The difference between loving poker and doing it for a living

Haven’t gotten to write much lately. Not long after I got back from my vacation, both my laptop and desktop crashed within a 24-hour period. I’m hoping to have at least one of them fully up and running by this time next week. That would be a nice birthday present– “Everything working like it’s supposed to.”


Of all things, what made me think of the feeling I used to have with poker was Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. (warning: very minor spoilers to follow)

In the last episode, Jesse buys Walt a Tag Heuer Monaco watch for his birthday. Previous episodes involve Jesse offering to cover a share of his business partners’ expenses just to prevent an argument, and Jesse throwing huge parties in his house where he tossed money in the air to watch strung-out methamphetamine junkies chase after it.

Jesse makes a ton of money, but he doesn’t seem to care about it. To a certain degree (this would be a gross oversimplification of his entire character), he seems to be happy just about doing what he does really well, even if that something is cooking meth.

That’s how I used to feel about poker. I was excited to be learning and getting better. I cared about making money because that was the goal of the game and how to keep score, but I didn’t have any ostentatious lifestyle aspirations, so I didn’t have to worry about making enough to meet the month-to-month expenses or care if I wanted to spend some money on something fun. I spent a lot more money on drugs back then, but even at my most self-destructive I wasn’t anywhere close to burning through my cash that way– and other than that I didn’t really have any expensive habits. I’d buy clothes sometimes, I bought a few guitars when I had the money, and I bought a car after my big score. Other than that, most of my spending went to travel or good food and drink. But the point was, I could live the way I wanted to live without financial stress or worry, and it was almost just a side effect of being really engaged with something, trying to become really good at something.

Now, I’m at a point where I can’t afford to play the games my skill level would dictate*– and that’s factoring in how the games have gotten tougher over the years. I’m at a point where I do have to count the money– and while I’ve learned a lot of about fiscal responsibility because of that, life was also a lot easier when I didn’t have to. The satisfaction of doing something just to be really good at it is gone with poker– I’m not even playing at stakes right now where I have to be really good to achieve my goals. Mediocre is usually good enough to beat bad.

(* – to be fair, a big reason for this is the illness that kept me from playing most of the summer. At the beginning of June I was closer to my goal than I am now. Had I been able to work regularly, I might have made enough to be playing stakes where my longer-term goals were in sight. No use crying over spilled milk, though.)

I take satisfaction in my life from doing something excellently. I’m not excellent at poker right now. I tend to not be satisfied in my life unless I’m pursuing a new experience or am learning something. Poker is neither to me these days.

But I still have to make a living, and I can make more money per hour at it than at anything else anyone would pay me for right now. I love the freedom of the lifestyle more than anything; I feel very few occupations these days come with the same freedoms. I think it’ll always be part of my life in some way, shape or form.

Being a professional, and being mature and accepting my station in life right now, means enjoying those freedoms but accepting that the game probably won’t inspire me like I used to– and giving my very best and doing my best to be excellent anyway. Being a happy, healthy, well-rounded human being means doing all that and finding ways to get that inspiration and satisfaction in other areas of my life.


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