Getting Outside My Head

today I won’t get stuck thinking

This entrepreneurship effort has a much different quality than I’d expected. It’s a lot easier in certain ways than I’d guessed and a lot harder than I estimated in others. To be fair, I kept his range quite wide. He being the challenge I’m undertaking. That’s the first poker metaphor I’ve used on Medium. That’s worth celebrating, or maybe it just signals I haven’t talked about business strategy here, since almost everything I ever say about business can be better said with a Poker Analogy.

So, let’s just go down that road. It’s kind of like I raised a standard raise, maybe a little smaller, preflop, and he flatted me, entrepreneurship, from the cutoff. So I’m wary. He has a way of calling when in position that always makes me remember how viscerally I hate playing weak hands like this one out of position.

Flop came:

The Jack of Spades is slightly taller than the others, as all jack or better cards are in my home games

And I’m holding

Which is luckily a good hand heads up with this flop but unluckily it’s a GREAT hand to lose a whole stack with playing against this kind of entity in this position with precisely the type of behavior he exhibited. I’m going to take him off AJ and mostly off AQ but his range is wide open.

I overbet the pot, maybe 2x pot. The idea being to get away from the hand for that price, I’m telling myself, if he comes over the top hard. And then he does come over the top hard, and I’m thinking, what the fuck John? Didn’t you do the math? You’re committed. This is a cash game not a tournament. You could have bet 3/4 pot (well, then the mother fucker would have flatted me again, wouldn’t he have? And the turn has about a 50% chance of terrifying me…jesus, I’m thinking, how long has it been since I played a healthy dose of poker for an extended period of time? I’m so rusty).

We two, he and I, we are speaking pretty clearly to one another at this point and his words say “I know you’re strong, and I know that given position I have the edge on you psychologically. I might even have it mathematically, but probably not, but both you and I know that doesn’t matter much right now.”

I’m a little better than a 50% favorite here against the killer draw of QK suited, which is a hand that would cause that kind of behavior in a good and sober player at a low-stakes cash table. Better still, he could have a set of 5s. Hands that I would love him to be on:

55, 10J

likely hands I would be happy to see him on

QK, AK unsuited

likely hands I’m going to be bummed to see him on

QK suited, AK suited, 89 suited

Ruling out weaker hands like JA, QA suited for pre-flop behavior.

Ruling out


but wait, can I really rule JJ out? How many times have I played against this guy? One time. This is it. Fucking one time. That’s the hard part about it all.

It’s always the first time with entrepreneurship.

In a poker game my read on the Situation would be “oh I’ve made an error; I can’t play big hands this way cuz I’ve only played against this opponent this one time. Let’s go play some opponents I know better.

But it’s always that first time with entrepreneurial efforts.

Thats the reality of risk.

Back to the metaphor. @

That sinking feeling when I realize that just because I think he’s a good player doesn’t mean he’s good in the standard way. I don’t know what his bankroll is. I don’t know what $200 means to this guy. I don’t know what the monster stack he’s accumulated means. It could mean anything. It could mean he plays alternately tight and loose and that he mixes it up all the time. I read some articles online about him and it seems he does in fact mix it up, it seems he does use my own weaknesses against me. My weakness: well, I suck at poker and follow rules when I play, the biggest and most profitable rule being not to play against players who are better than me. I get worried about looking like a weak player. I get worried about being seen making genuine mistakes. I get worried about being misunderstood, though, displaying a mental skill set one notch above the new-intermediate player, I do hold my tongue and I do muck my cards whenever possible and I do never lean to the player next to me to mumble shit.

I’m thinking though, that I want to narrow his range. I’m thinking that he would have re-raised with 55 preflop from late. He’s got this massive stack and wants to win my entire stack and he’s been watching me and he has to know I’m sitting on AK or 10s or better raising a small amount preflop from early like this. He knows what I have and he wants my entire stack to add to his massive fucking pile, and he would have re-raised his baby pair to set me up for precisely this kind of situation, knowing if I hit I’ll probably overbet early, and if I don’t hit I’ll probably overbet early…

But am I justified in narrowing his range? Probably not. I just don’t know the guy. I shove all in and he calls, and he flips over…

And I’m simultaneously relieved that he’s a rational, predictable player—that it’s not JJ, which would suck, that it’s not QQ, which would be awesome, that my estimation of the meaning of his preflop behavior is accurate—and frustrated that I’ve let myself get so quickly in this hand to a place where I’m flipping coins. I could have done that differently. I could have figured out what he had for cheaper. I could have taken a more lean approach here, you might say.

That’s always been my challenge in life and poker. Getting the information for cheaper. My feeler bets tend to be loud and offensive. They tend to raise my own heart rate. I can never quite escape my own physiology.

But this opponent is both more difficult to beat and reassuringly more rational than I had hoped/feared. Maybe I’m in against him right now in poor position and with a barely winning hand. But he’s a regular and I can take all his chips. If not this hand, next time.

Is the sentiment

But then it’s a different opponent every fucking time.


— — — —

So basically here’s what’s actually harder: It’s harder because I suck so much at doing things, and in entrepreneurship I’m realizing I have to do a lot of things. I’m a better CEO than I am a founder. And that’s because the CEO has a board of directors. That’s what I want. A boss, a team, a society to fix.

It’s harder because I’m grappling with the thing that gets me the most in life: shame. Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception captures it pretty well. I should reread that thing for the third time. The lines of the poem The Fall of Icarus return to my mind again and again as well: The Old Masters, they were never wrong, it begins. Or similar. The context is different; the poet is illuminating the isolation and individuality of suffering. The farmer who continues to plow, the boat that sails on, as the winged boy disappears into the waves.

The Old Masters were never wrong — this is what gets under my skin in a real way and makes me so afraid of shame. I am wired like a cult survivor. It’s not fair to call my upbringing a cult experience; the hallmarks of cult-leaving aren’t there in my story of leaving Mormonism. But I think I have the head of a cult adherent and the head of a cult survivor, and the dreams of a cult creator. In spite of my family’s real acceptance of individual choice, in spite of how much I like my still-mormon parents and still-mormon siblings (family of 10 splits, I would say, approximately 50/50 as regards the question of “Mormon still or no?”), separate from all of it, I have the brain of a cult follower. This, I think, has to do with the bottleneck of personality that the Mormon church’s early days forced. If you were not a person who felt rootless even where you had roots, if you were not a person who got a kick out of surrendering your personal ideology and committing to another’s, you would not have become Mormon and charged across the wilderness to create heaven on earth.

I think of early mormonism as really being about bringing heaven to the american continent, about building a landing platform for God in the Desert. And my ancestry comes from that conversion group, like the first Mayor of Salt Lake City, who was my 3rd great grandfather and who I wrote about in an essay called “A Monstrous Wake” in college:

With every clod of dirt the wagon’s wheels must have creaked. With every clump of sage the makeshift casket must have bumped and jostled in the wooden bed.
The young driver’s nose hooked left from a childhood break. His cheekbones flared. I imagine his tanned skin held streaks of dirt; the sweat would’ve dried by then — September evenings cool quickly in Utah. He’d traveled two days and nights, riding ahead of the families he’d captained three months westward from the town they’d named Far West. His eyes, inflamed most his life, must have ached watching the desert sun dipping into the Great Salt Lake. I imagine one of his arms shielding the reddening light, his other hand clutching reigns.
He was thirty-one, and his name was Jedediah Grant. I dare to guess Jeddy was a man who would’ve imagined, when charged by Brigham Young to lead a fourth of the Mormons through the plains, a triumphant arrival in the valley of God’s new kingdom-to-be. He’d have anticipated this day. But now it was here, and he arrived in the valley alone. Far worse than alone — he arrived with his twenty-nine-year-old wife in a box. He drove to the settlement built months earlier by Young’s leading company, and slept.
In the morning, September 30, 1847, he buried her; a day later he rode toward the still-approaching company he’d formerly led. He rode past them as they drove toward the valley, rode days on, back to the shallow grave in which he’d left his infant girl. He’d promised to retrieve her body from the dirt — he’d promised to bring her to her mother.

… and from a later section …

I think of the bottleneck of fierce personality forced by the seventeenth-century voyage to the New World — one taken by Jeddy’s third great grandfather. Imagine the second bottleneck imposed at the birth of this radical land-conquering religion, Joseph Smith’s Mormonism, with its call to cultivate Zion in the wilderness — to build God’s Kingdom in the desert. Here was a sort of religious selection for souls craving transcendence, selection against those unmotivated to conquer land. The religion was a siren song to the transcendent minded, their migration into the desert a refining fire.

… …

Jeddy had been Mormon two years when, at nineteen, he went east to argue with the swell of ministers of the Second Great Awakening. After a stint with a companion, he traveled to New York alone. He’d be gone, “at least in spirit,” writes a biographer, “for the next ten years.”
The young man’s journals report victory in debate — unsurprisingly. What I find surprising is the extent to which he enjoyed argument above all else — he boasts of no great number of baptisms. Was he driven most of all by confrontation? He once shouted from the pulpit, “If all hell boils over, let it boil. … I like to grapple with the opposite.”
“Jed Grant became an institution,” writes Gene Sessions in Grant’s biography Mormon Thunder — published by the University of Illinois Press. “The lanky Mormon circuit rider would be remembered in the region for decades,” and “in the legend that followed, no one could stop the dauntless preacher. To engage him was to court humiliation.”
Joseph Smith wrote that if anyone gave young Jeddy or a partner trouble for holding meager office in the Priesthood, “Let them knock the man’s teeth down his throat — I mean spiritually.” Smith seemed to have a sense of the wildness in the boy; at one departure he prophesied: “You shall make a monstrous wake as you go.” There would be waves — the prophet seemed to know — in all directions.
But Jeddy’s decade of missionary work kept him far from the developing religion he was preaching. He rarely visited the new Mormon cities — though he billed each as Zion, the New Jerusalem, and sent converts their way. Sessions notes the reality he faced in visits didn’t square with the ideal he was shouting in the raucous eastern battlegrounds. Perhaps that’s what kept him on the road, grappling with his opposites: He was fueled by the idea of Zion — the perfect order in it — and kept himself one safe remove from the chaotic reality of the struggling Mormon settlements.

These are the cultish ideals that live in my own head. Everything I wrote is really just my own patterns lying over the top of some fragments of history about a guy who probably had nothing in common with me beyond getting sore eyes when we drink Mountain Dew. But it is a nice illumination for me: I am more about the idea of the thing than the thing. And this is the ultimate weakness for me in entrepreneurship. I just suck at doing things.

Anyway, I got some things to do today.

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