I founded a chess club in Fairfax, Virginia. My grandfather taught me how to play chess from the age of eight, and the game has stuck with me ever since. My father’s father, a former Lutheran pastor and professor of literature in Iowa, rooted his family in the corn fields and soybean pastures of the Midwest. But chess to him was a game of universal proportions that extended beyond the middle America he knew so well. 

Chess players have to study an array of openings to win. Popular ones include the Sicilian, the Caro-Kann and the Reti. But there is one opening that stands out to me like none other: the Queen’s Gambit. 

The Queen’s Gambit can only be used against beginner and intermediate players since most advanced players know how to defend it right away. Here’s how it goes: white moves their pawn to d4, black moves their pawn to d5 and then white moves a second pawn to c4. In doing so, white is offering up a pawn that can be captured with no collateral in return. When black accepts the Queen’s Gambit, they capture white’s pawn and automatically edge one point up in the game. 

When really digging into the opening, though, the Queen’s Gambit is a sacrifice that white makes to better their chances down the line. It’s a purposeful sacrifice; an intentional, thought-out one. It’s not a mistake to move that second pawn to d4. It’s a smart offering that allows for better positioning. All sorts of items will fall into place because of the sacrifice: white’s bishop diagonals become more successful and their attack on black’s kingside flank is improved. 

Success, to me, is a lot like the Queen’s Gambit. Yalies are ambitious. Half want to be president of the United States one day and the other half want to either run a private equity firm or be some laureate in physics and math in 20 years. But if you want to accomplish any of those things, you have to play life like you would the Queen’s Gambit. You have to make sacrifices. 

The biggest sacrifice successful people make is misery. Success takes hard work, and much hard work is incredibly, twistedly miserable. 

I got into Yale because I was a track star in high school. Then female, I was training for the women’s indoor two-mile, and my coaches made me do a painful workout: mile repeats. Mile repeats include five or six miles run only one minute apart from each other, and each mile should be run approximately one minute slower than your target mile race time. It was rainy and wet and miserable, and I ran the first repeat in six minutes. The second was at 5:55, then 5:50, 5:50, 5:45 and the last was 5:40. My coaches were yelling down my throat, and I threw up after. But I did at least 30 other workouts in that year that were just as brutal. 

Weeks later I clocked a 10:49 two-mile on an indoor track and became the third fastest two-mile runner in the state of Virginia. I graced Yale’s heavenly, Ivy-clad gates because of that time. Here’s the thing: misery — and I mean horrible, grand, sweeping misery — pays off in the long run. Misery is what builds success. Happiness doesn’t. But misery is an emotional sacrifice, just like the Queen’s Gambit. 

Scientists have long studied the dynamic between short-term and long-term rewards. The 1972 Stanford marshmallow experiment showed that children who were able to wait 15 minutes for a second marshmallow without eating the first ended up with higher SAT scores in later years. In 2011, researchers in the British Journal of Psychology found that a subject’s willingness to postpone receiving an immediate reward in exchange for future benefits was closely linked to their “health, wealth, and happiness.” Delayed gratification is so profound and well received that it has seeped into popular culture where self-help gurus like Tony Robbins push its philosophy onto audiences. 

Indeed, sacrificing short term happiness for longer term gains is what makes people successful. 

This might seem intuitively obvious to most readers. But this isn’t apparent in post graduate life: tales of mid-tier managers running amok on strip club benders and stories of bosses succumbing to pyramid schemes abound. 

My addition to the delayed gratification field of academia is that misery – and I mean the pure, unadulterated, uninhibited kind – is actually beneficial over the course of many years and produces ecstatic, happy emotions once done in repeat.

Accomplishments don’t come from happy times or joyful memories. They come from desolate work sessions and strategic planning, just like the kind you find in chess. 

So, next time you think about achieving a goal, remember the Queen’s Gambit. Move your pawn to c4. 

You won’t regret it. 

ISAAC AMEND graduated in 2017 from Timothy Dwight College. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. In his free time, he is a columnist for the Washington Blade. He also serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at isaac.amend35@gmail.com.