Been a while. I wanted to write about something and then I want to give a quick update about what’s new with me.
We’ve all been there (all of us poker players, at least). You’re at a bar or a party, everyone’s having a good time, and then that cute girl you’ve been talking with asks the inevitable, uncomfortable question– “What do you do (for a living)?”
I’ve known some poker players whose preference is just to lie– “I work in finance” or “I’m unemployed”. Others simply dodge– “What do YOU do?” or “What I do is boring” or “I don’t want to talk about work”. However, if you ever want to actually get to know somebody, you can’t run from what you do. In fact, most of you guys are playing anywhere between 3 and 7 days per week. Often, the hours start looking more like real-job territory than the “messing around in my spare time” we all imagine poker to be. So let’s ask ourselves the question: Why is it uncomfortable to proudly declare that you’re a pro poker player, a deductive and mathematical whiz-kid who pays his own way and lives an independent, financially successful life? If you ever want to develop meaningful relationships with people, you need to get past that question. First, I’ll show why it’s uncomfortable for me. Then, I’ll show how I’ve gotten over it.
1) Poker, especially online poker, is an antisocial activity.
You might not want to admit it, but it’s true. If you’re playing online poker like I do, you’re sitting at home in your PJs melting your brain into your computer screen for 4 hour stretches, clicking the “withdrawal” button every once in a while and watching the numbers add up (or, as it may be, not add up). The most interaction you get via the average workday is when someone G-chats you or your roommates get home early from work. Those roommates, meanwhile, are attending social work environments where they have to deal with people every day. They have company parties and group events. You might get a few of those things from the occasional big-buyin live tourney event (PCA has events and parties, for example), but it’s not a mainstay of your work experience. Even though live poker tables are filled with a variety of people (some more unsavory than others), there’s still an element of cutthroat competition and total lack of cooperation that is the exact opposite experience of a healthy workplace. At least there shouldn’t be any cooperation, you dirty cheating colluding bastards.
2) Poker (and gambling in general) is not a terribly productive industry.
Surprise! You’re part of the entertainment industry. How, you ask? Well, consider the case of the average fish. He likes poker, he’s not too good at it (he may or may not know this), and he sits down to play against you. For arguments’ sake, he wins 25% and loses 75% against you during a 1 hour heads-up session. If he plays with $1000 for 1 hour, he pays $750 theoretical dollars for the privilege of playing poker against someone at the very moment that he wanted to play. He pays for his own entertainment.
The good news: entertainment pays really well. A good poker player will make a lot of money. An average poker player will still make pretty good money. In this sense, you’ve got it better than almost everyone else in the entertainment biz (an average novelist, or actor, or screenwriter, is probably making way less money than you. So hooray.) Also, entertainment has an important role in society– people must be distracted from their lives, they’ve got to experience some sort of excitement, beauty, challenge, something. Poker can deliver that to some people, and for that reason, it has value.
The bad news: entertainment has a sense of emptiness that, most likely, will never really go away. Read some David Foster Wallace for a masterful takedown of entertainment as a concept. From my lesser, more mundane point of view, I’d just say that it bothers me that I’m not really helping anyone in a concrete way. There’s some real stuff going on in the world, and every hour that I spend playing poker is an hour I’m not spending making things better (this could mean building new technologies, helping people in need, taking a hand in the development of new political policies or environmental protection, etc.) So, it becomes a little indefensible when you ask, “What do you do?” and that cute girl says, “I work as a nurse” or “I do biochemical research to help cure ALS” or “I help develop new social media apps to help people share their lives” and your only comeback is “I get to sleep in until 11AM every day”.
3) Poker (and gambling in general) exist in a grey area, both legally and morally.
I’m actually not going to spend any time talking about the ethics of poker, but let’s just say that I think it’s pretty clearly moral and ethical to play poker. However, a lot of other people might not agree, hence the tagline.
However, the legal argument is not in dispute. The term “legal grey area” might even be putting things a bit lightly. The Feds’ shuttering of online poker speaks pretty clearly: the current public policy of the United States Government, and by association the people of the USA, is that online poker is kaput. This is why, when you say to that cute girl, “I play poker online” her instant response is, “Isn’t that illegal??”. This invariably leads to the gut-wrenching and totally awful cliff-notes explanation of Black Friday, which serves to make nobody feel any better about anything.
So how do you get past this? Diversify, my friends.
Diversify Your Income
Keeping all of your eggs in a not-totally-government-sanctioned basket has clearly shown its repercussions. Let’s not do that again. Sometimes, this may mean working at something with a lower hourly than playing poker. For example, my good friend started a business recently that involves some grunt work but leads to recurring monthly payments with minimal upkeep. I clearly make less per hour working with his business than I do playing poker. However, if poker were to suddenly disappear, I would be WAY less screwed. In fact, the presence of my book sales, seminar sales, DeucesCracked instructional videos, and coaching, helped a lot in the wake of Black Friday. Of course, this hasn’t even mentioned the far-more-likely scenario: you run ice cold and lose a ton on a vicious downswing. Basically, if you stick solely to poker, you’ll get exactly what poker chooses to give you. If you do more than just poker, you might get super rich slightly less quickly, but things will never get too bad for you financially.
Not to mention, it helps you…
Diversify Your Interests
Poker players have a ton of free time and there is literally a ton of stuff to do with it. Here is a quick list of the things I spend my free time on: working on a new business, working on my friend’s new business, learning a new language (Chinese at the moment for me), playing/learning music, reading books, learning to sail a boat, learning to code, drinking with my friends and meeting new people, and of course, writing wordy blog posts. Everyone has a a list of stuff they’d love to do– maybe you’d love to ride a motorcycle, or dance the tango, or make tiny-but-fucking-perfect toy car replicas. I don’t quite know your style, but I’m quite sure that YOU do. So, instead of queuing up the NetFlix and grinding out that next season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, start working on SOMETHING.
Everyone’s ideal scenario is to work on something that they love. If you love it, it won’t feel like work. So, start doing more until you find that thing. I don’t think too many people really want to end up as a 45 year old poker player. However, you have to understand that you’re proudly wearing a pair of golden handcuffs and that, if you wait too long, you might never be able to take them off.
So, the next time that girl asks, “What do you do?”, you can say, “Lots of stuff.”
PS: Quick note on me: I’m doing great. Best shape of my life. Poker’s been pretty good. Just renewed my deal with DeucesCracked, which I’m very happy about. I’ll post more about all of those things in a few days. I’m going to be blogging more now. I know I said that before, but this time… I’m sincere! (kudos if you get 1942 movie reference).
PPS: For a perfect example of what I’m talking about, read MagicNinja/Martin’s post in the high stakes thread here.