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when to hold 'em when to fold 'em

Posted Jan 21 2013 9:59pm

I'm going to totally date myself with that title and how I even know that phrase...

And now I'll not only look old but silly also, because I while I know it's from a song I forget if that song is by Willie Nelson or Kenny Rogers... but it's by one of those guys... I can see all you youngsters out there rolling your eyes and thinking "who the heck are those singers anyway??" 


Have you considered how important it is to know when to hold em and when to fold em? It's crucial. If we confuse these we can wear ourselves out, become very frustrated, and even hopeless sometimes.

I saw an example of this recently. An 84 year old friend of mine became very ill a couple months ago with cancer. She went downhill quickly and by the holidays she had only a few weeks to live. She was a person, like many people, who wasn't at all ready to be done with her life. The illness had taken her completely by surprise and she was deeply angry at it and at her circumstances. She vowed to fight the illness with all she had. She was going to hold 'em no matter what.

Fighting to live can be a really, really good plan. In her case, though, fighting wasn't going to get her better, it wasn't going to change the illness. She absolutely would not accept this, and continually maintained that she could win the battle.

It was so sad to see her spend her precious time left with the people she cared about fighting and fighting, instead of using that time to say anything she needed to and wanted to, and to get to soak up the little time she had left with those people. In addition to this, she exhausted herself- increasing her pain level and depleting her energy reserves.

But she was 100% convinced she should "hold 'em"

I disagreed on that one. I believed that in her situation she should "fold 'em" (and don't misunderstand me here- I am a huge fan of fighting to survive- when it's at all useful to us). But I don't get to choose...

Here's an example of a time when it was really important to hold 'em and to not fold- and this is minor of course compared to my friend losing her life. But it's an example that just came to mind, so I'll tell you.

When I was taking one of my psychology board exams I had moments of "almost about to fold em."

It was a 4 hour exam that covered anything and everything (yeah, anything- and that's like 12 different whole disciplines of psychology and they can ask you anything they want to from any of the different 12 or so fields- and they can ask you for as many details as they want... it's not pretty! It's the kind of test you study for for a year or so- and I like tests and I especially like studying, so it says something that I was darn unhappy about this one!).

There were 4 times during that exam that I started to cry out of frustration and exhaustion and stress/anxiety (oh, and I also forgot my reading glasses, so even seeing the questions clearly was a real challege- this didn't help the situation AT aLL!). And there were 2 times that I began to get up, pack my things, and get the heck out of there. I came ridiculously close to folding em. I SO wanted to. 

But this was a time where folding em wouldn't have been a good thing at all. If I wanted to be a psychologist I had to pass this exam- there was another exam coming after that one, and you're not allowed to sit for it unless you've passed this first one. And you're not going to get a license unless you've passed both of the them. So... (oh, and you can only take the first one a few times in total, and it's also only offered like once every 6 months or a year or something...)

I gathered all my resolve, told myself that although I was certain I had failed, I wasn't going to quit, that I was going to see it through. And I did. This was a time that there was a possible good outcome- and I wasn't getting hurt in the exam, I was just super frustrated, grumpy, resentful, tired... So quitting wasn't the right option.

I found out about a month later that I had indeed passed- which totally surprised me given how I'd felt during and after the exam. Wouldn't it have been a terrible idea to have quit? I would have for sure failed then. And my confidence would have taken a horrible pounding. And it would have been very hard to get myself to sit for the exam ever again.

There are millions of examples of when to hold em and when to fold em. I'm sure you guys have examples yourselves. I'd love to hear any of them and about your process of deciding if the situation goes into the hold em or fold em category, and why.

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