Cards, Kwanzaa, and Life Lessons

Habari gani!?

Inspired by the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa, I felt it timely to write this post. It captures of the best of what my people have taught me, and how I want to teach others.

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Every year during Thanksgiving, the Wilson’s (my mother’s side of the family) come together for fun, fellowship, and a sometimes unhealthy competition that ends in a lot of smack talking. What’s a family reunion without some smack talking? There is a bowling tournament and a Bid Whist tournament. Many of you may be wondering…what the heck is that? Well I’ll let Wikipedia explain it formally: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bid_whist.

In short, it’s Spades (or Hearts) on steroids. I find it to be a game played by older southern Black folk (in my experience). These are the kind of people who raised me. I would sit at the feet of these veterans of the game, people with names like Milton, Kenny, Gerri, Timmy, Cheryl, Ronnie and of course our patriarch, Otis. These men and women taught me so much about life, and shaped me to be the man I am today. As I wrapped up this last Thanksgiving Reunion in Destin, FL, I got to thinking about the many life lessons embedded in the game of Bid Whist! So here is what I came up with. I think you should all learn how to play Bid Whist, and thereby become a better person 🙂

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1. Lead with your trump

Always lead with your trump. In other words, you want to control the game. Nobody should beat you at your own trump. In life, you have to do the same. Know your trump (your talents) and throw them on the table. Never let someone else outplay you in what you do best. That goes for interviews, at work, in love, no matter what – always lead with your trump. Put your best foot forward.

2. Don’t spend them all

Though you lead with your trump, you never want to spend them all. Keep one, just in case. You may need it to take control later on. This can apply to financial savings obviously, but beyond that, you need to be strategic about how you use your talents to advance your career. Be thoughtful, plan, and execute.

3. Find a good partner, and keep them

Does this really need to be explained? For those who play cards (with a partner), you know how clutch a good partner is. Wow. A good partner will give you life, energy, joy, and you win! So find a good partner and never let them go. Same in life – vet your partner out, test them, practice with them, trust them, and then go all in!

4. Shut up and play

At some point all the smack talking and posturing has to stop. I was so wrapped up in talking smack one day I did something stupid – like cut my partner. So one of those veteran uncles said, “shut up and play.” So that’s what I did. Many of us in the real world also talk a good game (especially on social media). My advice to you is the same as my uncle’s advice – shut up and play. Stop talking about going to school, talking about the money you make, talking about the things you will do. Shut up and do it. You’ll thank me and my uncles.

5. Watch and learn

All of my cousins and siblings know there is a good 10 year or so waiting list to play at the “real” table. We were told since we were little kids, if you want to play, you need to watch and learn. How often do you take this advice in real life? We chomp at the bit to get that next job, start this next venture, open this next chapter, but have not done our work to study – learn – reflect – and understand ourselves or the “game” of life. Do that first, or you’ll find yourself unprepared for the opportunities in front of you.

6. Have tough skin, or don’t play

You should never play anything with old Black folk if your feelings are easily hurt…ever. I’m serious, don’t do it. I mean we invented “the dozens.” But what I learned is this: a) it makes you tough – a much needed cultural asset as a Black man (any anyone nowadays), and b) no matter what they say and how they say it, they still love you. Find people who will challenge you, but do so lovingly. Be tough – because the world is tough. Don’t make excuses, keep practicing, and then go at it again. You’ll get better – it just takes time.

7. Watch the table

The worse thing you can do while playing cards is to not watch the table. That’s how you cut your partner, make dumb mistakes, or God forbid – renig! In real life we call this “scanning the environment.” You need to know what’s going on in your industry, in your job, in your community. You can’t afford to miss a great opportunity to expand your network, enhance your skills, or jump on a really cool experience. You can only do this by being vigilant and paying attention to the table (environment).

8. It’s called BID whist, not SET whist

It’s pretty annoying when you play to set the other person. I call this the hater strategy. Think about it, your goal is not to bid and make that bid, it’s to stop the other team from getting their bid. This is the person in real life who doesn’t set their own goals, but will make it their life’s work to set you back. Don’t be that person. Set goals and then execute. Sometimes you won’t make it, but as we say – “bid somethin’!” You have to try, it’s what makes the game (and life) worth living.

Thank you family for these life lessons – I am because you are!

Dr. Anthony

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