seeing what happens. It’s a matter of striking out with a plan and seeing what happens. That is something I have appreciated about the input from especially my son and daughter-in-law. They have proposed many plans for helping me to strengthen my memory functions and, even though they have not always worked, it is better to have a plan than to have no plans at all.

One of my challenges is to remember the day before when I first wake up in the morning. Sleep has a way of wiping out my memories from one day to the next. So they have proposed that I review the day in my mind when I first lie down to go to sleep and that I try to remember yesterday when I first wake up in the morning. Sounds logical and it is definitely a plan, but it doesn’t always work. It is discouraging to wake up in the morning with something of an empty mind as to what happened the day before; slowly, however, I start putting the pieces of the puzzle together and one memory has a way of leading to another.

That’s when it becomes fun and that was a key message of the movie. It’s not just “Make a plan, work the plan;” it’s “Make a plan, work the plan, enjoy working the plan.” That was the point at which Helene became able to take on the master and to become masterful herself. The game of chess became an artful dance rather than a life-or-death competition.

So, too, with my own recovery. We develop plans based on our own experience and the consultation of many experts, then we work the plans. If we stop there, however, we become discouraged when it doesn’t work out. But plans are just that; they are not guarantees. So dance the dance and see what happens. When things don’t work out, close your eyes and develop a new plan. Imagine multiple “what if” scenarios. Then smile as you work it through. Unless one dies, there’s always tomorrow and there’s always time for another plan.

The second quote that jumped out at me in the movie was the notion that, “The threat is always stronger than the execution.” Although that’s true in every competition, it’s easy to forget or to shy away from. We hinge our sense of self on the success of our execution rather than on the ways we put ourselves forward in the world. And that’s a mistake.

Now I don’t like the notion of making threats. It’s not helpful to view life as a competition. But it is helpful to realize that the thoughts we hold about life, and the ways in which we put them forward to others, have an enormous impact on what actually happens. If we put them forward weakly, or fail to put them forward at all, then what actually happens will be limited and restricted by our thinking. If we put them forward strongly, which does not preclude compassion, then we generate opportunities that would never be generated otherwise.

That’s a big part of coaching in any arena of life and work: assisting people to overcome negative thinking and to put themselves out strongly in the world. This has nothing to do with being aggressive or rude. This has to do with being confident enough in one’s plans to put them forward with confidence and conviction. At times, that may feel like a threat to others. But the smile on Helene’s face was not the smile of aggression. It was the smile of the dance, of pure joy, as the plan develops and we see ways to develop it further.

For Helene, the threat became a dance. She was not out to attack her opponent. She was out to dance with her opponent, making one move after another, to see and enjoy his response. With each response came a counter initiative; back and forth it went until the dance came to its delightful conclusion. That is my hope for the dance I have been dancing with autoimmune limbic encephalitis since the end of last August. I make a move, the disease makes a move, I make a move, the disease makes a move – and the dance is far from over.

But appreciating the process as a dance, even when putting ourselves out strongly in the world, as a dance to enjoy changes our perspective completely. Our early moves, which may be viewed, at times, as threats, are made not to ruin or devastate others; they are made to challenge others to play a better game and to move forward more completely in the world. In the process, they challenge us in return and we all grow in response. So don’t be timid! Make your moves and see what happens.

Which leads me to the third and final memorable quote from the movie: “When you take a risk, you may lose; when you don’t take a risk, you always lose.” Wow, again! That sums up much of our experience when it comes to my recovery and also what we, as coaches, do in our work with clients. We take risks and encourage others to take risks even though we know they may not always work out as we would like. Yet taking risks is the key to success.

Finding the courage to take those risks is important in all areas of life and work. It can even be described as the distinguishing feature of leadership. Leaders are willing to take risks, knowing that things will not always work out well. That’s when Trial & Adjustment comes into play. There’s seldom a linear path to success. That has been certainly true for me in my recovery process and it is true for most of us in life and work. But if we hope to win those games, and calling them “games” is not discount them but only to put them into perspective, then taking risks is an inevitable part of the process and part of what we must come to appreciate and enjoy.

That’s been hard for me but that was one of the big takeaways from Queen to Play. The reason Helene became so good at chess was because she didn’t cramp up and turn the game into a nervous competition of wills. She turned it into a marvelous dance of pleasure that unfolded artfully in magical and wonderful ways. She took risks, to be sure, but that was the only way to win.

Coaching Inquiries: What risks might it be good for you to take in life and work? What might those risks lead to in terms of your own growth and development? How might they bring you more pleasure and satisfaction? How might they pay off in the short-term and the long-term? What is one step that you could take today to make it so?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


There is a gift in everything, including traumas such as your brain inflammation. Keep healing better….smiles.


Beautiful Provision today, Bob. Thank you for being a constant reminder of the importance of mindfulness and just “being” in the moment.


I think your mother is keeping you alive and being your angel from above – I have no doubt why you are still with us – she’s not ready for you yet.


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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