Some of the most valuable life lessons and skills I possess were learned while sitting behind a stack of chips trying to make rent.
Some quick background: When I was in my early 20’s I took a serious liking to poker, so much so I was spending 40-60 hours a week with cards in my hand. Obviously this took a toll on my 40-hour a week job, so I did what any responsible 22-year old male would do: I quit my job.
For the next few years I played poker, all the time. I went broke three times, played in the World Series of Poker once, lost track of the number of times I went to Vegas, and completely detached from the world outside of my favorite poker rooms. In the process I learned more about the game than you can imagine. But what interested me most was game theory.
After I quit playing poker with any seriousness, I was pleased to discover that game theory is universal: the most important lessons I learned at the table were directly applicable to my every-day life. These are the three most important poker life lessons.
Life is not results based
Life is a game of incomplete information. You are tasked to make decisions with the information you have at the time. This means that it’s possible to make the correct decision, according to the information you have, but wind up with a result you never intended or desired.
If you are offered two jobs, the first paying more, affording a better title, and located closer to your home, the choice between the two is an easy one. You accept this job and after just two weeks they shut down the office and lay everyone off.
Most people will look back and say “I should have taken the other job, taking this one was a mistake.” But the truth is that you made the correct choice. You had no way to know that you would be jobless again in two weeks, you’re not psychic and you can’t expect yourself to be.
The results you get in life are related to the choices you make, but you can not evaluate the merit of your choices based on your end results.
Lopping the C game
After I quit playing poker professionally I took a job writing poker strategy articles. One of the best ones I wrote was a re-wording of a concept by a man named Tommy Angelo: Lopping the C Game.
Think of your actions in life being divided into three segments: A, B, and C. Your A game is when you are confident and killing it. You feel great and everything is going well. Your B game is break even, it’s not good or bad, it just is. But your C game is the mistakes, when you are making poor choices.
People naturally spend the majority of their thoughts and efforts trying to optimize their A game. The problem with this is that you have very little room to improve at the top. Instead of focusing on how you can be better at doing the things you already do well, you should focus on lopping off the mistakes. Removing one leak, one common mistake you make, will have a more noticeable affect on your life than any amount of work on your A game.
If you want a much more articulate explanation of this head to my original poker-centric article.
Your image is dynamic
Unless you’re tripping on psychotropic drugs you live in a world locked in to your own perspective. You are stuck in your own head, unable to see or grasp any perspectives not your own. We get used to how things are, often to the point of not noticing when something changes. As a result we all tend to have a view of our own image being static.
The truth is you are not one person, but many. The person your mother sees is very different than the person you see in the mirror. Every person who looks on you is seeing their version of you, completely independant of what you may consider your true image to be.
Your image is made up of every choice the observer can witness (or gather and infer). Therefore your image is dynamic, it’s always changing. At a poker table you use this knowledge to convince your opponents you are something you’re not. You make them see you as weak when you are strong, or the other way around.
In life it’s no different. This is why people will tell you “dress for success”, and will tell you not to slouch. Who you are inside is entirely irrelevant, until someone invests the time to get to know you. Until that point, you are who they perceive you to be. It’s for this reason you can fake confidence, or get a leg up at a job interview simply by wearing something more suitable to the position.
You have to do your best to be aware of your image, and then go to great lengths to design, form, and cultivate the image you most want others to see. Who you really are is irrelevant, if no one spends the time to find out.
*The photo for this article was taken by the talented Matt Showell over at PokerListings.com