POKER AS A CAREER CHOICE: SHOULD I PLAY POKER PROFESSIONALLY? (PART 1)

 What started as pure recreation in 2004, and became a substantial focus in 2009, is now my chief source of income and where most of my productive time is spent.  To some extent, I chose this, and to some extent circumstances pushed me into it.  As the Buddhists say ‘and now this’.  Here I am, what should I do.
Despite the fact that I am 51 and have achieved a great deal in other spheres, have several college degrees, have had several different white (starched white) collar careers, there is an old nagging question: is this what I ought to be doing with my life?
My credentials for writing this?  One of the things I’ve done with my life is to earn a degree in Organizational Psychology, and one aspect of that field is ‘career choice’.  Another thing is to qualify and earn my living as a career/ life coach for some of the highest paid people in the world.  And I play Poker professionally now – so my comments come from ‘inside’ the profession (so to speak).
The reasons I ask this question of myself, and you should ask it of yourself are two-fold.
If you don’t think you ‘ought’ to be doing this, then there will be limits to your happiness.  You may achieve a lot, but if the voice in your head (sometimes called the ‘itty bitty shitty committee’) feels you ought to be doing something else, the ‘bracelet’ moment will be quickly followed by more existential malaise.  This is not theory.  I returned from a massive series where I’d won two tournaments and narrowly missed ‘player of the series’.  I’ve been somewhat depressed since and this ‘ought I to be doing this’ is part of that depression.  (In a later article series, I’m going to discuss poker, addiction and mental health.)
If you don’t think you ought to be doing it, you will not devote yourself passionately, whole-heartedly to being the best you can be.  You may be talented, but you will not spend the countless hours away from the tables improving.  You may not take ancillary factors seriously enough: diet, sleep, exercise.  You may distract yourself with other, more ‘legit’ pursuits.
So we, I, need to settle this question.  You need to settle this question.
Let us first deal with ‘ought’.  In ethics, ‘ought’ has some moral force.  In Freudian psychology, ‘ought’ is the superego (parental and societal influences) talking.  Always, the ‘ought’ in poker comes out against it.  It doesn’t count as a legit occupation in the eyes of society – despite the fact, as I’ve argued elsewhere, that poker is precisely the same set of intellectual activities as trading on Wall Street.  Few parents, and especially not mine, find tears of pride when they discuss ‘my son the poker player’. (I cannot even imagine ‘my daughter the poker player’.  Que?)
However passionately we may feel about the game, those are substantial psychic forces – greater in some individuals than in others – will act as a counterweight to our passion: a ‘but’ that will always be there.  That can be hard to live with.  In this century, in the West, we are unlikely to get invited to the snootiest of country clubs.
It is ok to care about this (negative) influence; it is ok to not care about it.  What is less ok from a psychological point of view is to pretend not to care (who gives a s^&t) when actually part of you does.  Intellectual honesty is required, and in my case, with my parentage, and the cultural influences in my life, the ‘my son the poker bum’ will be hard to avoid.  It is one of the realities I have to live with.
When you do decide ‘I can live with this’, it is wise to be aware that it may limit opportunities elsewhere.  The nice boy or girl you now want to marry, may decide as tying the knot comes closer, that the ‘oughts’ in his/ her life are too strongly against marrying a poker player. That is the kind of ‘run bad’ it takes a while to get over.  (In a later article, I will write about Poker and relationships.)
Samurai warriors used to visualize their fear out in front of them, at their sword tip, so they could ‘look it in the eye’.  That is what, if you are serious, you need to do with the ‘oughts’ in your Pokerlife.  They are always there – the choice is how to accept them fully, and deal with them honestly and squarely.
In part 2, I will look at a model of career values, and provide you with a ‘values questionnaire’ to help you decide whether poker aligns with your values.
In part 3, I will look at a three-part career model (from career counseling), which asks whether the three key career choice factors are there:  passion, skills/ aptitude, and lifestyle fit.
Paul Gibbons has been an investment banker, a consultant, a top executive coach, and a successful serial entrepreneur.  In 2011, he founded Healthy Poker LLC.  He has $500k in live and online cashes during the last eighteen months. He has degrees in Biochemistry, Philosophy and Psychology.

Self-forgiveness/ Buddhism and huge losses

Alex Torelli commented on an older two plus  two post from a player who had lost hundreds of thousands and been unable to recover psychologically.  I quickly fired off this post – crediting Alex with drawing all this to my attention.

Having ‘had it all’ and trashed my life more than a few times over, I have some experience doing so (and recovering it seems).

I can say as a professional psychologist and philosopher – and a poker player – and once a Wall Street trader…

Self-forgiveness is the hardest thing to come by. Self destructive impulses (see if you can guess) cost me a career where $1m per year was easy to come by (Wall Street). This was in the 80s. Few Poker players come close to this sort of income on a regular basis. By 23, I had ‘made it’, by 27 I was washed up. Depression set in. It took years to recover.

Poker or no Poker this matters for the rest of your life. Until you are ‘complete’ with this – and by that I mean the Buddhist ‘so it is’ (without emotion, regret, remorse, self-pity)…. it just is…

You don’t want to go through life thinking ‘i could been a contender’ – the fact is this outcome was inevitable – it was just a question of when…

As i say to people ‘there may be a ‘you’ in a parallel Universe with your talents AND sound bankroll management – but it isn’t you – and you did the best you could with what you know’… To think ‘i knew better’ is BS – you did the best the real you (not a fantasy you) could do.

And, without self-forgiveness, if you start down the road again, you may well end up here again.

There is a mindset I think I’ve learned, and that I try to inculcate in my young son. People **** up. You will **** up – fail, let people down, miss opportunities, **** up the ones you get. In relationships, in career, in hobbies, in finance – you WILL spew.

Failure is inevitable. Suffering is inevitable. Given those facts of life, now what do we do?
(that is straight Buddhism – read ‘when things fall apart by Pema Chodron’)
great book – many answers in there…