Playing Your Hand Well

You have amazing opportunity, Vera. You have a great family. And you were born in the United States, a land of unparalleled opportunity. In short, you’ve been dealt a strong hand. Now all you have to do is play it well.

I wouldn’t profess to tell you how to play your hand. That’s your call. But I’m confident you’ll do just fine.

The best I can do is share some of the things I’ve learned over the years about playing one’s hand. They’re personal to me, so don’t try to blindly transfer them to you. Nonetheless, here are a few:

  • Reach – Don’t think the hand you’ve been given is as good as it gets. An even better hand may be within reach. Don’t be afraid to chance it. Doors will open. You may be surprised what’s on the other side. Don’t be afraid to find out. Step into the new opportunities.
  • Stand tall – Play with confidence. Exude confidence (even when you might not feel it!). Feel it (which means you actually have to be competent and really good at which you do). But recognize the difference between gift and entitlement. Match your confidence with gratitude.
  • If you’re bored by your hand, walk away – One of the easiest and most tempting mistakes to make is staring at your hand too long and not playing it. Sometimes we call them dead-end jobs. It goes by other names, too. If you can’t give it your all, find something that excites you. If you’re bored, move on. Never settle for boredom. Boredom kills. If you’re not challenged by your hand, move on. If you’re not learning something new — if you’re not growing — move on. Every player gets only a limited time at the table. Make yours count. Time will pass quickly.
  • Don’t forfeit your right to play your full hand – Many people are unable to play their full hand. They’ve traded that freedom for stuff and debt. To some degree, nearly all of us do it. But it’s a lousy trade. Yet it’s an enticing one. Avoid it like the plague. You can’t win.
  • Make mediocrity your enemyNever settle for good enough. And don’t join any organization that has a culture of mediocrity — one that is O.K. with being O.K., one that is O.K. with not playing to win. And if you make a mistake and find yourself in one, get out. It will pull you down. It will make you behave in ways you’ll regret. You’ll be less than you could be. You will become mediocre. Or worse.
  • Take risks – I’m a low-to-moderate risk taker. I’m glad I took the risks I did, but wish I’d taken even more. Perhaps I will. I’m still at the table. In any case, I wish I would have seen more clearly that the greatest risks often come disguised as security. But security blankets are for babies.
  • Don’t waste your time on failed venturesLoss aversion is a powerful force. It causes investors to hang onto their losers too long. But it’s not only a trap for investors; it’s a trap for everyone, in many aspects of life. If I knew then what I knew now, I’d pull the plug earlier. And do a better job of recognizing the futility of putting one’s work into certain projects, endeavors or places. Sometimes, it’s best to fold, sooner rather than later.
  • Avoid bureaucracy and entrenched systems – There are many really busy people in the world who aren’t accomplishing anything. Some are frustrated by it; some are content. Either way, it’s not good. It doesn’t mean you have to accomplish something extraordinary. But it means you should strive to do something and avoid allowing bureaucracy to sink its claws into you. In some cases, entire organizations are bureaucratic. The entire organization could go away and it wouldn’t be missed (in fact, the world would be a better place). Never underestimate the insidious nature of bureaucracy. Always stay clear of its grasp. And avoid entrenched systems, too. You’ll just be wasting your time. Play your hand where you can make a difference.
  • If you draw bad cards, don’t despair – Sometimes circumstances control us far more than we control them. That’s life. If it happens, make the best of it. Moping doesn’t help. Neither does whining. Or self-pity. Instead, do your best to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse.
  • People matter the most – You don’t need a lot of them, but you need some good ones — relationships, that is. Be grateful for those special people whose paths cross yours. Care for them. Value them. Delight in them. In the end, it is those we love, and those who love us, who make life worth living.

You’ve been dealt a strong hand, my dear granddaughter. It is going to be so much fun watching you play it.

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