Living in Alignment with your Values

It’s been almost one full year since I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life. That decision was to pack up and sell off basically all of my worldly possessions, leave my home in Las Vegas where I had 7 roommates and was constantly surrounded by some of my best friends, and travel to Australia, where I knew no one, in the hopes of continuing my career as an online poker player. It’s a very strange feeling to get to a point in life where you think you’re secure, you think the hardest times are behind you, you’ll never have to worry about money again, and then you find yourself couch-surfing off the coast of Australia. Less than one year ago, October 2011, I was sleeping in a stranger’s living room on another continent bigger than the US in which I knew literally one person. I swear October 2010 I was getting bottle service at Surrender while dressed as Justin Bieber’s BFF for Halloween. What a difference a year makes.

I woke up April 15th 2011 morning to find I lost everything. It was like something out of a movie, all the money I had saved, gone. And what’s worse, my ability to make more money, gone. If I wanted to be able to play poker for a living, first I had to find some money, then I had to get out of the country, and then I had to get to work. When I left Vegas 5 months later I was broke, in debt, stressed, scared and sad. I sold off all my furniture and electronics to buy plane tickets and to have money to live on. I gave a lot of things away. Within 6 months I had changed from a person trying to fill a 7000 square foot mansion with Flat Screens and Arcade machines to a person trying to figure out how to fit 2 closets full of clothes into one suitcase. It felt like I was losing everything.

At the same time though, I had this notion, this idea, that somehow this might be good for me. Maybe I needed to dematerialize. I didn’t get into poker to have stuff. I got into poker to have freedom. To be able to get up and go, travel the world, work from anywhere with an internet connection. I want to see the world, live my life while I can. I got into poker when I lost my job. At the time, getting laid off seemed terrible, unfair, like my whole way of life was crashing down. How was I now going to keep paying for the car, apartment and credit card bills for my stuff. I thought I was past having to worry about money b/c I had a good paying job. 6 months later when I was making more from poker and enjoying my work, I remember thinking “wow, getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to me.” I never would have started playing poker if I had got the promotion to District Manager I had been working towards. It was a blessing disguised as a tragedy. I think perhaps that’s how the universe operates so we don’t catch on.

I remember saying to a fellow poker player and good friend of mine “What if Black Friday turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. I always wanted to travel, but here I was, living in Vegas for 2 years, partying it up. I’d go travel for tournaments and stuff, but I never lived anywhere, experienced other cultures. It feels kinda good to purge some of my stuff, I have that freedom again. I think I lost sight of that.” He replied “James, it’s cool to be optimistic, but I don’t think you’re ever gonna look back and say ‘Black Friday was the best thing that ever happened to me.’ You just lost all your money and you have to leave the country. It fucking sucks.” I think we were both right.

At this point in my life, coming off one of the best months financially of my poker career, I really feel that I’ve come full circle. There was a time I alluded to before Black Friday where money wasn’t a serious concern, life was comfortable, and I always wanted to get back there. However, having that kinda success at a young age can come with a lot of stupidity. All the things I meant to do, like open a retirement account, save up money for a house, pay off my car, I somehow never did. I bought everything I ever wanted, ate at every restaurant, went out to night clubs, I can’t argue that I wasn’t enjoying my life in the moment (one of my core values) but to say that I really lived my life in a manor that I can say was ok would be a lie, and therein lies the problem. This whole year has been a struggle to get back to where I was, but at the same time, I’ve been afraid to be who I was. In everything I’ve ever been successful, there has been a pattern.

  • I start out extremely humble, yet fully motivated by the belief that I can do anything I put my mind to.
  • I reach a level of success where people start to tell me how good I am, but I still believe I can do better.
  • I reach a level of success where people start to tell me how good I am, and I believe them.
  • What goes up must come down.

I really believe, in everything from High School Wrestling to writing, to comedy, to marketing, to poker; everything I’ve ever been passionate about, there’s a point where I start drinking my own KoolAid. I see it with UFC fighters all the time. A guy starts believing his own hype and starts spending more time talking to sponsors than he does in the gym, and next thing you know he’s getting KTFO.

It’s been a growing process for me this past year. I wanted to get back to my level of comfort that I had. I wanted to have the freedoms I had when I was set financially, but at the same time, I wanted to grow as a person, so I wouldn’t have to be scared of what I might do with those freedoms. I want to stay humble, I want to know that I won’t lose the work ethic that got me here if I enjoy great success. I want to be mentally ready for great success, and then I want to have great success. If you know you can’t handle success, then often we find ways to subconsciously sabotage ourselves. We find ways to keep ourselves entrenched in the struggle we know, because we fear the struggle we don’t.

I actually considered quitting poker after Black Friday. I thought about getting a job in nightlife, staying put in Vegas and having a fun twentysomething life. It certainly appealed to me. After all, leaving Vegas was very hard, I cried at the airport ffs. Thankfully, I was wise enough then to know a lesson about life that has become only more apparent to me since. Many of us fear making big changes because of the massive acute pain associated with those experiences. But massive pain passes. Massive pain and difficulty is not to be feared, because it shapes us, causes us to grow, and brings us closer in touch with ourselves and the universe. It is the pain we tolerate, that we need to be afraid of.

It would have been much easier to get a job in Vegas and continue my lifestyle, I had friends, a girlfriend, a nice place, a good gym, ect ect. But there would be this voice, in my head, saying you gave up. You took the easy road. You were capable of being great and you chose to be average. I could say “oh this and this happened and it was taken from me,” I could cast blame anywhere I choose, but nobody likes a victim. At the end of the day, we are the choices we make, and not doing something is just as much of a choice as doing it. I would say that almost every important person in my life has something that they would like to change, but are afraid to. Whether its being in a relationship they’re scared to end, being at a job they hate but need, or living in a city that’s boring but close to friends and family. Everyone has this blanket of comfort that keeps them from feeling any severe pain from things like loneliness, unfamiliarity and uncertainty.

I would argue that loneliness is an opportunity to better know yourself, unfamiliarity is exciting, and uncertainty is the only reason to keep breathing. When we know what we want, but are too scared to take action, it creates a discontent within our soul. We’re not living in alignment with our values. It’s hard to excel at anything, even and perhaps especially if your main goal is to be happy, if you turn a blind eye to inner turmoil. A great friend of mine always reminds me to “Speak your truth” and I would implore everyone to do the same. Too many people seem genuinely both surprised at their dissatisfaction in life, yet completely aware of where it’s coming from. Over the past year I’ve become slightly more aware of what kind of life I envision for myself, but I’ve become much more aware of how that vision and my reality are lining up. It’s a funny thing too, the more I live the life I want to live, the more I enjoy my life. Maybe life’s not so complicated after all.

To go from a person who used to think “how should I spend my money” “what do I need” and “what else cool can I buy” to thinking “What can I fit in this suitcase” “Why do I have this” and “Who can I give this to” is an experience that changes you. To say the least, I don’t think I actually had any idea what I needed. What a difference a year makes.


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