Lessons from the Felt

Some of you might be surprised to hear that for a few years I made much of my income playing poker. It’s true, and I was a damned good shark if I do say so. I played online (before The Man cracked down on online poker sites) and would travel to Atlantic City every weekend to rid the tourists of their Social Security checks. Hey, don’t be judgin’…it’s a tough game and all’s fair in love and no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em.

I always donned well-manicured nails and wore low-cut cleavage-heavy blouses to distract the predominantly male tables. I’d shuffle my chips and act aloof hoping the men were paying more attention to thoughts of hitting on me than calling my bluffs. I wore dark sunglasses to hide my tell-tale eyes, my ability to keep a poker face ended with my pupils and one must know and cover their weaknesses wherever possible.

Here’s a few other invaluable lessons I learned:

The Only Person Who Can Beat You is You

As with golf and transcendental meditation, poker is a game you play against yourself. If you are able to accurately identify your weaknesses, address them head-on (with compassion for yourself!) and keep your cool, you will win more often than you will lose.

The same is true for entrepreneurs. You know you’re your own worst enemy. Embrace it. Use this to your advantage. Never stop growing, learning, and deepening your understanding of what makes you tick.

Take Calculated Risks

In a poker tournament, the clock is ticking. You start with a limited amount of chips and the game gets increasingly more expensive each round. If you sit there and wait for the perfect cards before making a move, you’ll be sure to be one of the first ones out.

Do not wait until you think you know everything there is to know before taking a risk and starting a new business. You’ll never know all that is needed until you jump in. If you sit and wait for that perfect moment to act (which rarely, if ever, comes) you’ll be swept aside by others’ success in no time.

Don’t Let Your Emotions Make Your Decisions

Poker players are a superstitious bunch. But most of the top players in the world have learned not to depend on these emotional crutches. In order to be a true champion, our emotions must be transcended. Those urges to throw your water bottle across the table at the donkey who called you down with pocket twos can mean a quick end to your game. Don’t let the donkey win!

It’s tough not to get emotionally attached to our businesses. They are our babies, our creations, and they are soaked with our blood, sweat and tears. But sometimes it’s best to walk away and start anew and I’ve seen so many clients unwilling to let go and move on. When making a major decision with your business, spend some time purging any emotional responses you have and approach the decision instead with logic sprinkled with a sense of adventure. This takes courage, so don’t forget to strap on a pair of ovaries first!

Never Assume You’re the Best

You’re not. No one is. Only strive to be the best you can be whether in poker, life or business. The moment you begin to believe you’re the best, keep your eyes open. Life is likely about to remind you otherwise. ‘Nuff said there.

Pay Attention to Everyone Around You

It’s not enough to battle our own demons and strive to be the best player we can be. We also have to keep close watch on how the other players are behaving. Are they on tilt because of that last big hand they lost? Do they have a tendency to always bet on the button? Have they gone all-in more than is reasonably believable? These clues can give us the information we need to make those calculated risks I spoke about earlier.

Always know what other people in your business’ niche are up to. Subscribe to their newsletters, engage them in social media discussions about how they do business. Take stock in everything that is working for them but play closer attention to what they’re doing wrong. Unlike in a game of poker, this information won’t be used to “beat your opponent,” but rather to lift your business up to new heights.

Suffer No Loss of Enthusiasm

I saved the most difficult two lessons for last and this is certainly one of them. When you lose a big hand in poker, it can be crushing. You were so certain you were going to win that hand, and yet Lady Luck had other plans. You feel your heart sink into your stomach and your blood pressure skyrocket. Staying in the emotion of disappointment and frustration is what is known in the poker world as being on “tilt” and it is deadly poison to your game.

The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who have failed the most. Ask them, they’ll tell you. Much like Jim Carrey (one of my favorite success stories), many of them started from meager beginnings and endured thousands of “no’s” before ever breaking through to success. What separates them from the rest of us who hear “no” all the time? They shook each one off, never lost faith in what they were doing and carried on with the same enthusiasm with which they started.

Stay Present (and Sober!)

Last but certainly not least, one must stay fully present. You must learn from your mistakes but not dwell in them. You must enjoy your victories but not take them for granted. The key to success is to stay fully present in the moment. It is quite Zen, truth be told, and vitally important but admittedly no easier than it sounds.

There are few pieces of advice more powerful than “be here now.” As an entrepreneur it is paramount to your winning. We cannot live in the past or future. Rather, we must be fully passionate about everything we are doing right here and now. As for the sober part…well, just take a lesson from Susie Q. and never tweet drunk.

What lessons have you learned through your entrepreneurial journey? Which of these, if any, do you struggle with the most?

16 thoughts on “Lessons from the Felt”

  1. Jenny B you never cease to amaze me with your hidden facets. I love that you’ve had such a storied past!

    Not being a poker player, I never would have known how relevant the ‘lessons of the felt’ would be for business.

    I particularly like the one about not letting your emotions make your decisions.  I’ve learned the danger of forming emotional attachments to your business, and how that leads you to start forcing outcomes, that may not ultimately be in your best interests.  Forcing is never good energy!

    I’m learning to step back from ideas, programs, and work that I am emotionally attached to. I actively seek different perspectives, advice and opinions so I can make more objective decisions.  

    Wisdom and business is an evolutionary process.  

    1. “Wisdom and business is an evolutionary process.” I think I might add that to my wall of quotes to live by. Brilliant!

      1. LOL. Thanks Jenny, however if you do, please correct the grammar…Wisdom and business are evolutionary processes.  Or maybe better, Business like wisdom is an evolutionary process!  Can’t help editing,  I’m a writer!

  2. What a fantastic post! We take lessons in life from some pretty interesting things. Why not poker? I wrote a post recently about learning from cows… what can I say?

    I struggle with being my own worst enemy, I really am hard on myself. Way to hard and it certainly can stop me dead in my tracks. Not good at all. And unfortunately, emotions can drive my decisions.

    Interesting about not thinking you are the best. I know I don’t think that way, but it is tempting…. and human nature.

    Great food for thought here, thank you!

    1. There’s some peace in knowing that we are all our own worst enemies…and we all can’t be THAT bad, after all 🙂 Thanks Andrea!

  3. Love it! My brother ran the tables for a few years, and I don’t believe he viewed my business the way he viewed his poker, but the similarities are powerful 🙂 Thanks Jenny!

    1. They call it a ‘grind’ for a reason, lol. Such is the way with running our own businesses sometimes too. But the grind of showing up to a cubicle every morning? Oy. Poker, entrepreneurship, anything to avoid that paste-colored box again.  Thank you Jason!

  4. I don’t play poker, but this is all very good advice and wisdom to put to use in all areas of life. I especially love how you write about not letting your emotions take over – I really needed that right now.

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