Getting Out of Poker
I spoke with a fair amount of people over the course of two weeks in Las Vegas at the 2012 World Series of Poker who expressed an interest in exiting the poker world in one way or another.
There generally isn't a huge sense of urgency conveyed by people interested in deriving a living from something other than playing poker. It was more like a general interest in eventually doing something with their lives to make money from something other than playing poker.
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The impression I got from several people who currently make a living playing poker is that they're not crazy about the long-term prospects of the existence. It's not easy making good money playing poker and your earning potential generally only goes down over time.
It is certainly still possible to make a great living playing poker, it just takes a lot of hard work. Only a fairly small handful of players in the world have the complete set of skills and dedication required that enable them to expect to make six-figures annually from poker indefinitely.
I think as a lot of successful poker pros are getting older, they're starting to compare themselves to peers they went to school with who are starting to get ahead in their careers. For some people whose poker careers aren't going quite as well as they had hoped (this is a common problem), the idea of transitioning to a "real" career looks more appealing with each passing year.
Like many players, I was motivated to take poker seriously since at a certain point in my life it seemed like the only realistic path towards acquiring a ton of wealth as a young adult. However, making piles of money from poker has become a less realistic possibility as players have gotten tougher and tougher. A struggling economy where there isn't a ton of recreational-player money pouring in every year makes the poker pipe dream even harder.
Here are a few thoughts about transitioning out of the poker world that might be of some benefit to players currently making a majority of their income from the game:
Consider a Hybrid Income Approach
I spoke with one poker pro during the WSOP who attracted investors to back him for buying and renovating houses in order to rent them out. His first project was so profitable he was able to pay back his investor and have enough capital leftover to start buying houses on his own. He's running this operation while continuing to play poker semi-professionally 30-40 hours per week.
There are a lot of ways to make money and not all of them require full-time dedication. Brainstorm even if just for the sake of exercising your idea muscles some ways you could make money on the side while continuing your poker career.
Examine Furthering Your Education
Depending on your specific goals and situation, going back to school to acquire some type of a degree could be a smart move. If you take this route, try to have a specific plan. There should be a clear and definitive purpose behind your desire to go back to school. Think about it like a poker player and factor your expected return on investment from the cost and time invested in the education. There's a pretty big higher-education bubble right now so getting a degree from a poorly-ranked school because you assume it will enable you to get higher-paying jobs could be an errant assumption.
Realize It's a Slow Process
Unless you have been freakishly successful at poker, chances are you won't be able to snap your fingers and immediately transition into your dream job. Tom Dwan could probably get a job on Wall Street within a minute if he wanted one. But for pros of moderate success, it will take time and hard work to transition out of poker into something else you can be happy with. It's important to maintain an awareness that it will be a slow, potentially years-long process. This will help keep your outlook realistic so you can avoid becoming discouraged.
Have goals. Try to get something accomplished each week that advances your agenda of eventually being able to make money outside of poker. It could be building a resume, studying for a standardized test to get into school, arranging a lunch meeting with someone who you think you could learn from, etc. If you take baby steps on a regular basis eventually you've moved pretty far.
Know You Can Always Play Poker
Just because you transition out of the poker world doesn't mean you can't come back. One successful player I know left the game and spent two years working in the finance industry. He hasn't valued the experience as much as he hoped he would and is now working on getting back into the full-time poker grind.
The point is, you can always play poker even if just for fun. There's nothing wrong with deciding to take it less seriously as a viable career option.
Build a Resume
If you've been playing poker full-time for a while, you probably have gaps in work experience on your resume. Or you might not even have a resume altogether. If your resume is less than thrilling overall, that's fine, but you should start thinking about ways to beef it up.
Doing some volunteering work on the side or working part-time (even for free if you have to) could be a valuable learning experience or help you get your foot in the door into a career that interests you. At the very least, it gives you something to put on your resume.
Sell Your Skills from Poker
Poker players might take all of their skills required to excel in the game for granted. But a lot of the tools you sharpen in poker are highly applicable in the job world. Sell yourself to potential employers by focusing on the risk management, decision-making, self-directed aspects of being a poker player. Your time as a poker player has not been time wasted. Make sure to help potential employers realize this.
Network and Keep Eyes Open for Opportunities
You are not just a poker player. Don't self-identify with your current career path too much. If you're smart enough to win money playing poker, you're probably smart enough to succeed at a lot of other things. Keep an open mind about possible future careers. Value relationships with successful non-poker people. A lot of players make the mistake of viewing the fish at their table as worthless. That fish is probably a shark about something else though. Just because they never fold top pair doesn't mean that there's not a lot you could learn from that person.
Mike McDonald gave free coaching to one of the Big One for One Drop participants because he valued the opportunity to network with a successful investor. Who knows when that could come back to pay big dividends? It's exactly an attitude like this that could help poker players have doors open for opportunities in other sectors.
Just Do Something
The biggest key to transitioning out of poker is to make sure you're at least doing something. Even something simple like reading a book about real estate investing or some other potential money-making interest can be a valuable learning experience. Don't be lazy despite the poker player lifestyle affording you the chance to be. There might come a day where you'll want to make money doing something else.