Choose your passions wisely

Anyone who has got close to me from 2008 to 2011 will have known my fascination, passion and obsession with the game of poker. I started playing out in Whistler, Canada whilst doing a ski season in 2006- it was a very fun and sociable activity in the evening with friends in the condo. I had a natural ability for the game and started winning and making a little money – my first investment was a poker book which I read on the flight home. I then setup my first online account in 2007 and started playing online – I had no idea what I was doing, didn’t understand the math behind the game with no concept of equity and pot odds. But through a desire to improve and be the best I could I started learning (and spending all day) on poker forums and by 2009 I got to the point where I was playing 20k hands a month, using a poker tracking database, had a good understanding of stats and game theory and (what I thought at the time) the proof that I was a winning player. Besides, winning & losing two to three times what I was making sat at my desk made my salary look increasingly meaningless so at the end of 2009 I quit my job and started to play poker full time whilst setting up my company.

Over the first two months I ran so bad that I had used up (lost) my bankroll and had to focus full-time on my company doing business advice and writing a funding bid for a client. That should have been it – I gave it a go and lost – but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was talented at this game and that all I needed to do was work harder, smarter and I would become a true long-term winning player. So back to the forums.

At the end of 2010 my girlfriend at the time moved to Edinburgh for work – I tried to pick up freelance work up there but to no avail so started applying for jobs. I started work in Jan 2011 but after just a couple of months of being there it was obvious that both the relationship and the job would not work out for me. So after finishing off a nice piece of private work (I ironically got straight after starting the job) my thoughts returned to poker once more. I felt smarter, wiser and clear headed and I used the forums to find a local professional who I meet up with a few times in Starbucks on George St who kindly coached me for the price of a few lattés and got me to playing $100 buy ins across 4-6 tables. This was the transition to being able to genuinely make a living from the game and for a few weeks life was sweet – I was making £50-100 a day from playing just 1-2 hours in Starbucks and ordering all the food and drink I wanted. But yet again I ran terribly, lost my roll and was back to finding work through my company once more.

At the time all I was focussed on was the excitement and satisfaction from winning a living and not having to sell my time as a wage slave. However the body has a very positive tendency of letting you know when enough is enough and with hindsight I have to admit that dedicating three years of my life to this game – the stress, intense concentration and emotional roller coaster – had a negative effect on my life, health and my relationships even though I feel it has created a ton of new pathways in my neural network, super-charged my learning & dissemination of data and greatly improved my decision-making and mental reaction times. It’s also taught me patience and not to be results-oriented which is great in business.

So what lessons have I learned?

For me it is so imperative to become passionate about something that has a positive impact on your life and those around you – and to recognise when the opposite holds true. To recognise when you are escaping from something (wage slavery, rat race) rather than actively choosing an activity. To choose not to follow a pursuit even if you think (and can prove) you are in the top 1%.

My new passion of online business has a far higher positive expected value (a poker term for when an investment or play is profitable) in terms of ability to generate more passive income.

Find your healthy passion and make a living from it.

Choose to play the game, not let it play you.

Below is a talk I did to a bunch of Norwich, UK (UEA) graduates on how to stay sane by employing yourself (and how poker is insane):

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