I recently heard the expression “You have to play the cards you’re dealt,” and it reminded me how true that is––how similar life really is to a game of cards––in multiple ways.

First, you can’t control how many cards there are, or which ones you get. Any attempt to control it (like hiding a card up your sleeve) is cheating. You have to play the cards given to you. Sometimes you get good cards. Sometimes they are lousy.

And, just like in life, evaluating each card alone will not give you an accurate view of what you have. The cards are interdependent: The value of each card is determined by its importance to the whole hand.

And isn’t that like life?  Every new situation has its threats and its opportunities. There are strengths and there are weaknesses. See the totality. Do not overlook the forest by focusing on a single tree.

Now, what happens when you get lousy cards? You fold and wait for the next round, right? That is how life should be taken: Fold and wait for the next round. There’s no use complaining to the dealer (in the case of life, that would be God almighty). It’s not productive to get depressed or angry about the cards you’ve been dealt. They are what they are; if necessary, fold and look forward to the next round. As another expression goes: “Whenever a door closes, a window opens.”

Here is another moral we can learn from cards. If you get bad cards in one round and decide to fold, make sure you don’t also fold your spirit. If you make the mistake of getting all worked up, you might be given a good set of cards in the next round, yet be so distracted by the last round that you miss an opportunity to win.

Remember: Each round is brand-new.

Come to think of it, how many people have difficulty developing a bond with someone new, because they were hurt in a previous relationship? How many people have difficulty starting a new job because the last one was a disaster?

Life presents you with a series of “hands.” Just play the ones you’re dealt, and remember that each round is a new round, with brand-new opportunities to win––as well as new opportunities to fail.  Enjoy the game. Enjoy life, in spite of its ups and downs––or, perhaps, because of them.

Another lesson: Always make sure to look around and ask yourself, “What game are we playing? What is at stake here? What are the rules of this game? What does it mean to win?

Think about the many military people who retire and go to work for a business corporation––neglecting to make a crucial switch in their heads: to realize that now they are playing a different game. Or businessmen who go into politics. It is not the same game. The rules are different, and so are the criteria for “winning.”

Furthermore, you must always know who the players are and how many of them are playing. You cannot play solo, in cards or in life, so it is crucial to identify the players and the stakeholders.

How many times have we lost a “round” because we were dealing with person A at the table, only to find out later that the one who was actually calling the shots was someone else––someone who was not even “at the table.”

Last analogy: Once you identify the players, learn their style. Find out what drives them. Observe their strategy; often that will tell you what cards they have and what they are looking for. After all, they, too, must play the cards they were dealt.

Some people do not like to play cards. That’s okay. You can skip playing card games, but you can not skip playing the cards of life.


Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes