Lee Davy sits down with the Olympic gold medal winner, Fatima Moreira de Melo, at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure to talk about fulfilment, finances, and more.
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I remember the time my son asked THE question.
Not the Santa Claus one (I told him to ask his mum). I’m talking about the question of the Grim Reaper.
As typically happens with these things, someone in school had told him that we were all going to die. We were in the bath making perfume. He looked to me, his Dad, to say to him everything was going to alright. I didn’t lie. I told him that the rumours were true. One day, we would die.
He was distraught.
And at that moment, I understood why people believe in God. It makes bathtime conversations about life so much easier. I could have just told him that we would all go to heaven. A place full of PlayStations, Xboxes and Spongebob Squarepants figurines. Instead, I told him to think of death like sleeping. You close your eyes and drift off somewhere else; only permanently.
It still bothers him, today.
I mean, come on, I should be the one who is worrying. I’m 42. He’s 16. I don’t worry. I quite like getting old. Ok, I’m not a fan of the liquid leakage, stray grey pubes and nose hairs, and aching joints, but other than that I love life as a middle-aged man.
I wonder if it’s the same for a woman?
When I sat down with Fatima Moreira de Melo, I thought, fuck it, let’s break ranks from the taboo and ask her.
“When I was a field hockey player, I was part of a team, and everything was arranged for me,” said de Melo. “I am an independent person, so I had a hard time conforming to what was supposed to be the best for the team. When I started playing poker, I felt liberated. I could do whatever I wanted. It was nice. But you need structure in your life. I’m glad I am doing different things. I love playing poker, and I like that I have the TV work on the side, talking about sports, and being extroverted. It’s a nice balance for me.
“As I age, I’m becoming more aware of what success is. People look at me and think I am an Olympic gold medalist, a face for PokerStars and that I’m successful. But success doesn’t lie in results. It builds your confidence, and it helps you feel better about yourself and feeling good about you and who you are is ‘success’. But, as I age I become happier. That’s my conclusion. Awareness doesn’t always create happiness, it’s about self-acceptance and knowing who you are. I have become more familiar with who I am, and more self-accepting.
“Also, I have made changes to how I behave towards people. I am feisty and direct, but I’m learning to pick my moments, and it’s helped to reduce the times I hurt people unintentionally. I believe I am becoming a better person. It’s like poker. You start out by winning with Jacks versus Queens and think, “This is easy.’ Once you get to know all of the stuff behind it, you realise there is so much to think about and to learn, and you don’t know anything. It’s like life. You are never done learning; never done evolving.”
I ask de Melo if she ever lies on the beach, scraping the salt off her thighs, thinking that time’s running out?
“Not at all. When time runs out it runs out,” says de Melo. “I am prepared financially. I don’t want to worry about money and make choices I would rather not make. I live in the moment. Here at the PCA, I try to enjoy what I am doing as much as possible. I just enjoy it. That’s me. I am a very positive and optimistic person. I love enjoying myself.”
I brought my son with me to the PCA this year. It’s been an education for him. Beautiful people everywhere. The megarich have their yachts moored outside. The cheapest thing he can buy in Gucci is a $250 wallet. I don’t want him to be materialistic, but is there any other gear at 16?
“I think in the end fulfilment will save him from being materialistic,” said de Melo. “If you do something you enjoy, doing it usually brings fulfilment. If you put a lot of energy into something and succeed it provides fulfilment. Like sports, or drawing; playing chess with his Dad, taking care of his little sister.”
What was it about hockey that brought de Melo fulfilment?
“When I try something, and it works out, and I feel joy, that’s fulfilment for me,” says de Melo “As human beings, we are meant to develop and become better. When we realise this is happening we feel joy because we understand we belong and are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Developing and getting a little better, will bring fulfilment.
“Also, you have to understand that it’s not all fun. In field hockey the girls who didn’t make it were the ones who always thought it would be fun. When they got benched or injured, or it was raining, and we’re still training, and the stick is sliding out of your hands, they were thinking, “This is not fun.” You have to learn to deal with this.”
De Melo’s reference to having to deal with the pain and suffering as well as joy reminds me of relationships. You grow up believing love is fantastic. As you age you realise that there is a shitty side to the stick. A relationship consists of good and bad love, and you have to be prepared for both eventualities.
“It’s about accepting yourself and being willing to change and adapt,” says de Melo. “You also have to accept the other person, and they have to be willing to adapt to be in that relationship. I was willing to change. My boyfriend is more introverted, and he thought I was too direct. I was boom, boom, boom firing questions at him. Boom. Boom. Boom. I have had to learn to bite my tongue.”
I feel like I’m looking in the mirror. The rat-a-tat-tat machine-gun approach to conflict. A remember the wedding dress, stained with red wine, the trail burned by discarded cigarette butts. The fight. The flying flutes of champagne. The knock on the door. The near miss with the manager. The snarl. Today, it’s all about getting ahead of the snarl.
“I am ahead of the snarl,” says de Melo. “I have been in a relationship for over ten years. I have learned a lot. My ego has dropped quite a bit. I am not afraid to say I’m sorry. I react a lot out of emotion. Poker helped me in that sense. If you take ten seconds longer and analyse the situation, you can see what the optimal response is. What do I want here? I want him to understand what I need? How do I react to reach that goal?”
I always feel wiser after being in the company of de Melo. Maybe she should have taken bathtime with my son. The last time I spoke to her, was during the World Series when she suggested that one of the reasons more females don’t play poker is they don’t hold the purse strings. Her advice was never to let anyone else control your finances. Do what you can to be financially independent. It’s advice I have given to many women since.
“I realise that I said that because I am in a certain position where I am capable and doing it,” says de Melo. “It’s way easier to say that when you’re doing well. I understand that some people may feel incapable of earning money. In the western world, there are so many opportunities you have to keep looking for them. Don’t feel like a victim. If you do, then you will be a victim. You will never be a victim if you don’t think you are. Don’t reminisce about the 30 things that go wrong in life; there is no functionality in that. Take the emotion out of things so you can function more efficiently.
“People could say, “Who am I to speak?” Bad things have happened to me, but I have dealt with them most functionally and then, I let go. If you feel like a victim, it’s harder to let go. It can also be an excuse. When you’re not the victim you have to work, take action to make your life your responsibility. Your life is your responsibility. The quicker you understand that as a kid, especially as a woman, you become empowered. It doesn’t matter what has happened in life. I can empathise. It sucks. But you’re still alive, and you have to try and make the best of it.”
I can’t fit in the bathtub with my boy these days. His guns are too big. But later tonight, as we lie in bed talking about life, I’ll remind him to focus on being alive and to leave death for another day.
Yes, we need to be prepared for the moment the stick slips from your hand. But we don’t need to fear that moment. As de Melo says, don’t be a victim of life. Be life.