Lee Davy takes what he has learned in Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfections: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be And Embrace Who You Are and applies it to the world of poker.
Italian poker player, Andrea Dato, and I are sitting in a restaurant in San Remo talking about life. Dato starts talking about his past, specifically how he would alter certain facts when recalling hand histories during conversations with his peers. Dato wanted to learn from his mistakes, but he didn’t want his peers to leave with the impression that he was a terrible poker player.
He was smiling at the idiocy of his behaviour.
I was smiling too, because, at that moment, I wanted to be his friend.
When I joined the poker industry, I didn’t feel welcome. On one hand, it was understandable. Hire me and someone else gets the chop. Freelance writers were desperate for the most secure jobs, and newcomers were as welcome as the pox. But there was something else going on. Inauthenticity. A lack of trust. There were more masks than a Marvel movie.
I had quit a 20-year alcohol addiction, was a recovering gambling addict, was going through a messy divorce, missed my son, was homeless and had given away all of my possessions.
I didn’t know who I was.
I went from drinking lager in the local pub in a Welsh Valley containing 3,000 people, to travelling all over the world, with professional poker players I had once lauded over on television.
I felt completely at unease with myself and my surroundings.
Poker players would invite me out for dinner, and I would accept knowing that the price of the joint was way out of my league. I would play cash games with them knowing they would take all of my money.
I was so terrified of being different; of being inferior, that I made incredibly bad decisions.
And then one day I picked up The Gifts of Imperfections: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be And Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, and started to think my way out of my rusty old box.
What The Gifts of Imperfection Taught me About Life and Poker
I was unhappy, and when I looked around the poker community, I could see others who were in the same boat. Brown taught me to see that to live a happier, more fulfilling life; I would have to dispense with some elbow grease.
I was afraid of my authenticity and didn’t want to take my mask off. Many people in the poker community also wore one, so it was easier for me to get lost.
Brown taught me that to find my authenticity I had to cultivate courage. Like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, nobody was going to hand it to me on a plate. I needed to go on a journey down the yellow brick road, face obstacles, and overcome them.
And so I clicked my Ruby Red Slippers.
I used to think that people were either authentic or not. I never applied any deeper thought to the concept until I read Brown’s book. I now understand that to be authentic is a choice that requires courage, connection, and compassion.
You need to learn to speak your mind and be vulnerable in front of other people. The vulnerability is not a weakness. Men who are vulnerable don’t suddenly implode. It’s not a sign of femininity. It’s a sign of masculinity.
Going back to the Andrea Dato hand history example, it takes courage and vulnerability to explain that you played a hand poorly. A lack of courage, and a sense of shame means you will change the details to make you look less stupid.
You have to start being compassionate with yourself. Practice on that first, and then it will spill out into the lives of others. Sometimes the poker industry reminds me of the British Dog Show Crufts. Everyone preened and pristine when underneath the facade sits a lost child. When you walk down the street at night and become wary of the stranger on the other side of the road, it pays to know that they are also wary of you.
You are not alone.
Everyone is struggling with the same issues as you.
Understanding and accepting this allows you to embody compassion. Once you can find compassion, it will allow authenticity to peek out from beyond the mask, and you will start to find the right support that you need in your life.
Why aren’t we authentic?
It usually comes down to a combination of a lack of self-confidence and the pressure to follow the path of least resistance exerted by societal conditioning. If we embrace vulnerability and start to understand the truth that nobody cares about us because they are too busy caring about themselves, then we will build self-confidence through consistent practice.
And then let the domino effect begin.
Seek out your individualism.
Don’t remove limping from your game because the latest video on RunItOnce tells you that only fish limp. Don’t follow the same well-trodden path of those that went before you. Inject the positive aspects of learning into your way of being and emerge with an entirely different way of doing things.
We all wear masks, but there is a gulf as wide of the Mariana Trench between the person who knows they are wearing one, and the person who doesn’t,
I see perfectionists everywhere in poker.
Peacocks are parading around the palace as if they own the joint.
There is a succinct difference between trying to do your best and aiming for the stars. It becomes less about continuous personal improvement and more about a narcissistic urge to outdo everybody.
It’s not a positive trait.
It’s a modus operandi that revolves around the fear of shame.
We believe that if we wear this perfect armour, then there will be no holes for anyone to poke. Perfectionism protects us from shame. A person who can’t process shame will suffer from self-worth. What other people thinks about us rules our life. It can be addictive and unhealthy. It can drive us into an early grave.
Competition is fierce in poker. People judge one another all of the time. There is also a lot of envy. You can never be perfect, but perfectionists don’t know this. It’s a fools errand. They keep aiming for a moving target and each time an arrow flies by they smash themselves over the head with the bow.
The pursuit of perfection also stymies innovation. How can you make bold and brilliant plays in poker if you fear what others think of you, or are worried about being viewed as imperfect?
Hope is not the same as luck.
Hope is not crossing your fingers and praying that your river card will hit keeping you in the game for another few months.
Hope, like authenticity, is a learned skill. It’s also the road to resilience. The very essence of goal setting is hope in a flow. If you want to become the world’s greatest poker player, bring it down a notch or two and concentrate on playing each hand as efficiently as you can.
Broaden your perspective on life. If you do this, then you will breed resilience and strengthen hope. When you are feeling imperfect and not good enough, understand that you are not alone. There is a reason the world is going to rat shit. Humanity is going through a phase of great suffering. Fewer people understand who they are, and what they are supposed to be doing with their two hours either side of sleepy time and work your bollocks off time.
Understanding this provides hope, and resilience to deal with the shit life throws at you with the accuracy of a Fatima Whitbread javelin. Focus on self-worth. Love yourself. Do not follow the tribe down the path of least resistance. Be individual and let hope be your hover board to greater plains.
The core of who I am is a bitter little man always complaining that I don’t have enough. I have to work hard to cultivate gratitude in my life. It’s one of the fundamental principles in Brown’s book and an area where poker players could do well to observe more often.
People often lament the things they don’t have instead of concentrating on the things they do. There is a beautiful moment in the Fighting Chance Podcast were Dan O’Brien talks about the dichotomy of finishing 16/655 in The Hollywood Poker Open; complaining about winning $13,000, and also understanding the need to be grateful at the same time.
Right now I am writing this article in a place of beautiful energy inwardly complaining that I am not sitting across the table from someone helping them recover from addiction.
I have to take a deep breath.
I have to get into the moment.
I have to forget the past, forget the future, and focus on right now.
And then it comes.
The tremendous flood of gratitude that I get to write this in this beautiful place when I could be cleaning someone’s shit for a living.
Poker players have freedom. They get to travel. They get the opportunity to meet the most amazing people. They get to do what they love if indeed that’s what they love.
Like authenticity and hope, gratitude is a mindset that you develop over time through continual practice. It isn’t a click your fingers type of deal. It’s hard work, but it’s well worth it because gratitude fosters happiness, and happiness leads to joy, and joy is what we are all searching for, right?
Joy doesn’t happen accidentally, and we don’t need to rely on external events to get our shot in the arm. Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour to remind you to be grateful and watch the wizards weave that into joy.
Don’t focus on scarcity. Don’t concentrate on the river card that didn’t come. Don’t focus on the missed flush draw. Focus on what you have. Your health, your friends, your family, and your ability to pick up excellent books like Gifts of Imperfection and learn all of this wonder.
Imagine there was no poker as it happened to so many Americans post UIGEA.
Be grateful you get to play.
Find gratitude in the mundane things in life like getting to clean up your kid’s shitty bedroom and watch your levels of tilt disappear like the dinner plates you once pushed underneath his or her door.
Embrace Your Creative Potential
Comparing yourself to others kills off the very attributes that make you unique. We compete with people who are very similar to us, and this leads us down the path of least resistance like everyone else.
Conformity kills creativity.
Focus on your unique gifts.
Stick them on the end of stalks and watch them bloom.
Talk to them.
Work, Rest and Play
Interestingly, in Brown’s book she talks about the importance of people spending more time playing, and relaxing, and less time working. I think, in poker, a lot of people could do with thinking about this in reverse.
With freedom comes responsibility and I see too many poker players squandering this unique opportunity for growth. Returning to the Fighting Chance Podcast and Dan O’Brien it was evident to me that during the World Series of Poker (WSOP) O’Brien did not put in the deliberate practice and focused work that he should have done and instead partied a little too much.
There is a trend within poker of players not working hard enough on their game. When you learn that productivity and self-worth are connected, then a problem is just hanging around the corner, waiting in the darkness for you to bloody your nose on it.
Poker can send levels of anxiety supersonic. The need to win money to keep in the game can drive some people to behave in terrible ways. Brown teaches you to learn to be comfortable with anxiety and not to try and remove it from your life.
If you don’t practice mindfulness techniques, then anxiety can become a part of who you are.
I like my mornings. I wake up and focus on brushing my teeth. Next, I focus on oil pulling. Then I meditate. I am always in the most unbelievable state of peace. The day has not begun. The worries have not knocked on the door. I haven’t seen a blog post, I haven’t read my messages, I haven’t received a call.
At that moment I feel lost in love. I want my life always to be like that. I know it won’t be. But I know that practising mindfulness provides me with far more of these experiences than ever before.
An anxious poker player is not a good poker player.
Share Your Gifts With The World
One thing that poker players have taught me more than anything is to buck the status quo. They play a game and call it a career and isn’t that every kid’s dream? I think our independence, authenticity, and hope revolves around avoiding ‘real work’ scenarios.
In a recent blog post by Steve Pavlina titled Habits and Practices in Your 20s he talks about the dangers of people falling into jobs ‘temporarily’ so they can pay the bills and then one day realising they are stuck.
The example he uses is someone deciding in their 20s to take a job in accountancy, and then 20-years later referring to themselves as accountants.
Poker players don’t do this. They do what they love.
Or do they?
Can the same thing happen to poker players?
Can they get stuck, playing a game they no longer love, because they are fearful of doing something else?
It happened to Philipp Gruissem. One day he realised that earning millions of dollars playing poker didn’t provide him with joy, and he created Raising for Effective Giving (REG). Suddenly, playing poker had a new meaning. He was able to use the money to affect world changing events and reduce suffering for all earthlings.
I sometimes speak to poker players and ask them what they are doing in their spare time, and they don’t know how to answer.
Is that you?
What gifts of imperfection do you have to share with the world?