Luck, Skill and The Gambler

My friend, Brandee, says I’m a gambler because I love to play poker. Although there are luck elements in poker, it’s most often seen as a game of skill by professional players.

When I think of poker, that famous song by Kenny Rogers always pops into my mind. When I first remember hearing, The Gambler, it was sung by my Uncle Jimmy, who was a traveling musician. The 2nd time I remember hearing it was on Sesame Street. The animated puppets were sitting with Kenny Rogers in a train car. The scene always haunted my memories because I was in love with ghosts as a kid.

At the poker table, I would share that memory of Kenny Rogers on Sesame Street, but everyone thought I was kidding around and cracking jokes. This morning I discovered that yesterday. Kenny Rogers passed away at age 81. I did a quick google search and discovered that he really was on Sesame Street. Rewatching the video segment below, I saw that dancing ghost I remember from my childhood. Hmmm… Did that dancing ghost influence me to become a dancer?

This week I ran across 2 poker quotes, which intrigued me. The first one is from Jesse May, “Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck.”

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how 10,000 hours of practice and honing one’s skill can create mastery. Some other theories about mastery have challenged this “10,000 hours” idea, but it seems to ring true in my life and my observations.

The best guitarist I know is a master of his craft. He has been practicing over 3 hours a day for several decades, and it shows when his fingers effortlessly caress the guitar strings creating beautiful music that stirs my soul.

Personally, I can see the progress I’ve made as a singer in the past 5 years. I’m nowhere near 10,000 hours, but the consistent, weekly practice has made it easier to navigate any curve balls thrown at me during a performance. With my continued practice, I can focus on other aspects of the music besides just singing the correct notes at the right time. My subconscious brain is now handling the technical aspects, like breathing, so I can free my mind to focus on the creative elements, which include singing with my heart & soul.

Mastering a skill isn’t hard. It’s more about dedicating quality time to consistently practice, practice, practice, and guess what? More practice! Whether it’s writing, designing, dancing, golfing, yoga, poker, juggling, cooking, baking, singing, playing an instrument, learning a new language (insert your passion), all you need is TIME. Now, finding time in your busy schedule might be a challenge, but then again, what are your priorities?

Many of us may find ourselves with EXTRA time on our hands during this Covid-19 quarantine. What better time than NOW to pick up a new skill? Or, set aside time to practice an existing skill? Or if you’re up for the challenge. BOTH! Skills are an asset you can carry with you for life.

In the 2nd part of Jesse May’s quote, he talks about “mastering the luck.” If you’ve played any poker at all, there is an element of luck that comes into play. Sometimes, you’re on a hot streak, and sometimes, there are no good cards coming your way for hours. That’s just the nature of the game.

One of my favorite quotes about luck comes from the famous golf legend Gary Player (who I’m sure spent way more than 10,000 hours honing his craft). He said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

This quote makes me smile because I’ve seen it to be true in my life. After practicing dancing for years, I was asked to become a dance instructor for an event. That event led to many other events, and I’ve been lucky to travel around the world, as well as land several steady teaching gigs over the past 20 years. Was that luck? Maybe?

I started in the church choir as a teenager, then started taking voice lessons for many years. I was asked to audition for another choir, which led to other opportunities as a paid musician. Was I lucky? Maybe?

Kenny Rogers influenced my life because he shared his mastery of storytelling and singing with the world. In fact, one of my go-to karaoke songs was made famous by Kenny Rogers. I will do my best to honor him when I sing it from now on.

What do you plan to share with the world? How will you influence other people’s’ lives with your craft?

I hope you start and/or continue your journey to your 10,000 hours in your craft! Along the way, as you continue to work hard, I hope you get “LUCKY!”