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5 Career Lessons I've Learned as a Professional Poker Player

"Open this for me, sir.”

The eyebrows of the security guard move to his nose.

His forehead wrinkles.

Normally I am calm under such situations, but this time I feel my heartbeat going up.

I slowly move the zipper to open my backpack.

“What is this?”

The guard holds up a large amount of bank notes.

I swallow the tempting single-word response: “Money”. Not the right time for jokes.

Instead I tell him that I’ve played poker in London, and that I exchanged the pounds into euros before coming to the airport.

The guard does not react and is ice-cold.

It feels like his dark eyes pierce right through me.

My body temperature rises.

Will I get into trouble?

Suddenly I recall that my hoodie is in my backpack. I show it to the guard, pointing at the logo of the website that sponsored me for the tournament in London.


His eyebrows relax.

And his forehead unwrinkles.

Luckily this piece of ‘evidence’ convinces the guard that I did not visit London for a weekend of drug-dealing.

Relieved I take a seat in the waiting area and think about the time I started playing poker.

Tables with playmoney. And 1c/2c tables.

To the point I played the highest stakes and decided to put half of my University courses on hold. Freeing up time to take poker to the next level.

This all happened 10 years ago.

It was a long journey to get there – and hard work too.

More and more I see the parallels with other areas in life. And I understand that what I’ve learned as a poker player shaped the person that I am right now.

Five lessons.

1) Taking the right decisions consistently is long-term gold

Poker can make you go up and down, but you need to be patient and consistently make the right choices.

This is no different in life. Have the discipline and make the right choices every day. Invest in your friends. Make time for your family. Workout. Eat meals that nourish your body. Learn new things every day.

Results won’t come in a week.

But if you stick with strong habits – the future will smile at you.

2) Improve every day

At some point, poker started to become profitable. Does that mean the way to make money is by playing it?

Yes and no. You also need to stand still.

For every hour I played, I worked on improving my game for 2 hours.

I’m not suggesting that the same proportions apply to life.

But if you are just doing, rushing through your days, never reflect on what you are aiming for - you will never reach your potential.

3) Take responsibility - what can YOU do?

You can be unlucky in poker and lose money, just because of the cards that the dealer gives to you. However, this is outside of your circle of influence.

"Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will." ~Jawaharlal Nehru

No matter how tempting it is, don’t blame others for your current life situation. Only one question is relevant.

What is a step that YOU can take to improve, right now?

4) Understand psychology

Poker is a game of math, but without a solid understanding human behavior you will not succeed.

If you comprehend what makes other people tick, it’s easier to have a positive influence on your colleague at work. You’re stronger at negotiating with your car dealer. And better at building deep relationships with your friends.

5) Deal with stress and manage your energy

While climbing up the stakes of online poker stress increased. I have a stable personality, but losing the equivalent of a new Audi was hard. Addiction kicked in. I kept playing.

“I’m going to win back the money in the next hand.”

The result was the opposite: I gave away even more.

I struggle with the same in my workdays. Even though I’m tired, I convince myself to do just two more things.

Know when it is time for a break, so you can continue with a refreshed and productive mind.

To sum up:

Three months after passing the security guard in London, I spoke to a few poker guys.

I considered to join them in their exciting plan.

They were moving into a great apartment on Malta for a year to cash in a tax-free environment.

It was tempting, but I decided otherwise.

I quit poker and started to develop in other areas.

In the poker world, people talk A LOT about poker. About the hand they lost the night before. What dumb raise this guy made. Which tournament they will play in the future.

I realized that is not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

There is so much more to experience.

Trying out new sports. Growing my interpersonal skills. Exploring countries. Nurturing relationships. Learning a technology.

This is the path I followed, and I'm glad I've steered my life in that direction.

A backpack stuffed with money is great.

But what's even better -

Is a bag filled with rich experiences.

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