August Journaling Day 17: Self-esteem

So I gotta admit, after the last couple of topics, this one I’m more excited to write about tonight because it’s been a central focus of mine the last year or so. I mentioned in the therapy blog that I haven’t done therapy in a while, but I did a while back make a conscious decision to try and work on my self esteem. I’d been doing better in most avenues of my life yet I still found myself constantly doubting myself, putting myself down, and sometimes loathing myself. So I read a book on self-esteem. It was an enjoyable read and it had a lot of practical exercises and ways to try and reframe how we think about ourselves. It is a little bit of ‘fake it until you make it,’ and I feel like I’m still faking it, but I’m closer to making it.

What I mean by that is I generally do think I’m becoming better at accepting myself, caring for myself, and loving myself. But I’m not all the way there yet. I do still find that I’m being hard on myself when dealing with rejection. It’s like I need to affirm someone’s rejection of me by piling on. If they somehow don’t think all that much about me, then they must be right and I am awful and on and on and on. Some recent examples would be someone saying I’m bad at my job or asking someone if they had interest in a date and them saying no. Neither ones should be taken as total indictments on me, they’re just someones opinion or answer. Yet I would still find myself afterward beating myself up and talking down to myself. So that’s something I’m still trying to work at in regards to self-esteem.

Where I think I’ve really made strides though is how I view myself and react when I make a mistake or just am assessing where I might be with something in my life. Like with work, when I first started announcing I would get really down on myself when I would make a mistake in a racecall. And it would rattle me for a while and i’d be even more susceptible to making mistakes. Which looking back seems ridiculous because 1) it’s a job that things happen very fast and it’s quite easy to make mistakes and 2) I was still young and learning, I should have accepted mistakes as part of the learning process. Now I make a mistake in a race i’m pretty good about shaking it off. If I miscall a horse in the stretch or make a mistake because maybe I was lazy in my preparation, then I might get more miffed. But little stuff or a stumble or something, water off a ducks back. I think I just try to allow myself to be more forgiving when I make mistakes. Calling races isn’t easy and mistakes are going to happen sometimes. I’m human and I’m not Tom Durkin. And even he made mistakes!

Another area I think I’ve improved my self-esteem is in regards to my weight loss. Not the results per se, but more just the fact that at this point it’s coming off pretty slowly and I’m not getting frustrated or mad at myself. Or mad at just the results not happening faster. I’m sticking to my processes and what has worked and what is still working, it’s just not working as fast as I wish it did. But I’m proud of myself for sticking to my goals and continuing to do the work. And when I have a hiccup on the diet side of things, I’m getting back to my program very quickly. In the old days once I fell off the wagon, within a day or two I’d be eating everything in sight. I think though that with a better attitude about my processes and a more forgiving attitude when i fall out of line with them, I’m able to more quickly get back to the path i want to be on. Plus the occasional treat should be a good thing, not looked upon as a failure.

The one thing I got out of that self-esteem book and that I’m finding in my real life is that self-esteem actually takes work. It’s not something you just have or get. Well maybe people with nice supportive parents do. But I think it really does take work. I think by doing things that are nurturing and beneficial to our lives, we’re able to feed the positives in our lives and in turn feel better about ourselves and what we’re doing.

I hope to continue working on being better about dealing with rejection like I talked about above. I don’t think that means not feeling anything when I’m rejected in some way. I think that’s natural and ok. Where I want to improve is how I talk to myself and treat myself following those rejections. I don’t need to add to the bad feeling. I don’t need to pile on. I need to keep perspective of who I am and what I’m working on and what I’m working towards. And I do think I’ll get there with that. Like I said, I feel like I’m getting closer.

obligatory smiling photo for blog about self-esteem

August Journaling Day 16: Horse Racing

Well we’ve rounded second base! On the Back 9! This exercise of writing every night has felt a little tougher the last couple of nights, but only tough in the sense of getting started. I feel like once I get typing it seems to come out fast and when it’s over I’m glad that I did it and I feel good. It’s a bit like exercise in that way, which we’ll get to on Thursday 🙂

I figured there’s a lot of ways to approach the topic of horse racing. Since I already wrote about work on day 3, gambling on day 10, and have to write about animals on day 30, I wasn’t sure what way to approach this tonight in a way that’s maybe different from how I normally talk or think about horse racing. And maybe it will just be the same old stuff. We’ll see where it goes and how I feel. To me having a set path with journaling defeats some of the purpose. Just let it flow.

What’s obvious is that it’s one of the central points of my life. It’s my occupation. It’s my passion. It’s where most of my friends reside. It’s where I travel. It’s where I spend a majority of my time, effort, and passion. So it’s big. Horse racing was not my first love. Baseball was. But racing was kind of always number two from the time I was a little kid up until I finished my schooling. Once I could no longer play baseball, racing bumped up a slot. My first job in racing was in 2004 at Emerald Downs as a press box assistant and that year was one of the best racing years of my life. It was all so new and so fun. It was my first taste of getting on the backstretch, meeting trainers and jockeys, meeting the announcer. But when that season was over, I immediately went and started another job. I got my real estate license and sold a single house in that year. I felt like at the time I was constantly trying to think of how I wanted to spend my career and at some point I made the thought that I was going to pursue something I liked to do. After some inspiration from a call by Vic Stauffer in 2005, I started practicing racecalling and really loved every part of it. That time was a great example for myself that if I want to do something, I kind of just need to go do it. Same thing I did with my book, I just started writing. No real plan, but I was never going to get somewhere if I didn’t just start.

So flash forward 17 years later and it’s been my career pretty much ever since then, with a small uber/grocery auditing detour in 2015. Do I have regrets that I made my career in horse racing? Maybe some. I don’t know if it’s possible not to have regrets in any avenue of life. But the pros have so far outweighed the cons that in 2022 I’m still glad it’s been my career. And I hope it stays as such. I still get very excited to go to work or to go to the track as a patron. It’s still fun for me. A good friend of mine told me once that the people who work in horse racing and REALLY care about it, REALLY love it, either eventually leave, or they get the passion zapped out of them. It’s sometimes not easy loving something that brings you so much frustration or heartache. But I have to think that’s not uncommon in any career, especially one you’re passionate about. No industry is perfect and no game is perfect.

That’s not to say I haven’t had major frustrations. There’s things I see in racing all the time that make me shake my head. I realize that people within the game all have their own viewpoints and experiences, so we’re all going to have different solutions and ideas. One of my biggest frustrations is that it seems like 90% of the people who work in racing think we’re selling a sport first, even though 90% of our customers are consuming our product as a gambling event first. Of course safety of our athletes equine and human are always the top priority, but in terms of marketing, rules, betting, etc, shouldn’t all that be looked at through the lens of our customers, who are the gamblers? Any decision we make beyond safety of horses and jockeys needs to be thought about firstly as “is this good and fair to the bettors?”

But just because I get frustrated doesn’t mean I want to give up or do something else. If I was the announcer for the Seattle Mariners I guarantee you I’d get pissed about things they do all the time! So racing will have me as long as they’ll have me. I really do believe that. I mean if some other industry comes along and offers me half a mil a year to do something, then peace out horse racing. But that ain’t happening. I make a good living doing something I love in a game I love, with and for people I love. I really do want to be a catalyst for good in the sport and see it grow and succeed. I know I’m just a tiny little member of the community (figuratively not literally), but I’m proud to be so. And I hope to be so for a long time.

Me and Mystacallie back in like 2010 or so

August Journaling Day 15: Politics

I hate politics. The end.

Part of me wants to just make that the entire blog post. I’m tired and have a super busy week ahead and I legitimately hate politics. Don’t like talking about them, don’t like following them. I think what I really like least about politics is how divisive they are. I won’t even say how divisive they’ve become, because I’m guessing it was always like that. Social media just obviously made the bullhorns a lot louder.

I didn’t come from a political home at all growing up. I don’t remember my parents ever talking about politics or even about politicians. I suppose I grew up as a lot of kids did, patriotic because we were told to be and supportive of the president. I remember in sixth grade we did like a mock election in class and I was in the Ross Perot group. So as you probably remember, we came in a distant third.

I saw an article a couple years ago where a woman referred to herself as “politically homeless.” That resonated with me just because I’ve truly never felt connected to either of the two major “teams” in the sport of politics. In fact I hate that there are two teams. Are there really only two ways to think about tons of super complex issues? It just all seems so ridiculous how it’s set up.

My lack of political allegiance shouldn’t be confused with me being an independent. I usually vote for one particular side like 95% of the time. But I dislike them as a group just as much as the other guys at the political level. On a personal level I have friends and family who are strong left and right people and love and respect them, even if I disagree with them on some stuff. I feel like we’re only a few paragraphs into this and I’ve already used the words hate and dislike a bunch. I think it’s just the divisive nature of politics that disturbs me. Let me be specific, not the divisive nature of the topics, the divisive nature of how we communicate and discuss them. I actually enjoy the occasional political discussion with someone who I trust and prefer when it’s someone who maybe I see things differently then just to try and see their side of things and maybe learn. But more often than not it’s crazy to watch when people discuss politics and disagree on something, the tension and air in the room change and change quickly. I remember being at a work related dinner last spring and everything was going well. Then someone brought up Joe Rogan and immediately two people began arguing about it and the entire tone of that side of the table just got really uncomfortable.

One thing I do know about myself is I’m painfully easy to manipulate. I remember different points in my young adulthood where my politics swayed from side to side based almost strictly on whatever news channel I was watching. If I watched Fox News by the end of the show I’d be like “These damned Liberals ruining everything!” I’d watch Rachel Maddow a week later and think “these elite right wing assholes have no soul!” I try and read and digest media nowadays and pay much attention to where not only the bias of the author/newscaster might be, but how my bias will interpret the information. But I know of myself that I’m not that bright of a thinker and easily swayed. I don’t like conflict and politics is almost all conflict.

I remember in grad school all my classmates were talking about going to a protest on an issue they were passionate about. I talked to the professor and said “I agree with them but I don’t want to go to a protest.” She told me “Neither am I. I try and initiate change at the micro level, not the macro level.” That resonated with me. I’ve never been comfortable speaking out that much on politics publicly and I admire people who do, because blowback is anything but comfortable. I know comfort is the enemy of change in any avenue, so maybe it’s something I need to work on. I always think it’s so strange when someone in racing speaks out on politics and someone tells them to “stick to racing.” I mean they are multi-faceted human beings capable of thoughts and opinions on topics other than racing. Plus if they agreed with the person of course they wouldn’t tell them to shut up. Silencing people cause they disagree with you, lame AF.

But I also don’t feel I have much if anything to add to political discussions other than my vote and my support. I hate this topic and I hate this blog and I’m stopping now. Have a good Monday everyone.

August Journaling Day 14: Dating

I’m not sure why the next few days of topics all ended up in order together, but they’re probably the four that I’m most nervous about writing about. Which on one hand is good because I want to face my fears and nerves and just be open and honest when I can. However as someone who isn’t all that private, a few of these topics are things I usually keep to myself or my close friend group. However part of this exercise I think is to be open, honest, and vulnerable, even on topics with which I might not be comfortable doing so fully or at all.

I’ve started and deleted this paragraph a couple of times now. I don’t think I want to just write about my dating history and how I got to this point in my life as a single person at age 42. But I think I want to write more about how I’m viewing dating now and going forward. No doubt my dating history has led me to where I am now and probably how I might feel about dating in the future. But I also feel like such a different person now than 2018/19 which was my last real relationship. I think a lot of my dating for much of my adult life has been in an unserious nature. I always gave priority to my career and dated with the thought that I was going to have to pick up and leave at any time for a new job opportunity. And a couple times it did happen where I left as I was dating someone and they generally just kind of ended right there and then.

I didn’t date at all really from 2015 to 2018 because of my anxiety issues. I had a long term relationship for much of 2018 and into 2019 until I left for Monmouth and Colonial to announce. Knowing I was going to be gone for six months and likely going to be gone a lot going forward, we decided to split up and just stay friends. Which we have done. There were other factors as well, but distance was kind of the last straw.

I figured with moving to Tampa and making that area “home” going forward that I would really try to actively date there when I got down there. My heart wasn’t really in it though for reasons I don’t want to write about here. I met some very nice people but no true matches. It became a bit discouraging just because i knew after May I’d be on the road for a while and it’s obviously hard to start something when you’re one place for a month, another for two months, etc. So right now I’m not really dating. Although, I really feel that I’m in a good place that if I do meet someone, I really want to do the work it takes to make it work. I know because of my situation with work I’ll always be apart from someone part of the year. And that’s a deal breaker I’ve found for a lot of people. But I feel like I know the work it takes to make long distance work, if and when it’s necessary. I’ve never dated anyone in racing just because I’ve always wanted to keep work and personal life separate. But that’s easy to say when nobody in racing has ever been interested in me haha. I do think I’m more open to that now just because it’s possible someone who works in racing will understand the lifestyle a little better.

One thing I don’t think I really did enough of in my earlier dating life was be open and really communicative. I think because of years of shame about my weight and mental health, I kept a lot of my pain and issues to myself. So even when I was with someone, I wasn’t being real about where I was either good or bad. I just wanted to always keep things kind of light and fun and stuff like that. When I was struggling I’d pull away without really talking to them about it until I just completely detached. I think all the work I’ve done in counseling and with my mental health will hopefully help me when I do find someone to pursue a relationship with. In a weird way I’m actually kind of excited to have those hard conversations with someone just because in my friendships I’ve found that level of communication to be both very connecting and very important.

So we’ll see what happens going forward. I’m open for what’s in store and I truly do hope to find love and make a special connection with someone. For so many years I was so hard on myself and often saw myself as unlovable. I used to always have the thought that I’m the kind of person someone settles for when they’re like 60 and realize they don’t want to be alone the rest of their life. I’ve worked hard to fight those thoughts because they aren’t true, even if I do sometimes want to wallow and believe they are. But mostly I believe that I can be a good partner and that I possess some good qualities as a person and partner. I’ve had good fortune to meet and date some amazing women in my life. I’m still friends with a few of them and they’re meaningful people in my life. Relationships and feelings are so complex and it’s amazing how they can change, grow, etc.

I think it’s easy to get down on dating when it’s not really happening or is frustrating. Or when you get your feelings hurt. I’m trying to stay optimistic and I am hopeful.

August Journaling Day 13: Jealousy

When I made the list of 31 topics to write about this month, I mostly just picked things that were on my mind that night I made the list and that I thought were key factors in my life. There was a prompt list that I saw where I read about the monthly journaling idea and jealousy was one of the suggested ones. I don’t remember exactly why it stood out to me two weeks ago, and yet today I need to journal on it. I mean it seems like a perfectly fine subject to write on, I just don’t remember why I added it to the list. But here goes.

I think in my lifetime, jealousy is something that has gradually waned from something that I had a significant amount of to something that is a pretty rare thing I deal with. I think it’s as much to do with shifting to a practice of gratitude as it is anything else. Trying to be more happy and content not only with myself and where I am and what I have in life. But also comparing myself less and less to others and what they are or have. Let me give a few examples.

When I was a kid, particularly a teenager, I remember feeling legit jealousy towards other people all the time. Whether it was because they were better at sports, or their family had more money, or because girls were interested in them. I think this came from a lack of self-esteem but also from a mindset that I was entitled to things in life. Granted there are things a kid probably should be entitled to like support from parents and teachers, sustenance, health care, etc. But being good at sports or having a girlfriend probably isn’t one of them. But that didn’t change my jealousy and resentment towards people who had those things. I wanted them.

What’s funny about that is I think if you’d have asked me when I was younger if I was a jealous person I’d have said no. I think I absolutely would have denied it. I know I would deny it today. And maybe I still am somewhat today. I don’t feel that I am, but I want to at least be open to the idea that maybe you don’t ever fully erase yourself of jealous thoughts or behavior. I do think any jealousy I have today is stemmed from possibly seeing something that someone else has that I might want for myself in my own life. But i don’t think it comes from a place of resentment like it did in the past. I don’t want them to lose what they have so I can have it. Quite the opposite, I want others to have successes.

In regards to work, this is an area where I think I’ve maybe made the most strides in terms of jealousy. When I was first starting out in racing I was wholly content with the jobs I had and where I was in my career. I was just excited to be in the door. I was at Portland Meadows from 2006 to 2014 and I remember in those later couple of years, starting to feel some resentment that I hadn’t moved on towards any bigger opportunities. I had applied for some jobs but really never got an interview or any interest. I think in my mind I thought that next step would come quicker than it did. Again going back to that feeling of entitlement. When the Monmouth Park announcing job opened up in 2014 I applied and didn’t get it. But I remember getting the “sorry we’re hiring someone else email” from them. Added to the bottom of that email was a “For what it’s worth, you were in our final round of people we were choosing from and we think you have a real ability.” I’d never felt so good about not getting something in my life. It was a flicker of hope. I was happy when my friend got that job but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of his ascent at the time. We had started our careers at the same time and I think it was a natural comparison for me, but it was also unrealistic to compare myself to someone who had a better skill set and probably worked harder at it. Unrealistic isn’t the right word here though, because after I typed that I thought “no that seems a situation perfectly realistic to feel jealousy.” What’s funny is of course I did get to take a step up to the next level in my career in 2015 at Louisiana Downs and my anxiety/depression issues had me falling flat on my face there.

In those three years where I wasn’t announcing, most of my closest friends in the announcing world all took leaps in their careers. Seeing them have those successes definitely brought a smile to my face, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish my situation was seeing those same moves. Mine had gone the opposite. I was out of the game entirely. I can’t help but think some of that jealousy came from a place of anger that I was having to deal with my mental health problems and they had taken me out. I was very bitter about that at the time.

So when did the change in my attitude and jealousy happen? Well when I started getting what I wanted in life of course haha. I say that in jest but it is kind of hard to not realize that the two kind of went hand and hand no? I will say though that I think the dissipation of jealousy came about a little before finding some successes. Like if I wouldn’t have gotten the job at Tampa Bay Downs I’d have been bummed, but I don’t think jealousy would have been the emotion behind being upset. I’m very much in a place now where I’m aware of my abilities, I’m aware of what I do or don’t bring to the table in both work and a personal life, and I’m quite aware that those things will not be for everyone. But my gratitude for what I am able to do and where I’m able to be at is probably at the greatest levels it’s ever been. And I have no doubt that is in part to both doing self work on my outlook on the world (therapy) as well as not comparing myself to what others do or achieve.

One overarching goal in my life is just to try and be a little bit better each and every day. Better compared only to myself yesterday. If I do that I think I will eventually become the best version of myself that I can be. And I’m the only person I’m ever going to be, so I better get comfortable with that. I think jealousy at times is a completely justified and normal thing to experience pangs of. But I also think how you process and work through it is the difference between letting it be a fleeting feeling and letting it guide your decisions and attitudes.

August Journaling Day 12: Anxiety

So, I’ve done a lot of anxiety blogs on here over the years. I don’t want to go back through the story of it, the depths of how bad it was, or the effect it’s had on my life. I do think those stories have come up in some previous blogs and some future ones. I want to just discuss how it effects my life today.

My outlook on anxiety and my ‘recovery’ is in some ways the way a substance addict looks at their recovery. I will always be an anxious person. If you put me into a situation where I’m very nervous, my body is going to go into the fight or flight reaction that causes panic. I still occasionally get out of the blue anxiety/panic attacks. If I’m in a crowd, I still get that tunnel vision and some sweaty palms. The main difference today versus previous years is that I know it won’t hurt me. I know I’m in no danger. And I know that it will run its course. And maybe most important, I know I can do everything in my life I need to do, even if I’m anxious.

There was no specific breakthrough for me with anxiety. Like I said, I still have it. But my big breakthrough was facing my fears and choosing to live my life with the anxiety. There was a cartoon in a book called the Anxiety and Mindfulness Workbook that still sticks with me. It’s a photo of a person coming to a fork in the road where there’s a bunch of stop signs that say anxiety! phobias! panic! depression! stop! don’t go! and stuff like that. The second photo of the cartoon shows the person with all those signs in their backpack and moving along with their walk. That to me represents the biggest success I’ve had with my anxiety in recent years.

That realization and acting upon it has changed my life. I’ve done and seen and lived more in the last four years than I did in the previous fifteen. By like twenty fold. And as a result of doing so much, despite my anxiety, has seen my anxiety significantly decrease. Anxiety is no longer a constant part of my life. It’s an occasional part, but it no longer dictates my decisions and how I act or what I do. In the old days if someone asked me to do anything my first inclination was to think “can i handle this and could I get out of it if I panic?” Now my first thought is just to decide whether or not it’s something I want to do and if it is I do it. I mean even flying, something I was 100% never going to do again, is something I’d absolutely do if I had to. And I’m finding i’m more and more open to doing it even when I don’t have to. We’ll see.

One thing that has happened in the last couple of years is having a little bit of, for lack of a better term, survivors guilt. As I said, I still have anxiety and I think I always will. But it’s soooo much less severe than it used to be. And I still have friends and loved ones who are in the midst of their struggle with mental health issues. I know how hard and how sometimes hopeless that battle can feel. And I remember for years just hoping and praying that it would stop, or atleast get better. And now it definitely has gotten better. And I don’t know exactly how or why it finally did start to turn. I certainly put in a lot of work to learn about it. I read every book about anxiety that’s been published. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on therapy and maybe even a hundred thousand dollars on medical treatment and hospitalizations. And don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled I’m doing better. My life is so much more fulfilling than it was. But I do still sometimes ask why have I gotten better when so many others haven’t? It just doesn’t seem fair.

If you’re reading this and struggling with anxiety, all I can say is I sympathize with your struggle. I hope you know that there are so many people who are battling it as well right now. Some are having success with it while others are struggling mightily. And I just don’t know what to say other than people care for you. I can’t promise it’ll get better even though I wish I could. But I’m pulling for you. I’m pulling for me. I’m pulling for all of us.

August Journaling Day 11: Love

What is love? This thing I’ve been told, since thirteen years old, where you feel understood, undeniably good. A feeling apart when you’ve emptied your heart.

All These Engagements by Airborne Toxic Event

That lyric above is kind of what I thought about when sitting down to write this entry. What is love? Side note, the album that song is from, Hollywood Park, is incredible. Easily one of my favorite albums of the last five years. Ok back to love. It does have to be one of the trickier things to define. Is it more of a feeling than anything? Is it simply a word to encompass connection? Appreciation? Loyalty? Lust? It feels like such an all encompassing word for lots of different things.

My ultimate conclusion on what is love is that it’s a lot of different things. And has many different levels, intentions, and meanings. Because I do have the topic of dating slated for later this month, I wondered if I shouldn’t include anything about ‘romantic’ love in this blog. But I think they’re enough of a different topic that even though there might be some overlap, they’ll be two very different entries.

If you ask me what or who is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of love I’d say my mom. Then my more extended family. Then my friends. And so on. But to me mom represents one of the best forms of love. The mother/child bond is an entirely unique connection. I mean, she’s the only person who’s known me from the first breath I took on earth up til now. She fed me, clothed me, raised me. What more loving act is there than to raise your child and do all the things necessary to keep them safe and help them learn and grow? The reason I bring this particular example up is how longevity and experiences help manifest and maintain love. I talk to my mom a couple times a week. I don’t see her all that often because we live on different coasts. So many of my adventures in work and travel she’s not been to. There’s probably 20 people who I talk to more on a weekly basis than her. There’s certainly people I talk about hard or important things in my life to before her. Yet to me she’s still the first person I think about when I think about love. I suppose the ground we’ve covered together and the bond of mother and child will just always carry such weight. I mean if you asked me to cry immediately, I’d just think about how much I appreciate my mom and all the things she’s done for us, and bam, tears.

It’s funny because I think family and parental love is kind of just there. Like I’m born into the world and my mom loves me on day one. But the reality is it is a form of earned love, as really I think all love is. It is developed and reinforced over years and years and years. The reason I bring that up is to transition to talking about love of friends. That type of love is something I think comes over a great expanse of time. You never meet someone and the first day you hang out tell them you love them. Maybe you do, but you’re a psycho 🙂 But seriously, if you asked me what friends I ‘love’, it would be the ones who I’ve been through the most with. Who I’ve shared successes and failures with. Who I’ve watched them change and grow and evolve. It wouldn’t be someone I met two months ago. Friendship love is certainly a love that has to be earned and takes years in my opinion.

One funny thing about the word love, especially using it in the phrase “I love you”. I have said that phrase when I meant it and it is one of the most comfortable things for me to say. But I’ve also said it when I was unsure if I meant it, or I didn’t mean it, and it’s one of the most awkward and uncomfortable things to say. It’s a phrase that carries so much weight and it’s very interesting how different it feels to say it when you really mean it vs. when you don’t.

I often tell the story about how on a first date a woman asked me if I’d ever been in love and had my heart broken and I always answer “yes, when Smarty Jones lost the Belmont Stakes”. She looked at me like I was an alien and clearly didn’t appreciate how great Smarty was. I did love him! But I have wondered when it comes to love in a romantic sense, have I ever truly been in love? Like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting level in love. Because I’ve certainly loved partners that I’ve had. I still love some of them, obviously just in a friendship kind of love at this point. But it is love. But was/is it the almighty “in love” we always hear about.

The real answer is I don’t know. I’ve absolutely had a broken heart before. A few times. That feeling in the pit of your stomach where all you think about is that person and the fact that it’s over. Or maybe worse yet, it never begun. Where just the thought of them leads to that dull warm blanket of sadness enveloping your whole body. I’ve had that. And that feeling breaks you down. It makes you question everything about yourself and what is wrong with you that it didn’t work out. But is that a result of being “in love”? I guess I feel that “in love”, like many of the other types of love, requires time. But maybe it’s different? I mean part of me thinks that two people together 20 years should be hurting worse upon a breakup than two people together for six months? Oddly enough I think my greatest heartbreak was someone I was never even technically with.

As I said above, I think love is a lot of things. I think we know it when we see it and experience it. But it can be confusing and beautiful at the same time. I mean love is the ultimate muse for most of the great art and music of our time right? Is it the greatest of human emotions and experiences? If Smarty would have won the Belmont I could probably answer that question.

August Journaling Day 10: Gambling

So before we get into today’s topic, let me just say that I’m one third of the way through this journaling exercise and today is the first night I’m kinda like “eh, I don’t want to do this.” I’ve thoroughly been enjoying doing a nightly journal/write up though, today was just a long day. But we persevere! Onward to gambling!

It’s kind of funny writing this blog tonight because we just had a big Pick 5 carryover pool at Colonial Downs. One of the highlights for a gambler! In yesterday’s entry I talked a lot about gambling in relation to how my relationship with money developed. Today I want to try and look at my lifelong relationship with gambling itself. The activity and occupation, more than the money.

In my baby book, at age 10 days I think, my mom has an entry written down about my dad laying me on the floor and dealing out my first hand of poker. Apparently he won and I started my career on the losing end. So here are some of my strongest and earliest memories of how my life has been tied to gambling. My mom worked in (and eventually owned) a poker room/casino from the time I was four years old up until she sold the business a few years ago. I’m probably throwing mom under the bus a bit here, but I remember being 8 years old and her finishing up work while me and my sister sat at the chefs counter eating dinner and playing pull tabs. She’d put $5 worth in front of us and we’d play. One time I hit a $100 winner and that’s how I paid for a new Easton C-Core bat (i hit nukes with that bat). When I was around 9 and 10 years old, my dad would take me to Longacres a couple days a week. My mom would give me $20 and I’d give that to my dad and he would make my bets. I was a chalk eating weasel and mostly just bet Gary Boulanger to win. One time though, the Space Needle Handicap of 1991 I think? I hit a $2 exacta Captain Condo over Grandstand Gabe for like $44. I asked my dad for the money and he said “I’ll get it to you next week, don’t tell your mother.” My first lesson to not use an untrustworthy bookie!

As teenagers me and my friends would always bet but just on dumb stuff for minute stakes. As we got into high school and college we played quarter poker games, bowled for money, and real poker out at the Indian Casino on Bainbridge Island. My jobs in the summer during college were always at my mom’s poker room. One summer I did accounting, two summers I did surveillance. One summer I just didn’t work. After college and after dropping out of law school, I worked as a floor man at the poker room. It was my first ‘real job’ out of school and for a young kid it was good money. I even wore a suit! I’d get an envelope of cash each night at like 2am when I left work and I’d be betting that money at Emerald Downs on Calder at 9:25am the next morning.

I’d say my gambling started to really dial up around this time. I went from someone who played maybe $30 to $50 at the track to someone who started to bring $200 each day. By 2005,2006, and 2007, I became someone who brought $700 or $800 to the track each time. My betting shifted from handicapping and really trying to just firing. I was a total action player. It was unsustainable for a lot of reasons and in 2010 I pretty much stopped altogether. I was fortunate I never went into debt with gambling but I also never saved up any money because of it.

In those years since 2010 I’ve gotten to know some really great folks who are professional gamblers. And let me tell you, they do not treat it as gambling. At least like how most people think of gambling. To them it’s all about edge. It’s about getting their money in with an advantage against the house or the odds of the game. It’s not about ego, it’s not about handicapping, it’s not about any of that. It’s about betting with an edge. It’s a business to them. When I saw a race-card with ten races, I saw ten chances to make a bet. They might see 1 or 2. They might see 0. They aren’t looking for action. They’re looking for opportunities to take advantage and make money.

Honestly watching these people and listening and talking to them has made me think about gambling in such a different light than I used to. It’s math and strategy and admiring the path to how they got to their decision as opposed to just giving a “yay” if they won and a “awww” if they lost.

Outside of a short stint in real estate (I sold one house in a year), my entire career since I left Law School has been in the gambling industry. Either poker or horse racing. I enjoy the camaraderie of it, the competition of it, and working around and learning from some extremely smart gamblers. Twenty years of working in gambling and it’s still fascinating to me. And it’s still fun. I pinch myself all the time that I get to work at the track let alone announce races.

I will end with this. There are a lot of phonies in this world. The thought on gambling by many is it’s an easy way to get free money. And many gamblers who have never won and have no chance to ever win still believe they can. That makes it a breeding ground for hustlers, stiffs, lowlifes, and liars. People who want to pray on others because they can. I think when you don’t know any better they aren’t easy to spot. You want to believe they have the answers or can really help. I feel like now I can tell within five minutes of talking to someone if they have a clue or if they’re a phony. And I’m not saying I’m some sharp now or anything. But I guess I’d just say be careful who you trust in this world of gambling and be really careful who you give/loan/front money to.

Working at the OTB, playing our old “Beat the Announcer” Game. Those shirts are collectables!

August Journaling Day 9: Money

Is there a more stressful part of life than money? I mean I suppose relationships can be? Certainly death probably trumps all of it, but money has to be up there. My relationship with money feels the healthiest it’s ever been right now but given my pp’s with money, that ain’t saying much. I think like everyone I have money regrets, but many of those lessons I think have helped me deal with it and treat it better now.

Money is a strange topic to write about publicly because I’m writing about my personal relationship to it. That said, I think it’s an important topic to talk about with people you trust. It’s something we all to some degree have to deal with and is a necessity in modern life.

My earliest concept of money was hearing my dad complain about it. He ALWAYS complained about money. As a kid looking back we never went without. We always had food, clothes, and the necessities as far as I can tell. We got to take yearly vacations and often when I wanted something like a new baseball bat or golf clubs, I generally got it. But looking back now as an adult, I can see how it would be hard. My parents were very much middle class and worked hard. My dad was a union truck driver and basically hated his job. In fact when I got bad grades in 8th grade the speech he gave me was “Do you want to be a truck driver like me and hate your job the rest of your life?” No sir, I don’t want to hate my job.

But he just always felt stressed about money. My mom very well might have been as well, but she never said anything or made it feel that way. I do think that gambling was the source of a lot of my dad’s money stress. I’ll never forget when he hit a twin-trifecta for like $11,000. We came home and my dad had the money spread out all over the table. My mom said “That 11k is gonna cost you $30k.” I have no doubt she was right.

My dad with some cash after a win at Longacres

Gambling (which is tomorrow’s topic) had a major effect on how I’ve viewed money in my lifetime. My first job was at Shakeys Pizza Parlor in Renton and right when those $150 bi-weekly checks started coming in was about the time we started playing quarter poker games with my buddies. That was also when Emerald Downs opened. Money came and went all the time and even though I had a job in high school, I was often asking my parents for money. And often gambling it away. $20 one night. $10 the next. Small time stuff, but still.

Again I don’t want to touch on gambling too much cause I’m going to write about that tomorrow. But in general my view of money for all of my teens and all of my twenties was that it was expendable. My mom’s business really took off in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s and I think I often thought because she was doing well, that I had back up no matter how many times I blew my always tiny bankroll. Believe me she bailed me out with money more times than I can count in those early adulthood years.

I really wish that I’d received some real financial literacy and training as a younger person. Now granted I likely would have ignored it and not invested or anything, but knowing what I know now, I really do wish I’d had some education about it. I really started trying to learn about money and how to manage it, grow it, and be responsible with it, just in the last few years. It’s made me appreciate money more, respect it more, and also be more at ease about talking about it.

Before I continue on, it would be stupid not to admit that part of the education and feeling better about money for me certainly coincides with making more of it. I spent most of my career making $30k to $50k a year and getting by, paying rent, but never getting ahead. I had some medical debt and student loans that hung over me for years and feeling like you’re just always swimming upstream and trying to keep your head above water is so damn hard. So to be earning more now and be out of debt and to be saving is a blessing and something I’m very grateful for. I tend to think most people work hard so I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I do think I’ve worked hard for the opportunities I’ve gotten. I’m also aware that some of me getting those opportunities is just luck. But a little luck never hurt 🙂

The one thing I haven’t been able to shake from my earlier relationship with money is never having a feeling of “comfort” in regards to money. Like I used to always think as long as I have a few grand in the bank I’m ok. But as I’ve saved up more, the comfort that I thought would come with that doesn’t really settle in. Like if I got fired from all my jobs today, I’d be fine for a while. Certainly long enough to find a new job(s) and no change to my lifestyle. But maybe that’s part of money. Does anyone every feel “comfortable”? I mean, even if I had a million bucks someday, do you feel totally comfortable? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out.

August Journaling Day 8: Friendship

The life category of “friends” is without a doubt somewhere that I’ve been extraordinarily blessed. I am so beyond thankful and fortunate that I have so many people in my life who love me, care about me, spend time with me, talk with me, and share their lives with me, that it makes me emotional just thinking about it.

I never had any friends again like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?

Stand By Me

My first friends were those friends mentioned in the quote above. Four of us boys, all born in ’79 or ’80, all living within a few houses of each other on Index Avenue in Renton, Washington. Ross, Danny, Jamie, and me. We were best friends as little kids, best friends throughout elementary school. Riding bikes, making forts, sleepovers, baseball, all of it. I probably had 750 career home runs off of Ross and Jamie in the back yard. I think part of the reason Stand By Me is one of my favorite movies is because their little gang reminded me of my group of misfit friends. And just like the movie, junior high hit, and we all split up. Well, moreso I split up. Our family moved to the next town over. I saw them on occasion thru junior high, but by high school, I didn’t talk to any of them. I saw Jamie once or twice in our early 20’s but other than that, have never heard from any of them. My mom said Danny came into her pizza parlor a few months ago and looked good. It’s amazing how people so seemingly important in our lives at one time can just drift away from us.

My friends tend to come from a few different places. Many of my closest friends nowadays are people in and around horse racing. Some are people who I dated and we decided to just be friends instead. And a few are from baseball and high school. That said, I’ve never been a “best friend” person. Never felt like there was that one person who rose above all others to receive that moniker. And I’m kind of glad, cause that seems like a lot of pressure!

I will say though, in the last several years, I’ve certainly had a few friendships that have really evolved into more connected and deeper friendships. And it’s been something I’m incredibly grateful for. Growing up I always kept a lot of stuff to myself and most of my friends were people who I got together with, had fun with, played sports with, etc. We’d never talk about anything too serious and usually it was just all about good times. And I still love those friends and would do anything for them.

But I think following up on what I said about therapy in yesterday’s post, realizing that I can be there for my friends for much deeper and complicated talks as well as being able to really be open and honest with them and lean on them when I need support, is something that just has had such extreme value. I feel closer to these friends than almost anyone in my life. And to know that they trust me to talk about hard times in their lives, or to celebrate monumental successes in either of our lives. Well it’s certainly broadened my definition and idea of what friendship can be.

I know that anxiety has and will come up a lot in these entries, but unfortunately for me it was just such a defining struggle for so long, that it’s impossible for it not to have touched almost every area of my life. And friendship is no different. i spent a lot of my twenties and thirties telling friends “I wish I could have been there” or “Sorry I can’t make that.” Of the many dozen close friends that I have, I think I’ve been to three weddings. And one of those I came for the ceremony, said my congrats, and left early. But I didn’t attend at least fifteen or twenty of them due to either being too nervous or feeling too much shame about my anxiety, my weight, or just myself. Even my closest friends during that time, I would turn down invitations to hang out or see them and make up some lie or excuse, when the truth was i was just too anxious and sad.

The good news is, most now understand and really weren’t ever upset about it. They just care about me and are happy I’m doing better. It’s interesting because during those times when you isolate, you feel so alone and feel as though nobody loves you or cares about you. However if I’d have called any one of 100 people and asked to talk or come hang out, they’d have been right over. I know that now, and I wish I would have realized it more then. But maybe time was the only thing that was going to allow me to see that.

Let me just end with gratitude towards my friends. Thanks you so much for being in my life and allowing me to be a part of yours. It truly means everything.

Me and some of my closest high school buddies, all of whom I still stay in touch with. This photo is from 2013.