I recently had a drink with an old friend I hadn’t seen for years. He told me that he’d quit his job of twenty years to become a professional gambler. I have always admired people who make major changes in their lives, but a move from government employee to poker player (and from a home in Wisconsin to life on the road) was a hard one for me to get a handle on.

My friend is an intelligent man. He’s also analytical. I knew his big decision had not been made lightly. I actually thought gambling was, for him, less crazy than quitting his job to play the stock market full time. My friend was betting on himself and not on the whims of the world economy. I bombarded him with questions about his new line of work and learned that, as a young man, he’d been pressured into a profession he never wanted. His entire adult life had been someone else’s plan. He realized he was most happy playing small stakes poker during his free time, and he was good at it. As soon as his kids had grown and as soon as he’d worked long enough to receive a small pension from his former employer, he started on this unusual second career. He felt compelled to give it a try, and it seems to be working. 

The one question I did not ask my friend, although I wish I had, was his measure for success. He did say that he makes more money now than he did when he held a regular job, but I sensed it was something other than money that was driving him.

All of the time my friend was talking, I compared his big change to my own cautious existence. I retired early so that I could write full-time, but nothing about that decision would ever be described as daring. I now have to watch my family’s budget a little more carefully than I did when I was working, but if my biggest sacrifice is brewing coffee at home instead of hanging out in coffee shops, the risk factor is pretty much zero. 

Maybe I am fooling myself, but I don’t think my friend considers his decision to gamble any riskier than I do my decision to write. In both cases, the numbing sense of routine started to exceed the fear of change. He loves to gamble, and I love to write. He’s a better than average gambler, I am a better than average writer. Our motivations are similar, our skill levels comparable. Our passions just differ.

Had I decided to write full-time in my 20s or early 30s, it wouldn’t have been a risk. During those years, I had few material possessions and no obligations. Back then, however, I had only an inkling of what I wanted to do with my life. Those years were followed by two and a half decades when I knew I wanted to write, but I was enjoying my career as a university professor. Additionally, I had family who depended on me. My commitment to them, along with an attachment to a middle class lifestyle, relied on a regular paycheck (or at least I thought it did). Now, with age 70 only months away, my aversion to risk has not changed. My situation has, and I have a second window of opportunity. I would have been a more dynamic writer forty-five years ago, but I cannot imagine a more satisfying retirement.  

Steven Simpson