In this week’s Lessons in Life column, Lee Davy reminds poker players straining under the demands of the job not to stray onto the Path of Least Resistance.
As my four-month-old daughter slobbers over my cheek like a bulldog, I feel a genetic-gluelike desire to protect her from the world.
The ‘Parenting 101’ rulebook says we need to keep our kids safe from harm. I get it. I don’t want my daughter to fall from a tree, have her hair pulled from its roots by a bigger girl, or die in a Martian sandstorm.
But there is a price to pay for this protective bubble, and it’s called: Conformity.
We teach them avoidance, risk-aversion, and to sprint down the hallway in the dark after flushing the chain.
Our misguided love shuffles them into the deck. They are just another number. The jack does not spring out of the box. Before you know it, being like everyone else has become an automatic habit.
They are trundling along the Path of Least Resistance, and we provided the map.
The Dale Philips Conundrum
Earlier this week, I read in The Independent how the former PokerStars star, Dale ‘Daleroxxu’ Philip was considering returning to his life in IT, because ‘the online poker boom is well and truly over.’
During the ‘boom’ it wasn’t unusual for Philip to win upwards of £10,000 per month, meaning he could win the equivalent of his IT salary in 3-4 months. His sterling performances on the felt drew the attention of PokerStars, and he signed a lucrative deal as a member of PokerStars Team Online.
Poker dragged Philip to over 50 different countries and seared so many memories into his skull he had trouble remembering he even used to work in IT. It was a far cry from the cubicle he once called home.
But as those memories fade like a well-worn rug, the old ones are emerging. Philip is finding it difficult to earn a living as a poker player, and the cubicle is calling.
“I feel physically ill just at the thought of waking up at 7 am each day, putting on a suit and spending most of the day sitting in an office,” Philip told The Independent reporter.
It reminds me of the classic Studs Terkel quote and why Philip should shun the IT role that makes him want to puke in his M&S Sushi.
“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
And that’s what life in IT will feel like to Philip – a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Exactly what life feels like on The Path of Least Resistance once you look down and see it.
The Path of Least Resistance
In the tremendously insightful book, The Path of Least Resistance, the author Robert Fritz teaches us that structure determines behaviour, making knowledge about our structure vital.
“Once a structure exists, energy moves through that structure by the path of least resistance. In other words, energy moves where it’s easiest for it to go.”
Here is the crux of the plot:
• You are like a river. You go through life taking The Path of Least Resistance.
• The underlying structure of your life determines The Path of Least Resistance.
• You can change the fundamental underlying structures of your life.
I am not Philip, so I have to take a guess, that there was a time when The Path of Least Resistance led to the IT cubicle. And if it wasn’t for the off chance that a hobby – in this instance, poker – turned into a better way of making financial ends meet, he may have remained until he collected his State Pension.
Many of us leave school scared out of our wits. Our cowardice is scaredy-lion like. We want to spend the rest of our lives playing PlayStation games and sucking rainbow sherbet out of a blue bendy straw.
Meaning & Purpose is flying around us on roller skates. We catch a glimpse, and we don’t care. We want to stay in our bedrooms forever, but we need to get a job. We have to contribute to the rent – apparently, it’s a ‘growing up thing’. And we need money to buy beer and fags.
We need a job.
And because there aren’t that many, and nobody is interested in a kid who knows nothing about the world we take the first thing that comes our way. So we get a job in IT. But it’s only temporary until we stop Meaning & Purpose from whizzing around and shake it until a plan falls out.
So we tell people we work in IT, and that it’s temporary until we find our blueprint.
Then forty years later, we’re at a bar, and a woman asks what we do for a living?
“I’m an IT consultant.”
We have become our job.
We don’t know how it happened.
But we do know we want to put a machine gun to our head and pull the trigger.
Structure Determines Behaviour
What’s the difference between the world of IT and poker?
One exists within the confines of a cubicle with rules; metrics and daytime meetings at the drinks fountain – talking about what new perfume Gabby is wearing, how Igor is a German spy, and how the girl from gymnastics practice has a cracking pair of tits.
The other one is a structure designed around freedom.
Robert Fritz says, “Put anything in a structure that leads to fulfilment, accomplishment, and success, and that person will have those experiences.”
Dale Philip had those experiences when he finally veered away from the Path of Least Resistance and moved towards a new creative way of living. And he did this by changing the structure and not solely focusing on his behaviour.
The Structure of the Creative Process
Philip finds himself at a crossroads. There is a signpost marked Path of Least Resistance and another Difficult Life. And he isn’t alone. A coach has just pulled up, and 40 professional poker players have just gotten off. Over the horizon, as the sun starts to sink into the sand, another is on its way. It looks like the annual caravan to Burning Man. There is a fuck ton of them.
But before all of these poker players start pulling up their hoodies and go traipsing down The Path of Least Resistance, they should remember why they left in the first place. The rainbow on the end of that road led to a pot of piss. The only gold was for fools. It was a desolate road full of mundane, boring, ordinariness. And it was infectious. Once you touched it, it invaded your mind, and you forgot how to find your way to back to the land of the free, and the land of the brave.
As Fritz says:
“For many people, much of their life is organised around the circumstances in their lives. For others, their lives are organised around creating what they want to create. There is a dramatic difference between the two orientations. In the first, you are always subject to the whims of circumstance. In the other, you are the predominant creative force in your own life, and circumstances are one of the forces you use in the creative process.”
Why create anything?
It’s because we love it so much we want to see it exist.
Philip shouldn’t be pondering whether or not to return to IT, nor should the rest of the poker players heading for the knackers yard be thinking about a return to teaching, making pasta, or cleaning pig shit in daddy’s farmyard. They should only be thinking of one question. The ultimate question. The one that woke them up and led to the exodus in the first place.
What results do I want to create?
At some point in the life of Dale Philip and the thousands of poker players who dared believe that they could make a profession out of playing a game they loved, they took The Vow.
They declared with a hand on their heart that they would never return to The Path of Least Resistance. They made a decision to choose a new state of being. They started hammering and chiselling.
Once they had taken The Vow all of the secondary and primary choices that followed were supportive of that Fundamental Choice. You can’t go back now. You can’t give up now. You took a vow to be a creative force in this world. You stuck two fingers into the face of mediocrity. You unplugged. You chose a different path, one fraught with risk and uncertainty and it turned you on.
The cubicle will turn you OFF.
Do not feel physically sick pondering life in IT. You are not in the business of making choices about what you do not want. You are in the business of making choices about what you do want.
Don’t commit yourself to a process = “I must get a JOB.”
Commit yourself to the results you want to see in your life, which I am pretty sure to involve freedom, travel, and happiness.
When we are on The Path of Least Resistance all we see are problems. When we focus on these issues – like ‘poker is too tough’ – then they consume us. We can’t see another path. Do not let these choices about what you do not want in life to become the dominant force in your life.
Dale Philip should never return to IT.
He is a poker player.
He is the black sheep.
He is the one who dared to do something different.
He chose to live.
He chose a different path.
And as my rough stubble scratches my daughter’s face, bringing a little whimper out of her mouth, I hope that’s where she will one day tread.