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Would You Bet On Yourself?

I like to gamble. I don’t do it frequently, nor is it extravagant. Annual trips to Las Vegas, online gaming, and betting on everyday sporting events are not my modus operandi. Connecticut, my home state if I were to say I had one, has two of the world’s largest gaming facilities and, assuming others want to go with me, I might visit one during a night out. But let’s keep perspective. What I withdraw from the ATM for a big night out is considered loose change by high rollers.

However, when I do gamble, it’s because I like the challenge of beating the odds. Every game in a casino is tilted in the house’s favor. Some more than others. However, the odds of winning can be nudged in a gambler’s favor if he or she uses math to do so. In craps, for example, seven is the dreaded number for any person rolling the dice. With a few exceptions, the casino owns the number seven because it is the number that can be rolled most frequently with two dice. Two six-sided dice have 36 potential combinations and there are six different ways to roll a seven. There are, however, five combinations for the numbers six and eight, but only four ways to roll a five or a nine. (See below) The fewer the combinations, the less likely you’ll win, but the higher the pay out if you do. The game can be far more complex than this, but it really means nothing if one isn’t willing to put their money on the table in the first place.

There are six ways to roll a 7, but only 5 ways to roll a 6 or 8. The odds are not in your favor.

So what? How is gambling like making meaningful changes to one’s life? Simple. You are betting on yourself. It might be a simple wager like a diet or exercise regimen, in which case the consequences are only as severe as the dieter makes them (assuming one’s life is not on the line). However, raise the stakes (e.g., quit a job without a new one lined up) and suddenly the bet is a much riskier proposition. Regardless of the risk level, a willingness to bet on yourself means that on some level you believe you will prevail, even if failure looks slightly more probably than success. That is not easy to undergo. Everyone’s risk tolerance is different, and people are usually quite risk averse. For the majority, it is not in our DNA to take what we have – money, possessions, security, a daily routine – and expose it to potential failure, especially if there’s an element of publicity to it.

My speed.

I apply that betting metaphor to my graduate school application process. I have narrowed my selection to George Washington University, American University, Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. Each has a program in International Relations (or some similar name) and requires personal narratives, essays, and the like. Based on application estimates and current enrollment numbers, back-of-the-envelope math tells me most students have somewhere between a 65 and 75 percent of being accepted. Factor in that I have never studied anything close to these subjects, that I’ve been out of school for a decade, working in a completely unrelated field, and that I have but a year of experience abroad, and suddenly those numbers look even less illustrious. Further, I have yet to take the GRE, a grueling standardized test that factors heavily into one’s admission. That’s another roll of the dice that could pay off huge – or not.

So, the odds don’t look good. But I’m pressing forward anyway because on some level, I believe this next step will work out. In the end, after all the number crunching, agonizing, and weighing pros and cons, you have to believe. That holds for any measure of change we try to bring into our lives. Without even a miniscule level of faith, we don’t really start. Which is why, in addition to the usual application rigamarole, I am starting my return to academia in a few weeks. The Hopkins program requires entry-level micro- and macroeconomics classes for admission, a prerequisite for which I nearly scrapped my application. But then I thought about my momentum thus far – not exactly a hot streak but I am playing with a pinch of house money – and enrolled in the local branch of Chicago’s community college system. Hopkins has agreed to add my transcript to my application when I’m done.

Of course, I am always on the lookout for inspiration. That’s a key aid when betting on yourself. It makes a big difference knowing it can be done. My current go-to is my U.S. Senator’s presidential campaign. His plucky upstart against a behemoth like the Clinton campaign not only inspires, it gives the necessary context of scale. If you have any other sources for inspiration, I’m all ears. The example does not always have to be dramatic. Even something as simple as refusing to press the snooze button and get to work on time or reading instead of watching television can inspire others. I would love to know what’s working for you and how you’ve done it.

In the meantime, for those of you who have been checking in on me, I’m working with another local non-profit to pay the bills. I applied for grant funding and created a position to help them with things like fundraising, enrollment, etc. And I still have a small list of clients from my I.T. days willing to pay me to make sure things work like they are supposed to. Combined with the graduate school applications and GRE preparation, it all makes for a full day.

Christmas is coming, though, and I’ll be off to spend it with my family. This will likely round out the blog for 2007. My annual look back is due in January. After that, I hope to have some good news about this latest gamble. Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, press your bets, and walk good.



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