I’ve been hanging out with a lot of poker players lately, especially because one of my best friends in the poker world just moved to San Francisco and has been engaging in a ridiculous APD (activities per day). In some of our discussions, and ones that I’ve had with other poker players over the years, a recurring trend keeps appearing – a lot of people really want to have some sort of work with purpose, but they don’t really know where to start. I hear this all the time: “If I had something I was really passionate about, I would do it, but I don’t really have anything I feel that way about.” The purpose of this blog is to discuss what a massive pile of steaming bullshit that sentence is. Forgive the mental image.
But before we dive into why that line of thinking doesn’t hold water, we can discuss poker for a second to provide a perfectly exaggerated metaphor for the problem at large. Poker operates squarely in the entertainment industry. Think about it. A mix of wealthy degenerates (and some people with real problems) are paying a significant amount of money to be entertained in a highly particular way. When a whale wants a game, they want it now, and that means you are actually on call, waiting around for the whale to stumble toward you, and then you collect your fee for entertaining him (in the form of your theoretic winrate).
In some form or another you work for this guy to scratch his degenerate itch. It’s tough.
Now, entertainment alone does have value, but it’s among the least relatively valuable forms of work. A couple things make me say this: first, it’s an incredibly abundant form of value. In 2017, working in the entertainment industry is like selling ice cream on a street filled with ice cream stores. We have netflix, smart phones, ten new movies per week, fifty new shows, and (for my favorite types of people) books to read. Oh, that doesn’t mention games (like the game of thrones board game which you should never play), toys, and all other forms of entertainment. Us humans love our entertainment, but it’s hard to feel like you’re really doing anything of value in such a crowded house. Second, it’s among the least valuable forms of value. When people are having a hard time, leisure time is the first to go, and poker is pretty far up the list of leisure activities that aren’t really very important.
One quick note that could be the subject of a long future piece – entertainment is not the same as art, though much of entertainment is made in the pursuit of art. Art does have significant value and is highly unique. And, it’s no surprise to me that the artists and musicians I know tend to describe themselves as being more fulfilled than the poker players I know.
probably not art
Okay, let’s get back to purpose. The idea that you will somehow stumble upon some thing and find yourself filled with purpose is madness. Most poker players I know got hooked into the game when they discovered its beautiful complexity and powerful mental and emotional challenges, and the money came as a consequence of that interest and passion. However, nobody starts playing poker with a passion for poker. You might feel some excitement or nervousness before your first-ever game, but you’re hardly thinking, “This game will give me a source of purpose and guide me through life for the next ten years.” No, instead you tried something (playing the game) and then you discovered purpose (“hey, this is pretty cool”).
And this is the grand point. We somehow believe that it goes:
Step 1. Find Purpose
Step 2. Take Action
Whereas in reality it goes:
Step 1. Take Action
Step 2. Find Purpose
At this moment in my life, I run operations for a marketing company I co-founded with two of my best childhood friends. I never in my wildest dreams would’ve thought I’d find purpose doing work like this, but things give you back what you put into them. Suddenly everyone – my partners, team-members, employees, clients, contractors – began sharing interdependent responsibilities and I have my own portion of that responsibility. Suddenly, the purpose is multifaceted: Can we make it grow? Can we make our friends’ lives better? Can we spin it up into something even greater and bigger than it is now?
For me, a lot of purpose comes from the idea of construction. One of my favorite Burning Man moments this year was when we finally finished building our camp. After a full day of loading trucks, 12 straight hours driving to the playa, immediately spending a full workday without sleeping, followed by two more full workdays, we finally sat down on chairs underneath our shade structure with a cold drink and looked around us. I felt thoroughly satisfied and purpose-filled. So, for me, it’s more of a “start building now, see where it goes” type of thing.
I think many (all?) of my friends have parts of their lives they’d really like to change, but the idea and the feeling is really big. Sometimes these ideas (where will I find purpose? Does any of it matter? Is this relationship good for me? Better or worse for me?) inflate in their vagueness and opacity like giant menacing shadows and intimidate us until we huddle quietly in our job-holes or relationship-holes, waiting for the perfect moment to find change, to feel driven and purposeful, except the perfect moment literally never comes, and so nothing changes.
No, we remain the rested boulders on the hillside, waiting for someone to push us, for the clear signal from the universe to get off our asses and do things differently. But when will it come? Maybe tomorrow?
I am starting to feel energy being exerted and a desire to organize. I feel the start of some cooperative desire between some current and former members of the poker community, and I think we can find some activity of value that might in turn instill us with that sense of purpose. I can’t say exactly what it is, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now and think it might be starting to take shape.
Are you feeling like you lack purpose or fulfillment? Are you smart and willing to work hard? If you are, send me a note, and let’s talk. I have ideas.