Leaving It All On the Table

Leaving It All On the Table

A couple of years ago someone taught me how to play poker. To be fair, he might say he tried to teach me how to play. I’d always wanted to learn, but no one had ever been around to teach me before, and I’m not the sort to just learn it on my own or in only one sitting.

I’m also not the sort to learn the mathematical way — counting the cards and calculating the odds. I’m an intuitive player. I learn the lay of the land, and until I do, I may blunder around a bit, venturing off in different directions and trying to sort out what goes where and who and when. But then one day, it all just clicks, and as one life-long Chicagoan I know says about navigating the territory, I can just “feel where the Lake is.”

I’m not easy to beat once that happens.

At least, that’s how games have always worked for me before. Poker is different. Because poker is life — or maybe life is poker.

The lessons went well, as lessons usually do when you’re invested in learning. And I was winning some. But there was a disconnect. He wasn’t just trying to teach me how to play poker, he was also trying to teach me why to play poker, and he wanted me to play to win. I was losing what I was winning, and he thought it was because he hadn’t taught me when to walk away.

The problem was, we didn’t define winning the same way. And what winning looks like for you? Well, that changes everything about how you play the game.

It’s not always about what you take home. Sometimes it’s about what you leave on the table.

Sometimes it’s about showing your cards instead of hiding them.

Sometimes it’s all about staying in the game, not because you don’t think you can lose — you can lose everything. But because that one game is worth everything.

Sometimes winning means you just keep playing as long as you can.

I don’t know if I’ll ever play poker again. Really play. I mess around online sometimes with real people but pretend cards and pretend money. I try to learn playing there the way he taught me — or tried. But it’s not the same. It’s just a game, and he taught me more than he knew, even if I didn’t quite learn exactly what he wanted me to.

The real game is about something else entirely. It’s about knowing who you are and what you want and what it’s all worth to you. I put it all on the table and I walked away with the game of a lifetime. And I don’t know that I ever want to play the real thing any other way.

The Art of Riding the Wave

The Art of Riding the Wave

I have a secret ambition to be a beach bum – a Sea Doo rental shack with a hammock in back. Living with the rhythm of the waves and the sun and the seasons.

It’s completely unrealistic. I love the beach, but that would never be enough for me. I’d get restless and antsy for something new all too quickly, for something that mattered.

But there’s still something there that draws me. It’s the reason I have a collection of surfing movies – mostly documentaries. The waves and the sun and the laid back thing are all part of the appeal, but it’s more than that.

There’s something that connects with me about the predictable unpredictability of life.

We plan. We read the tides, the rhythms of the waves, the seasons, and our own capabilities. But in the end, we have to dive in and just ride the wave we catch, and this – now – is the only moment we have to catch it.

We’ll never control the wave, but we can learn the art of dancing with it. Learn to feel the water and how to meet it. Sometimes we will wipe out, overwhelmed by something impossible to plan for.

But sometimes…sometimes we get it just right, and the curl of the wave comes at just the right place, and it propels us to greatness, to something beyond what we could ever do on our own.

There are tides to learn, and seasons, and reefs just below the surface to beware of. But the ocean will always be the ocean, and it will always surprise us.

I’ve never actually been surfing. I’ve never had the chance, and odds are I’d be terrible at it. But there’s a reason I love those documentaries, that dream.

Planning is important – you’re not going to get far if you show up without a board or with a sprained ankle. You need to know the beach and what’s below the surface and how the waves brake. And never surf alone, without someone to know if something goes wrong.

But at some point you’ve got to stop planning and just ride the wave.

Life, as consistent and unpredictable as the ocean, will never fail to surprise. And all the planning in the world won’t teach you how to improvise with the waves.

I planned for a long time. I planned for waves that never came and for wipeouts I couldn’t control. And I learned something from all that planning and observing.

But that’s nothing compared to what I’ve learned since I dove in and started trying to catch some waves.