On my self improvement journey, I spend a lot of time in thought sifting through memories and experiences in an effort to determine what I can learn from them. As a poker player, I’m constantly trying to assess my thought process as well as the thought process of others. I’m incredibly interested in the idea of emotional intelligence which, defined by psychologist Andrew Coleman is “the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior”. Thinking a lot can be a good thing but it is important to be able to use those thoughts of the things that took place in the past in a constructive way. We all have something (or many things) deep down that we are holding on to from our past. It could be regret for something you did or didn’t do. It could be the feeling of a missed opportunity. Or it could be something sitting really deep down there that you weren’t even really consciously aware of until you had time for deeper reflection. No matter what it is, these thoughts can plague us now in the present and have a negative effect on the way we view ourselves, our relationships and our overall level of emotional intelligence. What are you holding on to?
Of course I wouldn’t challenge you the reader to think about what you are holding on to without sharing my own thoughts and experiences. It was only recently after listening to a popular poker podcast that I had an epiphany of sorts in regards to an issue I have had with attachment to the past. I had always been bothered in the back of my mind by the idea that I could have achieved so much more at poker or made so much more money or be known more in the poker world had I not gotten engaged at 24 and become a father at 25. I went rather quickly from vagabond poker player on the rise up the stakes to family man dad poker player grinding to pay the bills. When I’d meet other successful poker players I would often bring up my friendship with a few very successful young poker players and I’d point out that at one time we were on the same path but they were younger and able to dedicate themselves fully to grinding, moving up stakes and becoming the best while I took the route of family man. This of course was basically just a justification to my ego to make me feel better about the route I had taken. For the longest time I have wondered what could have been and how much money I could have made if I had the same freedom as them. I have always been incredibly grateful to have a very good relationship with my wife and three happy and healthy kids but those types of thoughts can burn inside you when you are a super competitive and driven person.
In that podcast (it’s a 3 hour podcast but trust me its worth a listen!), Sean mentioned that he was taking a bit more time away from poker and enjoying some of the other things in life rather than immersing himself in the game. When I started thinking back about the last eight years or so I began to feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to go through the experiences I have and to be able to always be present both mentally and physically for Jody and my kids. I can think back and be proud of the fact that I have never missed out on a milestone for them and that they have been able to travel all over the country and see things that most kids will never get to see. When I think about all of that, the idea of what could have been seems so irrelevant and small in comparison. I feel much more secure and confident in myself and happy with what I have achieved in my profession.
You are the only one who gets to decide your definition of success. It is easy to spend a great deal of time and energy pursuing a vision of success only to achieve that goal and find out that it wasn’t what you wanted at all. It’s even easier to just think about achieving some sort of success and imagining how different your life will be or how much better you will feel about yourself. Set your own parameters for success but be flexible and curious with them. Use those thoughts of greatness, the yearning to be the best and the burning feeling of regret to fuel your motivations.
I wrote a lot of this six months ago and never finished my thoughts until now. The feelings of wondering what could have been still linger from time to time but I don’t let them decide my definition of success. I let the smile on my daughter Cameron’s face after finishing a board game do that. Or when my daughter Ava tells me it was the best night of her life after going to a basketball game with me. Or the unrivaled enthusiasm my son Andrew meets me with when I come home and he is screaming “DADADADADADA!!!” at the top of his lungs. Or the sense of purpose and drive my wife Jody has knowing she has the freedom to pursue her passion in life. I get to see and live the results of my success every day and its wired in the feelings and happiness of those closest to me not some accomplishment that could have been.