7 Life Lessons Learned from Poker

As is the case with everything in one’s life, there are many valuable lessons one can learn from virtually every situation, and playing poker is no different. Poker is a game of skill, of luck, of learning from one’s mistakes, and of bettering oneself.

Here are seven valuable life lessons anyone can learn from poker.

1. Play the hand you are dealt.

Many people erroneously think that having more—more money, more friends, more looks, more whatever—will make life easier. This “the grass is always greener” mentality is a recipe for disaster. In life—as well as in poker—there is no easy fix, no do-overs, and certainly no genies in bottles who will happily grant us three wishes.

We must take what we are given and make the best of it. Sure, we may not always get the outcome we desire or win that monster pot, but we will glean some valuable life lessons to take with us to the next dilemma, hand, or tournament we face and, hopefully, obtain a better outcome from it.

“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” ~ Jack London

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Just like life, poker is a journey, not simply a destination, and focusing on the minutiae at the expense of the big picture won’t work in either situation. Obsessing about small setbacks—something for which I am notorious—not only dampens your frame of mind for the present but also may impede your progress for the future. Becoming good at anything requires time, practice, and patience. Learn to enjoy striving toward your goals instead of focusing on every small setback.

“As long as you think more is better, you’ll never be satisfied.”~ Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff (1996)

3. Make good decisions.

We have no control over how the cards fall; however, by making good, pragmatic decisions based on our own observations and assessment of a situation instead of emotion, we can, in fact, maximize gains and minimize losses. The same holds true in life. The key to success is in making good decisions.

4. Keep an open mind.

There’s this wonderful quote I happen to love that says:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” ~ Jesse Potter,  Director of the National Institute for Human Relationships, 1981

Whether it’s playing a poker hand differently or reacting to a repeating life problem in a new way, you really have nothing to lose by trying new things and keeping an open mind. Who knows? You may discover a better way.

5. Choose your battles wisely.

Choose your battles, and choose them wisely. I remember listening to Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the radio years ago, and she always asked her callers, “Is this the mountain you want to die on?” There are many situations that may seem more important in the heat of the moment that, upon further investigation, really were not worth our time and/or money. Making decisions based on pure emotions is never a good thing.

That said, we all need to take a look at the big picture—in life and in poker—and decide whether we should continue to invest more time and money into a likely losing situation or realize that the potential reward doesn’t justify the risk and cut our losses.

Kenny Rogers had it right in The Gambler:

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

6. Exercise financial control.

Bankroll management in poker is akin to keeping a budget in “real” life. If you don’t have any money, you can’t play. Similarly, if you don’t have any money, you won’t be able to pay your rent, purchase food, or buy any of the myriad other things for which money is necessary.

In both respects, it is critical to keep track of your money whether through a written budget and/or poker software/apps that help you see exactly how much you have, how much you’ve won, and how much you’ve lost. That being said, never live a lifestyle that is beyond your financial means, and never play for more money than you can afford to lose. Of course, this is much easier said than done.

7. Patience is a virtue.

This is another one with which I struggle. Poker is, indeed, a game of patience. Sometimes we don’t get a hand to play, and if we lack patience, then we may be tempted to play a subpar hand simply because we want some action. Being patient and waiting for the right moment to go all-in in poker is akin to holding out for a better situation, job, relationship, or other goal in life. Making rash decisions oftentimes leads to poor outcomes.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”~Jean Jacques-Rousseau

What are some life lessons you have learned from playing poker? Please comment below.