I play pool twice a week, and am a proud, card-carrying member of the American Poolplayer’s Association. This organization operates pool leagues all over the US, and uses a reasonably accurate handicapping system to permit players of all skill levels to compete against one another with some chance of success.
The team captain on my Thursday night nine-ball league is a great big strong guy, who’s often called “Big John” to distinguish him from the other player named John in our group (and to give you an idea of how big “Big” is, the lesser of the two weighs a good 230 and stands at least 6’2″ tall). Big John sometimes has a problem playing pool because he will occasionally get angry or frustrated. When that happens, he starts banging the balls very hard indeed. Though it does create an impressive display of kinetic motion and power transfer, his accuracy suffers when he does this and this often means that when he loses his cool, he also loses his match.
Last night I was keeping score when he was called upon to play for a second time at the very end of our five-game series (one of our other players is expecting a child and because the bar where we play is one of the few “smoking allowed” establishments left in Travis County, TX — believe it or not, pool halls are one of a very, very small number of places that serve alcohol where indoor smoking is still legal — she’s wisely decided to sit out the rest of the season to avoid further exposure to second hand smoke). Big John’s opponent made 8 out of 10 points on the first rack of balls, and I could see the smoke start to come out of his ears.
I told him that he could get mad if he wanted to, but if he wanted to win he needed to shrug off the score and concentrate on maximizing his opportunities to score when his turn came around. I observed that his opponent needed to score 38 points to win, whereas he, Big John, needed only 25. If he played his game correctly, he could easily attain his scoring goal before his opponent beat him.
I’m not sure if my words of advice made any difference, but Big John did indeed settle down and proceeded to inch his way up in the standings, while his opponent started blowing hot and cold on the table. Ultimately, Big John was able to win because he stayed cool, and scored points whenever he could. He attributed his win to having consumed sufficient malted beverages to let him remain philosophical even when he got behind. Perhaps that played a role, but I have to think his attitude of “do what you can, whenever you can” is what won him the game. In a statistically rare conclusion to the evening, we tied the other team 50-50, and everybody walked away with their dignity intact and a positive outcome for both sides.
On the way home to the house last night, I thought that our current economy is a lot like that pool game, and most of us IT workers have the tendency to react like Big John does when he starts getting behind. When things don’t go our way, we tend to get frustrated. If they keep going south long enough — as they sometimes will, and indeed as they have for anybody who works in IT for the last couple of years and a little bit more — we even start getting angry about our situation, and the gross unfairness of it all.
Alas, macroeconomics is even more indifferent to the fates and fortunes of IT workers than a poolplayer’s opponent is to his attitude about getting behind or losing. With the economy going up just a little lately, the temptation is there to get angry and frustrated about the slow pace, and even the “one step forward and two steps back” progress toward recovery. But if we can all just remain cool, and hunker down, we’ll be able to seize the inevitably opportunities that will come along when things begin to pick up in earnest…even if that means waiting until 2011, or 2012, or even longer than that. I repeat “Hang in there!”