I was more or less a professional chess player. I was going to school. I was taking weeks off school, to go around the world playing chess, and all my summer holidays and Christmas holidays and so on. So it was pretty full on. And the rest of the time, I was studying chess. And I remember thinking that to become world champion, which was my plan at that point, then your whole life would have to be dedicated to nothing but chess and learning opening moves and theory and all this kind of stuff. And I started realizing, the more I was specializing in chess, the less it was about these meta-skills that would be useful for other things; but more, that specific knowledge would be to just chess. So it wouldn’t be useful for other things you might want to do.
And I kind of had this thought when I was in a big tournament, actually, in Liechtenstein, near Switzerland, and I remember playing a big match. It was like a ten-hour match against — I think it was the Danish champion at the time, the adult champion. And I lost the match after ten, twelve hours. And I remember thinking, “Was that really a good use of all that brain power?”
And I went for a long walk in some beautiful field — at least I remember that in my mind — in the mountains. And I remember thinking, “Maybe this isn’t — there’s this whole room full of amazingly bright people, and they’re using their minds to basically compete with each other and try and win, and what was really — maybe they should all be using their minds to solve cancer or something.” And I was just sort of thinking, “Maybe you could harness all of these bright minds. Maybe there’s a better use of that time and energy that would be better for the world.” So I made this decision, actually, at that moment, that I would move away from chess and start exploring other areas and passions of mine and use those meta-skills as my foundations for getting to these other things. But I just felt — although I loved chess, and I still love chess now — I felt it was too narrow a thing to dedicate your entire life to.