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Settling Down or UP


AUTHORS NOTE: I opened the video poker app to take a photo for the blog post and on my first try, I JUST GOT A ROYAL FLUSH. So there you have it... EXPECT TO REACH YOUR GOAL AND YOU WILL I hope you enjoy this week's blog post...

So here is a long story. Bear with me and there will be a point, I promise.

Soon after we got engaged, X took a job at a commercial construction company in Las Vegas, Nevada. After the honeymoon, I joined him there.

The honeymoon is the long story part of this post. Not the trip itself, it was pretty standard , as far as honeymoons go; it is the procurement of the trip that is somewhat unusual.

X purchased the trip from someone in his office who had won it. This person was an elderly gentleman, of the CB radio and overalls persuasion. As he put it, “What in tarnation would I want with a seven night trip to Honolulu?” This man had won the trip by playing video poker at the Gold Coast Casino, a hazy, smoke filled off-strip bastion of gaming for locals.

That isn’t so remarkable. What resonates with me some thirty years later is the man’s approach to his game of choice.

It’s In the Cards

Video poker is pretty much like playing regular poker. You’re dealt a hand and you decide what to do with it based on what’s in your hand. So, basically, a lot like life.

Two pair, a straight, a full house- those are nice, but what you are going for is the royal flush, the big kahuna of poker hands. For those of you who don’t know, a royal flush consists of a ten, jack, queen, king and ace, all in the same suit.

That’s the goal. If you are playing a quarter machine and you get a royal flush on a max bet of $1.25, you would make about $1000. Or, in this case, an all expense paid trip to Hawaii that you can sell to someone in your office for $800.

Right nice of him.

Anyway, I’m talking about his method here, so let’s move on.

Video poker was his game and he played it often. Very often. And, he hit about five royal flushes a year. That was unbelievable to me. I played on our computer, (yeah, we had one.) I would sit at the giant hulking apparatus and dial up AOL. Buzz buzz squeak- and I was on the world wide web. From there, it was a hop skip and a jump to the video poker game. Where I never got a royal flush.

Virgil, yes, that was his name, only wanted royal flushes. Full houses, straights, pairs, did not excite him. His goal was strictly a royal flush. So set on his goal was he that he would throw away any cards that stood in his way. EVEN when he had something viable in his hand like a pair of queens (two jacks or better is an automatic winner) or three of a kind or was close to a flush. He would throw it all back and keep one ten or an ace, whatever component he may have had.

When X told me that, so long ago, we just shook our heads. It seemed crazy to us that you would risk a sure bet for a slim chance at having it all.

Nothing Is a Sure Bet

So, I’ve played video poker over the years, with that “sure bet” approach, hanging on to that pair of sixes for dear life and hoping for a third, while remembering Virgil and how crazy his approach was.

Or was it?

What safe bets do we hang on to that turn out to be anything but! Of course I could point out my marriage to X, but also so much more.

We cling to bad marriages, bad jobs and bad habits as though they are some sort of life raft protecting us from certain failure.

So the other night, on a plane to Chicago, with some time to kill, I clicked on the video poker app on my tablet. I played for a while, and then thought of Virgil. A thought came to me. What if I played like him?

It was hard at first. My comfort zone was to hang on to those two measly sixes, because even one more could mean a 15 point payout. I would catch myself drifting back to safety again and again. I would even have to keep reminding myself that these points are fake, it isn’t even real money’

The goal is a royal flush, the goal is a royal flush, I repeated. Keep your sight on the goal, anything else is just settling. Still, throwing away three nines because I had a ten and queen of hearts was hard. And, it didn’t pay off.

At first.

I eventually began to notice a couple of things:

1) I was getting closer than I’d been in a long time, since the royal flush of 2012. (I really can’t remember when it was, but it has been awhile.)

C ould it be that by keeping the goal in front of me, I was attracting what I wanted?

2) As mentioned, it was hard to let go of cards that seemed safe. I realized that my auto pilot was set for an approach that had become entrenched over years. Stepping out of it took conscious and repeated effort.

Distractions derailed me and “safe bets” beckoned. That 3-4-5-6 looks nice what if I got a two or a seven? No the goal is royal flush, toss ‘em. Oh wow- there are two jacks, I could keep those… No! Keep one of them and the matching King…

3) The other interesting thing is that every six or seven hands or so, I would forget what I was doing and just head right back to the comfort zone on autopilot airlines. Then I’d have to wake myself back up to the goal. It was scary just how many times I forgot the goal completely. Accepting something less than the goal you have set is called settling. Settling is the antithesis of every fulfilling life.

I also realized that my old video poker approach was really not all that lucrative. One royal flush every ten or so years (yeah, I’ve had about 3 since 1988) does not equal five a year. (Keep in mind that I’m not doing this in a casino and I’m not playing as much as Virgil was.) Theoretically, at my play rate, I might expect one royal flush per year. But my safe method of more , but negligible payouts was certainly not getting me there.

I never imagined that a kindly old school country codger could end up being such an inspiration to me thirty years later. It isn’t just video poker anymore. I can see an old guy in overalls telling me I made the right choice when I quit my job to pursue my dreams or to remarry or to start a blog.

Actually, what he is telling me and all of us is that failure isn’t something to fear or avoid. It’s just another beacon on our path, calling us to different decisions, different methods, different doors.

Settling seemingly helps you avoid failure, but at a high cost.

Settling keeps us in the game, with a somewhat steady payout, low but safe. It self-limits our choices, our horizons and ultimately, our lives. The thing about settling is that we’re still in the game, but it might be the wrong game.

I’m going to Vegas this week – will playing with real money keep me from remaining laser focused on my goal? I don’t know… our lives are pretty real and we let them keep us away from our goals all the time. Don't.

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