I have never been a big gambler, although I do remember my first trip to Reno as a high school senior. At seventeen years old, I was six feet tall, two hundred twenty pounds and looked much older than I was. My father, for reasons I still haven’t figured out, gave me some of his winnings and turned me loose to gamble. Those first few hours, I was struck with an unbelievable run of beginners luck. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had chips all over the craps table and kept winning with the longest odds. At one point, I had over a thousand dollars in front of me, and thought I had found my new occupation; professional gambler. I was wrong.
Somewhere around three in the morning, I had lost most of the money, but still had a few hundred to take home. My next trip to Tahoe a few years later, when I was twenty-one, I lost all my money in the first twenty minutes at the casino. I had to spend the rest of the day walking around South Shore with just the lint in my pockets. It was great lesson for me to learn. The odds are always with the house.
Casinos are built not on luck, strategy, or skill, but on built simple mathematics. The odds are always with the house, even with the “best” games, your disadvantage is just a little smaller. People continue to gamble, even when they know the odds are against them, because they do have some chance of winning. However, the longer you play; the odds will always catch up to you.
What about a bet where the odds are 100 percent against you. Would you still make that bet? If you were certain to lose, would you go “all in” and bet everything you have?
With that end in mind, I would like to ask a question. I believe it is one of the most important questions you can ever answer. How will I spend my life?
I’m not talking about a career or a profession, I am talking about how you will spend the minutes, hours, days and years that will make up your life. What will you spend them on?
As human beings, we have a one hundred percent fatality rate. We are all going to die. There is no way out of this wager, we cannot elect not to play, we are in this game from the day we draw our first breath. Our bodies will all return to the earth in one way or another. All the possessions we have acquired over the years will be passed down, sold, or simply thrown away. Every physical thing we hold as important, or essential, will become meaningless to us. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “I've never seen a hearse heading to the cemetery followed by a U-Haul trailer.”
This is the wager we are making, every day when we wake up. We seem to be betting that all the stuff we have, all the money we saved, and all the good times we chase after will mean something to us when we come to the end of our lives. This is a suckers bet.
Having had the privilege to officiate the funerals of a few friends, I can tell you from experience, what matters most is what you do for others. With your family, your friends, your community, or your world; do you make a difference? Do you spend all your time, talents, efforts, finances and attention on yourself, or do you leave any room for others?
I know people who spend their entire lives with the goal of an early and comfortable retirement. They work hard to build that 401k so they can one day relax and “enjoy life.” Their focus is spending as much time as they can, doing whatever they want to do. Golfing, traveling, a beach house, collecting classic cars, gardening, or just watching the sunset each evening. This is how you are going to spend your life? What a waste.
As I said up front, I’m not much of a gambler, but If you want to make a wager, how about this. When you are lying in a hospital bed someday, and the doctor is giving you the bad news, I’ll bet the BMW in the garage, or the size of your house will not matter to you at all. What will matter is the peace that will come from knowing you did right by people, that your life had purpose. That you made a positive difference with the people around you, and especially with those you never met.
Sure, you can leave your fortune to charity, or have a lecture hall named after you at your alma mater, but it isn't the same as being actively engaged in making someone's life better right now. Religious or atheist, whether you believe in an eternal life or not, what you do on this planet matters. There are an unlimited number of organizations that would love to have some of your time, talent, and yes, financial support. There is also the neighbor down the street who is going through a tough time, the young person who needs a positive role model or mentor to help them, or a child living in desperate poverty whose life you could change forever with the money you spend at Starbucks each month.
Find a way to contribute to others. Find a way to spend some of those those precious days in a way that lifts others up. This is not about guilt. This is about making the most of your life by helping others. This is about living your life to its fullest.