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Play the Hand You’re Dealt: How to Improve Your Strengths

If you want to be world-class and leverage your gifts, you have to make some internal shifts and home in on your strengths.

When I started playing poker, I quickly realized I had a fairly natural aptitude for the game. I was in tune with the rhythm of the table and could naturally ride emotional swings. I understood other players’ habits and patterns. And I often won.

So why did I veer away from professional play? Sure, I was skilled at poker, but tournaments were not my thing, and they are a big part of playing professionally. I would get fed up, frustrated, or bored at them. Plus, I took losses pretty hard. So while I could appreciate the importance of patience and remaining impartial about losses, I knew that would never be my strong suit.

I found that if I wanted true job satisfaction, I needed to hone the strengths that helped me rise through the poker ranks and leverage them to find success rather than focus on my weak spots.

Being a Jack-of-All-Trades Leads to Mediocrity

As humans, we exemplify the evolutionary concept of neoteny. Put simply, neoteny is the desire to learn throughout our lives. Those who keep gaining expertise tend to be happier than others in the workplace. But here is the snag: If you want to achieve, you have to identify where your talents lie and achieve primarily in those areas.

Case in point: My poker talents lie in my ability to evaluate the mathematics and statistics of the game, not in being locked in endless tournaments. As soon as I acknowledged and distinguished the characteristics that made me successful up to a certain point in poker, I was able to pivot and carry those abilities into a different job path.

Those who want to be world-class and leverage their gifts need to make a few basic internal shifts and curb their desire to be a know-it-all. Here are some tips on getting there:

1. Be honest with yourself.

Most adults know on some level what they are strong at doing. Be honest with yourself about what you bring to the table. Otherwise, you will spin your wheels attempting to master the wrong (or too many) skills.

When I was a kid, I discovered that I was never going to be a basketball star. I played in a league and practiced like crazy, but it was clear that Nike would never knock on my door. Was I decent? Yes. Exceptional? No. Coming to that realization took pressure off of me to pursue an unattainable dream. It also allowed me to focus my attention on other areas.

I am not saying you should avoid improving your weak spots. But why waste time shoving a square peg into a round hole?

2. Understand what you need to know to be successful in your lane.

When I investigated the habits of other professional poker players, I noticed that the most successful ones were playing insanely aggressive hands. Upon closer inspection, I saw that their wins did not come from being aggressive alone. They were using precise, controlled aggression in the right spots against the right players.

This lesson stuck with me. Had I not dug deeper and thought about all those casino players who were also aggressive — and often lost big — I might have followed the wrong path, assuming aggression was the key.

Many people fail to see the truth below the surface. Look at both the masters in your field and those who have failed. If you can figure out the nuances of what drove the success of the winners, you can emulate their approaches and hopefully avoid failure.

3. Develop success-launching behaviors.

You know your strengths. You know the tendencies of successful people. Put those traits together to devise a game plan to sharpen your innate talents. Just try not to do everything at once. Mastering five or six different skills simultaneously is impossible. Mastering one or two is more attainable and less stressful.

Not sure where to begin? Start with learning the basics of your business. In poker, you need to know the odds of hitting a hand based on the hands available and the cards that are dealt. If you do not understand that critical, foundational game theory, you can never excel.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, practice your skills in various situations to validate your findings. Over time, your confidence will soar. Then, you can move on to more complicated aspects of becoming an expert in your field.

Many people were surprised when I left professional poker. Nevertheless, it was the right move for me. I would never be the best tournament player, despite my experience. By doubling down on my strengths, I played the hand I was given — and am much richer because of it.

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