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The Balancing Act

Today I'll be discussing a topic that I've already brought up a number of times over the past couple years. The issue at hand is one of balance: finding a perfect blend of family, work, free time, and poker. Perhaps it's a little odd that I separate my free time and poker into separate entities even though I am simply a recreational poker player. It's quite possible that this is a symptom that helps explain my constant struggle to incorporate all of my different identities - husband, father, employee, friend, poker player, and video game fanatic - into one cohesive package.

As I watch my son crawl around the floor, sticking everything from toys to food to carpet lint into his mouth, I know that he has it pretty good. My son wakes up, eats, plays, and sleeps in almost equal parts each and every day. His concept of self is limited only to what he can taste, feel, hear and see. He doesn't need to worry about spending too much time performing any one activity at the expense of another: he knows when to stop and move on as soon as his internal alarm clock goes off.

My son is able to live in the moment because, for him, life is never ending. Whether or not he manages to squeeze in a few more minutes playing with the big red ball now or later makes no difference since there will always be time later. And honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way. My son deserves to live in that sphere of innocence as long as possible, never having to consider such things as consequence, responsibility, or time. There's no better feeling that watching my son play and have him look up at me and smile: it's a look that says "I'm having fun!", "I love you!", and "I know you're watching over me!" all at once.

As we get older, we go to school. Rather quickly, eating and sleeping become secondary activities that fill in the cracks between school and play time. No longer is life only about having fun. Now there's homework to do, there are friends to play with, and there's time that must be set aside to spend with family.

Once you're done with school, you get a job. Maybe you buy yourself a house and perhaps a new car too. And before you know it, the daily grind has begun. Many aspects of your life that you once had control over have now, inexplicably, come to control you each and every day. Seeing your parents, spending time with friends, maintaining a certain level of hygiene, commuting, eating, and sleeping all struggle to chip away at your once-considerable free time. You start to learn that life is all about balancing those things that are important to you with those things that must be done.

If you're lucky, you manage to handle being an adult quite well. You go to work, pay your bills, and spend enough time visiting family, spending time with a girlfriend/boyfriend, hanging out with friends, and indulging in your hobbies to maintain yourself as a well-adjusted human being. And then, if you're really lucky, you get married.

As a newlywed, things change quite drastically. Instead of spending time with your family, you must now also spend time with your spouse's family. You'll find that you're required to spend time with your spouse's friends as well as your friends. Dinner time becomes a whole "thing", cleaning becomes a necessity, and once all that's been taken care of, you finally get to spend some time with your spouse. So where's the free time? Your identity as a married person has forced you to redefine what matters most in your life and recalibrate your tried-and-true, identity-defining balance of everyday activities.

And then you reach parenthood, assuming that both you and your spouse want children and are lucky enough to have them. It's at this stage that I find myself really struggling with my day-to-day focus on different aspects of my life.

Of greatest importance to me is being a good husband to my wife and a great father to my kids. Without them, nothing else would matter. If my kids were to approach me twenty years down the line and ask me why I was never there for them or why I always seemed pre-occupied with other aspects of my life, I would be crushed knowing that I'd failed as a father.

If my wife were to ever leave me because I'd made work, poker, or video games the highest priorities in my life, I don't know what I'd do. There's an old saying that says: no one lays on their death bed wishing they'd spent more time at the office. Likewise, no amount of success at poker nor an over-abundance of great video games could ever make these things my number one priority in life. But that's not to say that I don't want and need these things in my life.

Unlike other hobbies or activies, poker complicates the equation of balance. In order to play poker well, one must play poker, read about poker, and think about poker quite a bit. Sure, you can take the casual route and simply play from time to time just for "fun". This route is not without its pitfalls though, namely the amount of money that will be lost while playing poker and the constant blows to your self-worth as you realize that you're being outplayed hand after hand.

Since I took up poker again in early July of this year, my wife has carefully monitored my playing. She doesn't look over me because she's worried that I'll neglect her or my kids. She's not even worried that I'll lose money and put us out on the street. What my wife is worried about is that I'll lose too much of my free time to poker. This was a concern that I had before taking up poker again and let her know in the hopes that she might keep an eye on me.

My wife knows that I enjoy playing video games, watching movies, and having a few drinks with friends time to time. If I've spent night after night at the tables, my wife will ask me if I'd like to go out for night with friends. Or she'll ask me about something she heard me say about a video game that I'd been playing a couple weeks ago. Or she'll ask me if there are any movies that I'd like to see.

Without my wife, who knows where poker might take me. An even scarier thought is wondering what would happen to me if I threw my balanced life equation out the window and let poker suck me in completely. Would I still be me? Would my wife still love me? How would my kids look at me? What would they think of me? How would things work out for my family? How would my kids turn out?

Many say that life as a professional poker player is tough.

I say that life as an amateur poker player isn't quite that simple either...

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