John Chang shares the quality that is more important to your success.
“All in,” said the third player. “All in,” echoed the next one. Fold. Fold. “Call,” said the last player to join this shove fest, as the rest of us folded.
What was going on? Pocket kings and pocket aces? This was the first hand in a deep stack tournament. We had hours to go … in theory.
“Okay, you can turn ‘em over,” announced the dealer.
The first player all-in showed King Nine off-suit. A junk hand. A bluff gone horribly wrong? The second showed Ace rag. Maybe they knew each other? The last showed pocket Queens. Okay, that call is somewhat understandable but all this on the first hand?
In the end, the first player hit his King and tripled his stack. The other players were knocked out. It’s the sort of thing where novice players gleefully scoop up their winnings while veteran players groan and shake their heads at such blissful ignorance.
When I think of “passion” and the typical advice that people give about following it, it reminds me of this: shoving all your chips into the middle and holding your breath as your fate is dealt.
As a kid I developed a fascination with space. Maybe it was watching movies like Star Wars that captured my imagination. Eventually, the idea of getting into the space program caught on. I learned that most of the astronauts were former military pilots. This led to reading an article that told about the skill of navy pilots.
I distinctly remembering a passage that described night carrier landings as jumping across a dark room trying to hit a postage stamp with your tongue. So, when the guidance counselor asked what I thought I wanted to do, I asked about schools with aerospace engineering and ROTC.
Now if this was a story of my journey into space, this is where I would tell you to follow your dreams and end with a few inspiring words. This, of course, isn’t that kind of story.
Instead, life had other plans. I ended up dropping out of the flight program and marrying a woman who later became my ex-wife. Looking back, it’s no coincidence that these things happened in the name of being “down to earth.”
You see, because of my marginal grades, the senior instructors told me that I could either stay in the navy in another role or get out. At the time I knew that the job market wasn’t booming, so I opted for the safer route.
Starting a family meant providing for them. I needed to do what was practical, right?
During a six-month deployment, my marriage unraveled. There in the middle of nowhere I was in a job that made me miserable, and the main reason why I was really there was gone.
But wait, you say, isn’t this supposed to be about why passion is overrated? It’s starting to sound like I’m advocating passion.
My point is that I was passionate about flying, but the Navy had other plans. I was passionate about falling in love with my ex-wife, but it was more about the idea of family than the reality.
Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” told a reader why we shouldn’t follow our passions. Rowe shares how his passion was to be a tradesman, but was told by his grandfather that life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if he got himself a different kind of toolbox.
That was a tough and bitter pill to swallow. Rowe says, “I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. ‘I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,’ he said. ‘Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.’”
After I got out of the military, I was ready to stake my claim to fortune and fame. The Dot-Com era had begun. With the ink barely drying on my newly minted MBA I headed to the San Francisco Bay Area. Passionate about technology I was eager to use my leadership experience and what I had learned in my studies.
Eventually, I worked as an AT&T project manager for a while. It wasn’t the foosball in the fully-stocked employee lounge experience that I imagined. But I found that I loved working with teams and making things happen.
When I got laid off, I finally decided that what I had always wanted was to start my own company. Somehow I got a business loan of $20,000. I invested in training programs and business cards, even incorporating in an LLC.
With no real way of making sales and no real sales skills, the money didn’t last very long. Trying everything, door after door closed in my face.
Then something strange happened. I discovered a new passion. Argentine tango.
Over the years I had caught glimpses of it. Even back in my last duty station of Washington DC, I remembered one night watching a couple dancing on a gazebo at the end of a dock to strange music on a boom box. Their silhouettes moved with a blend of flow and harmony—shades of yin and yang. Eventually, this led to starting a non-profit to promote this art form.
As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her new book Big Magic, instead of the all or nothing of passion that so many preach for career advice, she suggests that we should try curiosity. “Passion burns hot and fast, which means it can come and go,” says Gilbert. “Curiosity is so accessible and available, every single day of my life.”
It was curiosity that led me through the door of my first tango class. It was curiosity that nudged me to walk downstairs and play poker for the first time.
Sometime shortly after the break that player who had tripled his stack busted out. Hours later it got down to seventeen players. We voted and agreed to split the jackpot. It wasn’t the World Series of Poker, but it was one of my biggest wins to date.
So, if you choose curiosity over passion, you might just be around to enjoy a taste of victory.
Photo: Flickr/National Museum of the U.S. Navy
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.