The Genius Life Advice I Take From Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”

The other day I was attempting to organize my closet, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere: I have way too much stuff and I don’t like to get rid of anything, because I know the moment I do, it will come back in style. I’ve held on to almost everything, even a pair of high-waisted leather pants I bought in 1998. As I sat on my bedroom floor, surrounded by clothes that no longer fit or are past their prime, I thought: “What am I going to do?” Then, it hit me: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Yeah, I’m quoting Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” I decided that the garments that didn’t fit or hadn’t been worn in more than a year didn’t deserve a place in my closet. And those that I still wear regularly or hold some sort of sentimental value were folded and hung. Problem solved.

I don’t listen to country music. I can’t pretend I know what’s going on in the genre nowadays, and I’m still not convinced that Taylor Swift actually sings country. Yet, one of my favorite songs is “The Gambler” because it gives good life advice, even if you’re not a poker player. This song, like life sometimes, is about deciding what — whether a material thing or a person — is worth your time. I recently made the decision to end a friendship with someone I’ve known since high school. Breaking up with her was something I’d thought about quite a bit over the last two years because she’d grown into a flake. I was apprehensive, though, because I’d invested so much time into the friendship and I don’t like drama in my own life. (Reality TV is another thing). But I realized, thanks to “The Gambler,” that some people are just toxic, and “folding” on a relationship isn’t quitting—it’s just admitting to a bad hand. It was best to cut my losses, i.e., my time, before it was too late.

I’ve learned to read people’s faces and actions, not just their words, as “The Gambler” warns. I even manage my finances, to an extent, with the wisdom of this song. I take the last part of the chorus, “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done,” as a warning to never spend money before you even have it in your possession. It’s a similar idea to not counting your chickens before they hatch and is the reason I try to avoid shopping on credit. You never know when you could lose your job. And speaking of money, few things in life are free. The gambler gives his advice in exchange for a last swallow of whiskey, a cigarette and a light.

“The Gambler” hasn’t always provided a reason to admit defeat. Sometimes it’s made me work harder when I remember, “Ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser.” I thought I’d taken too much of a gamble by going to a new journalism school. I felt kind of like a lab rat with so much pressure resting on my shoulders to not only personally succeed, but also to uphold the reputation the school was building. But I decided that quitting wasn’t an option. Instead, I chose to make the best of the situation, even if it meant laboring through tears, physical sickness, and mental anguish. I had to get that degree. I played the hand I was dealt.