If there’s one thing I learned from poker, it’s that it will break your heart. The other thing is that you have to trust the process, not the outcome. There are very few times when you’re guaranteed to win, and there’s always someone there ready to catch some lucky draw. You have to trust that, using the correct system, you will win in the long run, even amidst very long bouts of losses. Going on tilt — that is, playing more loosely than normal — for even a session can undo days to weeks of expected value. So at least in limit hold’em, if you play correctly, despite the heartbreak being inevitable, if you can stomach the variance, then so is success. Patience is a virtue, or so they say.
The recent DNC speeches have also surfaced in my mind what the American Dream means — an equal opportunity for everyone to succeed, not an equal outcome of success. A level playing field does not mean that everyone will win, but just that everyone has a chance at winning if they try hard and catch few lucky breaks.
The funny thing about life, though, is that it isn’t fair. There has never been, and will never be, a level playing field. Even without a rigid caste system, there’s little denying that the socioeconomic status from where you were born has an outsized effect on the chances that you will succeed socioeconomically in life. And unlike in poker, where you can play through hundreds of thousands of hands per year, those seminal moments in one’s life that shape and elucidate who are you are much rarer.
These past few weeks, I’ve been slowly slogging through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which despite being a book of roughly 80 pages, has been incredibly difficult and slow for me to read. One thing that I find fascinating is the similarity between Stoics and Daoists in terms of containing an undercurrent of fatalism and how one deals with it. We all live in a world where we are buffeted by randomness, and we all die. All that we do, and all that we are, is impermanent. Yet, there is some (universal?) notion that there is a right way to live that is independent of how it affects our present conditions — that is, a manner of living that is not selfish and is good. The Golden Rule without any expectation of reciprocation.
It used to seem so _obvious_ that if I adhered to living a “good and just” life, that love and everything else in my life would just work out for me. That karma would enforce just deserts. I guess maybe it just feels like a failure and I feel so unhappy because I’m so close to getting everything I would desire. But I guess maybe I shouldn’t be unhappy: if I’ve lived my life the way I should have, if I’ve followed The Way and settled my debts and obligations — if I have followed the process, then why should I be dissatisfied with the outcome? If the cards I’ve been dealt mean that I will live alone, then what right have I to complain? What use is there in begrudging that which is out of my control?
My biggest fear in life is that maybe I’m wrong, and that I’m not doing the right thing. That maybe hedonism and Epicureanism is more correct. But if I still truly believe that I am living my life in a good manner (which I’m pretty sure, or at least I’m trying), then these everyday outcomes and setbacks shouldn’t concern me; my life just might be a “bad beat.” That shouldn’t prevent my tasking myself with making the world a better place despite any sadness I incur. I should just focus on the long run even if, as Keynes noted, we are all dead by then.