Last night I reconnected with a friend that I had worked with more than thirty years ago. As we talked about our children, who had all mysteriously grown into adults in the interim, the subject of mentors came up, with overtones of the availability of good career advice and the making of smart career choices. Here, I realized, life was once again like the game of poker.
If you and I sit across the table from one another and play one game of cut-the-cards, high card wins, the results are completely subject to the laws of chance. If, on the other hand, we sit down with a group of six or seven players, and play a serious poker game for at least four hours, chance, the chance of getting the winning hand, is completely driven from the scene. Each player will get the cards sometimes, and the odds are that everyone will get an equal distribution of the good and bad hands over time. The results, however, will always be that the good players come out ahead, the mediocre players will always finish in the break-even zone, and the lousy players will always go home broke. The good players know it when they get the good cards, and their greater understanding of the game allows them to work any hand to its greatest advantage.
Whenever the subject of mentors comes up, my reaction is to bemoan the apparent lack of job related angels in my life. I would have loved, I internally cry in my beer, to have had some successful practitioner take an interest in my progress and serve as a mentor in my efforts at one thing or another. I’ve bounced around a lot, and there were opportunities for this to happen. But I suddenly realized that it had happened, I had been close to good mentoring opportunities in the same way that one of the poker players could be close to the good cards. Some of these instances I kind of remember but didn’t understand at the time, and it had probably been about to happen on other occasions as well.
Like the bad poker players, I didn’t realize it when I had been presented with the good cards, or I had known it but backed off for some reason. Like the bad poker players, my own personality was a factor that limited my success.
Well, one more thing about life finally understood. I am, of course, tempted to think of it as being “understood too late.” That would be my personality interfering once again with any potential success that I might still achieve. So maybe I should just be happy with the insight and keep my eyes open for anyone who may wish to encourage me in some new endeavor.