The Mind

The Sacred Art of Knowing When to Fold

This post has (almost) nothing to do with actual poker.

I learned how to play poker for the first time when I was about 10 years old. Alarming? Slightly. Let’s just say, it was the result of cold Canadian winters causing people to stay indoors for days at a time, and three ten-year-olds with older siblings they were attached at the hip to. We learned how to play from the elders, and then created our own kid versions, betting using our allowances (a collection of dimes which probably totalled $3), jumbled up all the rules and ended up dropping the cards to have a dance-off to ‘Fergalicious’.

The good news is none of us developed any sort of gambling addiction, but this isn’t a parenting blog – it’s a post-grad blog where I like to pass on any sort of life lessons I’ve learned. The next time I learned poker (the right way), I was 21 years old, living in Oslo. A group of us got together and as I learned to play, there were two things that fascinated me: 1) the “poker face”, in other words hiding your true emotions in order to not give away how well you’re doing at the game; and 2) the art of knowing when to fold.

Playing Card and Poker Chips and Dices

What fascinated me about the poker face was that unlike any other sport or game, no one knew how well you were playing until the very end. Have you ever heard the quote “Work in silence and let success make the noise”? I believe that a lot of pressure to do well and be successful comes from other’s expectations of you, and the need to prove to others that you have it all together. But the truth of the matter is that happiness and peace of mind come from within. A million dollars will never be enough if you aren’t self-aware and content and doing it for yourself. Two million dollars will never be enough if you’re trying to prove something to someone, because they may have three million, or four. When I was graduating university, I made the mistake of telling everyone my plans for my future, because since I did not have a full-time job lined up (as so many of my peers did), I felt like I needed to prove something. And guess what that did?

When you do anything out of a place of fear, you will most likely fail. That’s why people say that the best time to find a job is when you already have one, and why they say not to study for the hour before your exam so you can calm down and not freak out and blank out. Telling strangers and acquaintances your plans and adding that pressure for yourself is, in a way, setting yourself up for failure. It’s one thing to talk about your dreams with people close to you, but another to display it on social media just to prove that you’re doing something with your life. I didn’t accomplish any of my goals until I shut my mouth and worked in silence. I realized that the pressure I put on myself by a self-imposed need to prove something was my downfall, and once I spent less time panicking and more time invested in myself, I began to rise. I found a full-time job (three actually, but chose the one that was the right fit) and passed a gruelling finance exam I spent the good portion of a year studying for. These two successes happened in the same week in January and I couldn’t stop crying, but guess what I did afterwards? Nothing. I kept going. I celebrated my wins in silence because I knew what I had planned next for myself, but I was proud. When people asked how my job hunt was going or if I had passed the exam I was always studying for, I told them, but not from a place of gloat or “proving myself” – from a place of honesty, and genuine relief.

man lighting cigarette while holding playing card

So the first thing poker taught me about life was to be proud of yourself for all the work you’re doing, and don’t sabotage yourself with a need to prove to others how well you’re playing at the game of life. Stay composed, stay alert, and most importantly: stay strategic. (Of course, in poker, it could help you to look overconfident…but we’ll leave that out for the sake of this lesson).

This leads me to my favourite part of poker: knowing when to fold. One of the biggest strategic aspects of poker that will make the difference between a small loss versus a big loss is the art of knowing when to quit the game. I have since then implemented this art in so many aspects of my life that it’s almost my go-to piece of advice when it comes to anything. Knowing when to fold is one of the greatest strengths you can have because it can avoid so much wasted energy, time, and even money. Some people call it “giving up” – I call it energy, time and money you can invest somewhere else. Sometimes you need to fold in a bad relationship, either romantic or friendly. Sometimes you need to fold from a job that is toxic or is leading nowhere. Sometimes you need to fold by selling a stock you know is just not going to rise again. How will you know when to fold?

Person Holding Playing Cards

I personally find it an art, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be quantified. Maybe the time to fold is when you’ve lost $500 on this particular stock. Maybe it’s when you’ve gained 5 pounds from the stress. Perhaps it’s when your friends and family have sat you down twice for an intervention. Maybe it’s just a gut feeling when you know it’s over.

So in essence, the second thing that poker taught me was that the art of knowing when to fold will help you save so much pain in life brought on by wasteful use of time, energy and money, and will help you reinvest it for future, fruitful returns. If you’ve made it this far in my little ramble and there is one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s this: it’s never too late to learn. If you’re reading this and thinking it’s too late for you, it never is – this isn’t poker, where the game ends when you’ve lost all your money. All we have is time and energy, so spend it wisely.

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