“You care too much,” they tell me. My coworkers said it when I scrubbed the floors of the coffee shop that they would swiftly wave a mop over (without sweeping first). They said it when I polished the spots off the glassware that other bartenders would have filled with drinks. They say it when I tell them I never pretend to be sick in order to get out of a day at work. They even said it when I protested an illegal tip-splitting policy they chose to tolerate. They say it to help me have realistic expectations about the odds that my efforts will be rewarded proportionately. It reminds me of the way most poker players use the mathematical odds to guide their game play in order to ensure their success in the long run. Personally, I think odds are quite odd and you can choose whether they guide you or define you both in poker and in real life. I think people cling to the mathematically correct way to play a poker hand for the same reason they “don’t care” about the “little things” in life the way I do: they are afraid to be different. Unfortunately, not objecting to bad behavior or (worse) joining in because “everyone” else is doing it are two surefire ways to ensure that bad behavior becomes more prevalent.
Poker pro Phil Helmuth is one good example. I haven’t been a huge fan of his over the years but I recently realized that I likely have more in common with him than many of the players I once wished to be like. He’s been known as The Poker Brat for as long as I can remember because he is sometimes extremely emotional at the table. He shouts, enthusiastically crediting “white magic” and “apex predator shit” when he wins… and rants, loudly sharing his dismay when he loses. He once said that, “if everyone played correctly, [he] would win every time.” His antics and rants have always made me laugh, but I wasn’t a huge fan because I didn’t want to encourage the behavior. Technically speaking, it is against the rules. However, because he is an accomplished poker player and many people find him extremely entertaining, no one has asked him to tone it down… until now. Recently, he dropped 40 f-bombs in 4 hands while on camera at the final table of WSOP Event #19, the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship. The public – the same people who had long encouraged his behavior – lashed out and told him he’d gone too far.
While apologizing for the fact he had disappointed his friends and fans and embarrassed his family, Phil said, “I probably care too much.” He’s never been shy about admitting that he wants to be known as the best – that winning matters – but hearing him say those words made me feel it’s about more than that. Helmuth has more WSOP bracelets than any other player (16) and recently won a series of head’s up matches on Poker Go to show he’s not just a good tournament player… but many still harshly critique his game strategy (or lack thereof). His poker moves often don’t match what a solver would say he should do in that situation. They are mathematically incorrect. Sometimes they make sense to players who cling to game theory; sometimes they don’t. I believe that is what bothers him more than anything else. Being different from your peers is not easy. I think he knows that having moves no one else understands is what makes him great and winning is the only way he knows to prove it; that his antics have been amplified over the years because his entertainment value is what many liked most about him; that the public encouraged him to be the way he is and has no right to be upset he became that guy.
My personal tendency to swear a bit too much at inappropriate times was brought to my attention the day my cousins told me their dad said they weren’t allowed to swear at Thanksgiving dinner, “until Rachel says fuck.” I knew I had a potty mouth, but I didn’t realize I had shown it off in front of my family to that degree. It was then that I realized how often curse words fly out of my mouth without my full comprehension because I care deeply about the subject being discussed or have been injured. I use them to emphasize my opinion; to release negative emotions. I am a patient person always trying to spread positive vibes who sometimes sounds like a raging, whiny curse-a-holic. Why? Because I care. My heart is always on… and I dare say people like me because of it – that’s the reason they warn me not to care “too much”. They care that I care and don’t want to see me hurt by those that don’t care. What I don’t understand is why they refuse to believe in the power of caring. If the fact that others don’t care is reasonable justification for choosing not to care, what antidote is there besides caring?
The poker world is proof of how harsh the real world would be if no one cared about anyone else. You must exploit others’ weaknesses to succeed. It is the closest I’ve come to fighting a war. There are times when I’ve wondered why I love it so much; why I think it’s my destiny to play such a cold, uncaring game. Perhaps I was drawn to poker because it gives me a chance to fight back against all those who have hurt me – everyone who didn’t care when I thought they should. Maybe I want a windfall of money to make up for the hardships I’ve endured and enable me to give generously to the causes I think deserve it most. Then again, it is possible I want to prove that while caring when others don’t can be emotionally painful, it doesn’t impede you from succeeding in the long run. In fact, it makes you stronger.
I know my continued desire to be a full-time artist, writer, and poker player despite years of not achieving noteworthy success doesn’t make sense to most people and I don’t give a fuck. The thing I care about most is whether or not I am living the life I was meant to live; being the me I was meant to be. So, in my daily life, when needed to spread good in the world, I will continue to allow you to exploit my caring nature and have faith that it will pay off for me in the long run. I will take comfort from the fact that I am doing my best not to behave selfishly and give others reasons for doing the same. I will swear when I want to, cry when I need to, and continue trying to show you the value of following your heart. I am determined to be the change I want to see in the world, whether or not you care or think I should. Life is tough no matter what way you play the game and I fucking care how I play it.