J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Gambling With Your Time

Hold ’em or fold ’em.

An analogy: each hour of your life is a casino chip. You can cash in (relax and enjoy life) or place bets (expend effort and willpower in an attempt to get more rewards).

What are the rewards? Whatever you value. Health, wealth, love, admiration, respect, fame. Or, if you’re Conan: crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women.

Odds aren’t the same in every casino. In some casinos, no matter how you place your bets, you’ll lose. Some casinos even cheat. But if you’re fortunate enough to live in a country with low rates of corruption and a thriving economy, the odds are probably decent. If you make good bets (expending effort in reasonably smart ways), you’ll get rewards.

But even good casinos favor some patrons over others. Certain combinations of gender, ethnicity, age, physical attractiveness, sexual orientation, etc. may convey better or worse odds.

So how do you bet? What’s the best betting strategy? How do you get the most chips?

Even Odds Bets

Some bets are pretty safe. You’ll likely get about the same number of chips back as you bet. Working at a job that covers your living expenses, for example. But you won’t get rich (in terms of money, or any measure) placing only even odds bets.

Most casinos pay just under even odds for bets like these. Think 0 and 00 on the roulette wheel–the house wins. Over time you might run out of chips if you only place this kind of bet.

Good Odds Bets

Some bets consistently pay good odds. You’re not guaranteed to win every bet, but over time you’ll do well betting on things like personal health, long-term friendships, learning new skills, starting a business in a high-demand field, and simply being a good person. These things require effort, and the payoff isn’t always immediate, but if you consistently place this kind of bet, in the long-term you’ll end up with plenty of chips. Even if you make a bunch of mistakes and occasionally make terrible bets.

Some jobs pay good odds too, if your salary exceeds your expenses and you save and invest the difference.

Sucker Bets

I’ve written about career sucker bets before. If you don’t get much back from the time and effort you invest, it might be a sucker bet. All kinds of rewards can make the time and effort worth it: money, or equity, or new skills, or the satisfaction of helping people in need, even having rich experiences and good stories to tell. If you don’t receive at least a few of these from your efforts, maybe it’s time to consider a new line of work.

It’s possible that investing so much time trying to be a published fiction writer is a sucker bet. Maybe I’m the fool. But I like to think I’m making a long-term bet (see below).

Long-Shot Bets

Some small bets can pay off big. Doing a favor for someone you barely know. Advising or consulting for a small stake in a startup. Giving someone a sincere compliment or words of encouragement when they most need it. You give a little bit of your time and effort, and probably nothing comes of it. But sometimes, that tiny effort has a huge payoff.

Our first digital music distributor asked us if we wanted to part of a pilot program for a newish company called YouTube. Site users would be able to sync selected tracks from our catalog at no upfront cost. YouTube wasn’t paying any upfront licensing fees, but there was some potential for earning a small royalty percentage of advertising revenue.

Participation in that pilot program grossed close to $100K over ten years. We weren’t expecting anything. Lucky long shot!

Long-Term Bets

Some bets require years of buying in before anything is paid out. Sometimes the odds are pretty clear from the beginning (studying for years to become a doctor, for example). Sometimes the odds look good, but get worse as time passes (studying to become a lawyer, for example). Sometimes the odds can only be roughly guessed at (starting a blog, or a company, or practicing to become a professional musician or novelist).

One thing all long-term bets have in common is that if you quit too early, you won’t get anything back.

With long-term bets, the investment over time is great. And part of the payoff is getting to do more of the same thing (if you succeed at sportsball, you get to play a whole lot more sportsball). So make sure you have a great love of something before you place a long-term bet. Or get out early, if you realize it’s not for you.

The Winning Strategy

There are all kinds of winning combinations. To me it makes sense to place a lot of good odds bets, quite a few long-shot bets, and one or two carefully-considered long-term bets. And to avoid even odds and sucker bets as much as possible.

What are you betting on?



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  1. Robert

    Awesome post! And a unique perspective on risk. Thanks JD!

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