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How To Play Your Cards Well

What does it mean to play our cards well? I get that it means to make the best of whatever our lot in life is. But are there specific practices that one can put in place? There are quite a few actually, and lots of folks have an opinion on the matter. Humility likely isn’t the first thing to come to mind in this arena, but it actually is the most important. To put this concretely, at a recent family event, I was able to beat superior cards players by practicing humility.

Let me set the stage. My family is full of hard core card players. They know how to count cards, they can predict what card will fall next based on their observations and watching how the trump cards play out (think Wist or Up-And-Down-The-River). I stink. I always have. I even struggle to shuffle cards well. In fact, when we sit down to play no one wants to sit next to me for fear that I’ll throw a bad card and screw up their hands.

So, here I am at another family event. However, this time, I just came from another fabulous Global Leadership Summit where I was able to hear renowned business thinker, Jim Collins, describe the three keys to great leadership, and thus success. He talked about the 1911 trek to the South Pole by two leaders – Scott and Amundsen. Scott and all his men died. Amundsen made it by practicing three things: Fanatic Discipline, Productive Paranoia, Empirical Creativity.

I applied Amundsen’s strategies to a very long card game of Up-And-Down-The-River. Fanatic Discipline – I never over extended myself to try and grab a few extra points. Productive Paranoia – I was constantly aware of my weaknesses and guarded myself as best as my cards would allow. Empirical Creativity – I used time tested strategies such as watching how other folks bid to help guide my decisions.

I won the game. Not only did I win, I played a perfect game. Was it luck? No. I did not receive better cards than any one else. In fact, in many cases they were worse. My highest bid the whole game was a 2. In the 14 hands or so we played, I was only dealt 1 Ace and received very few face cards. In many respects you could say I had bad luck.

But Luck, as Collins notes, is a matter of definition. It’s one’s response to luck (good or bad) that makes the difference. Put another way, I humbly accepted my lot and did everything I could to maximize my return in the game. Humility was the key.

Humility can be put another way – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. This is not a strategy to playing cards, it’s a guide to right living. A life focused on God first properly centers us to respond to the world appropriately – with love, compassion, and humility.

Had I approached that game with a might is right, domination strategy fighting to “be the best,” “to win,” “to grab as many points as possible,” I would haveĀ  stumbled over my own ego.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted


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