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.

Risking the Bet

Risking the Bet

I made a big change today. It’s become a bit of a thing for me in the past couple of years — making changes.

If I want my life to be different, but I’m not willing to change anything, nothing’s very like to change.

But the thing is, change means risk. The bigger the change the bigger the risk.

Today, I left my job of seven years and a lot of people I love.

When you let something go in order to pick up something different, that something different may end up being a bust. It could blow up in your face. And even if it’s good change, there’s loss to grieve.

Opening yourself up to something new is a risky bet. Whether it’s a new job, a new home, a new relationship, or new territory in a friendship , there’s a lot to lose.

And we develop defenses around these things. My emotional brain spends a good amount of time telling me things like, “We’re doing WHAT?!?!? What the heck are you thinking??? Don’t you know what could happen here?”

That’s really the kicker — what could happen. The way life has gone before and the way that has taught me, consciously and not, that it will always or at least usually go.

My emotional self doesn’t trust me. Sometimes so much that it tries to take the wheel, even fights me for it.

But my rational and spiritual self has learned (is still learning) that every day really is new. That I can make different choices and impact the way things go. That would could happen isn’t what has to happen.

And so much is on the line. Joy is on the line. And life. Beauty and growth and possibility. Love is on the line.

We will never be more open to love and joy and life than we are open to pain and loss. You can’t guard against loss without also guarding against all the good things.

New life is there for us, but we always have to open our hands and let go of something we know to receive it.

In two weeks I start a new job. I don’t know where it might take me, how it might challenge and change me. But I’m excited for the possibilities, for the room to grow further into who I’m made to be. For good things I haven’t imagined.

The more I let go to reach out for something new, the more my emotional self learns there are more possibilities. She’s learning to relax, at least a little. To trust me and trust the good things. She’s learning that on the other side of loss, there’s always the possibility of new life. That while the unknown is still scary, it’s also full of beautiful surprises.

She’s learning to risk the bet.