Lessons from poker

A few years back, I was trying to improve my poker game (as a real geek if I start doing something I have to research it; I can’t just experience it).  I read a few books and one of the pieces of advice I received (probably from author Larry Phillips in his book of Zen advice for poker) has stuck with me well into other areas of my life.

Simply put, it’s this: don’t make yourself into a character in a story.

In the game of poker, this basically means that you shouldn’t let yourself see patterns in the randomness of the game which influence you.  After something improbable happens a few times, you might begin thinking “That always happens to me,” and next time there’s a chance of that happening, you back off, frightened.  Your ace-high flush bested by a full house twice in one night becomes “I never win with flushes,” and next time you get a flush, you fold the winning hand.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for situations where you misread the game — perhaps you are “always” losing with the second-best hand because you aren’t evaluating the probability of the winning hand being present accurately.  But that’s not what Phillips is talking about.

This advice carries over into the professional world as well.  How many times have you encountered people who claim “I just don’t get that kind of stuff,” when faced with a new problem?  “Oh, I’m no good at writing,” or “I don’t get all this social media stuff,” or even “I’d never make a good manager.” These individuals have written themselves into a story; instead of seeing all their options, they are living life like a character in a book, their reactions predetermined by the plot they’ve built in their head.

Not only are these people missing out on their own potential, they are advertising their closed-mindedness to their colleagues, customers, and managers.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t be self-aware.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing where to invest your energy and where to cut your losses: these are vital skills to acquire.  But do it knowingly, by choice, and carefully.  Don’t project the “oh well it’s not meant to be” attitude of the two-dimensional character in a pulp novel.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Barry Roche on 07.28.09 at 8:38 am


I hate it when people point out your character flaws and are right.

thanks for sharing.