Life Lessons & Learning after a high stakes poker career

Journey beyond her infamous high stakes poker game and her own “Salient Points of Learning” that followed.

thank you dean terry you know i don't know that there's a natural link between education and gambling so i'm not even going to try and reach for one but i will say that if you learn to play poker and play it really really well you can earn a good bit of money so education counts the entrepreneur molly bloom has spent much of her life around poker and it's brought her success and fame as a businesswoman a speaker and an author her 2014 memoir molly's game the true story of the 26 year old woman behind the most exclusive high-stakes poker game in the world led to a film adaptation starring jessica chastain and directed by aaron sorkin the rest as the saying goes is history please welcome molly bloom hi everyone i'm molly bloom and i sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are safe healthy and hanging on to a bit of sanity during these challenging times i am deeply deeply honored to be here with all of you and with the remarkable speakers i'm
sharing a virtual stage with it is not lost on me that just a few short years ago being invited to speak at imagine solutions was about as plausible as getting asked to speak on mars some of you may know my story and some of you may not from spinal reconstruction to olympic hopeful from starting a world famous brand and burning it right to the ground from the feds to the mob to hollywood it's been quite a journey but the interesting pieces for me the salient pieces are the lessons to be fully human is to air to fail to suffer defeat and i think it's only in the getting back up that we find out who and what we're made of i have made a life of taking big shots experiencing epic failures and staging a few improbable comebacks on the journey this is my story and these are the
lessons that i learned in the fire the first lesson that i learned is that with a disciplined mind the impossible becomes possible when i was 12 years old i was in love with mogul skiing my brothers and i were competing locally on the circuit and doing quite well and then at 12 years old everything changed i was diagnosed with very severe scoliosis i had to undergo a spinal surgery in which they fused the top 11 vertebrae in my back together and put two metal rods down the side during this whole time the doctors my parents the experts told me that my mobile skiing career was over but i had already started to have a bit of a irreverence for authority at this time and and i believed that i could get back on the mountain but then i had the long road to recovery for a year i had to spend uh on my back alone
recovering from this surgery um it was a year of not going to school not hanging out with my friends not skiing and i had a ton of time alone with my thoughts this was before the social you know social networks and the internet and netflix and it was just pretty much me and my thoughts and what i realized is that these thoughts were not necessarily my allies in fact they were largely negative and science invalidates this we know that the mind has a negative slant because it's been a useful survival mechanism but in order to do the impossible in order to get back on the mountain to make the u.s ski team i needed to do something about my mind which was standing in the way and so i started to discipline my mind when those thoughts would come up when that discursive thinking would happen i would quickly shift into the present moment where i would create a new narrative for example if the thoughts said
you'll never ski again i would say the heck i won't i'm going to make the u.s ski team and i kept doing this over and over until things started to change i got back on the snow after that year and i worked really hard and over the next eight years i worked really really hard both on my mind and my craft and at 19 i made the u.s ski team at 20 i became ranked third overall in north america and at 21 i made it all the way to the olympic qualifiers and though it didn't go the way i wanted that day though i crashed pretty catastrophically and ultimately ended up retiring from skiing i had gotten there i had gotten there largely because i had intervened on my mind i had learned how to create a new narrative and you know this isn't just motivational woo-woo nonsense there's real science to back this up that we can change our brains neuroscience tells us that our brains are more soft wired than hardwired
that with consistency we can change the way those networks fire and the two best protocols i've ever found to train the mind are mindfulness and meditation which are basically just two protocols for training where you place your focus and through this exerted effort consistently over time we can absolutely change our brain the second lesson that i learned is that kindness isn't only the right move it's the smart move after skiing i was devastated and i decided that i wanted to take a year off in between undergrad and grad school and the only criteria i had was that i wanted to go somewhere warm and be a kid for a year so i went to los angeles and i got a job working for this man he was very successful very powerful unfortunately he was a jerk and one day he asked me to serve drinks at his poker game i had no idea what to expect so i made a
really embarrassing playlist with songs like the gambler on it and i showed up to this game with a cheese plate and was absolutely blown away by who started walking through the door it was a-list actors like ben affleck and leonardo dicaprio it was the owner of one of the biggest investment banks in the world the head of one of the biggest movie studios a tech giant politicians one after another these people that move the needle on the world stage and i wanted to stay in that room this was access to incredible information and capital and power and i really wanted to stay in that room so i started learning about poker but what i really did is what my mom taught me to do i was kind i showed up for people i took their experience personally i went above and beyond and over the next couple weeks months i realized that i didn't just want to stay in that
room i wanted to own that room i wanted to own these games the problem was is that you know i was going to have to go up against my boss who was very powerful and kind of mean so over over time i started my own games and on that first night every single one of the players showed up and they showed up not because i was rich or powerful or even knew what i was doing they showed up because i had shown up for them and that was a giant lesson in my life um the next lesson is uh i had to learn the art of letting things go and i might have just buried the lead here but i lost the game after six years of making millions of dollars uh establishing an incredible network learning about tech and finance in hollywood and the art world and just such a an incredible experience
i lost the game in a really unjust and unfair way one of the most powerful players uh decided to take it from me because he thought i was making too much money and so in a moment everything was over and i was devastated and all the mental training in the world could not get me out of this rut so i called my dad and my dad's a psychologist now growing up with a shrink for a father total nightmare you get a you can't get away with anything but um as an adult it's been a huge asset i said to him dad i can't get past this i'm i'm stuck ruminating in the past i'm stuck in resentment i'm stuck and he said my dear you need to learn the art of letting go you need to let go of the past so that you can be firmly rooted in the present and i said dad that sounds great but how do i do that and he said this is how you do it when the thoughts come up when the ruminations when when the regrets come up you have to
actively shift out of that and into the present moment because the human brain cannot focus on the past when it's in the present i didn't think that that would work but i did it each time these thoughts would come up i would surrender them i would actively let them go and bring myself into the present moment and over time it changed and over time i began to see clearly and to have a new plan um and my new plan led me to the fourth lesson which is develop the vision to see the opportunities in the problems my new plan was to go to new york city and to build the biggest poker game in the world and uh you know to build an empire now there are a lot of problems with this plan number one it was 2008 and the economy was in tough shape number two the market was extraordinarily saturated and um the same couple people had run
games for 20 years now i could have looked at that and seen all the problems but what i saw was an opportunity they had been doing things had been the same for 20 years and that gave me an opportunity to be disruptive so i started interviewing 20 50 poker players and asking them what their experience was and what they could change and and i found the weakness the weakness was that people would come and play in these games and oftentimes not get paid because the game runners were running kind of a ponzi scheme they would only pay out if they were paid now in la i had learned a lot about credit management extending debt and and managing this business and so i believed that if i could become the bank if i could settle the games and and guarantee the games that i could uh find my way into this market and so that's what i did and within a couple months i had built the biggest poker game in the world it
was a 250 000 buy-in i saw someone lose 100 million dollars in a night and i pretty much took over uh the industry i had games running all the time and and it was it was a big it was a big victory the next lesson that i learned was prioritize integrity and i learned this because you see i i stopped prioritizing integrity something changed in me in new york and whereas before i had always led with morality and integrity i started to worship other things i started to worship power and money and greed and it was never enough and when i started doing that things started to fall apart i had a run-in with the italian mob i had a run with the russian mob and then i did something that
changed the course of everything up until this point i've been doing everything legally everything on the up and up and because i got greedy i started taking a rake which means taking a percentage of each pot which put me in direct violation with the federal statutes the feds caught on to this and in 2011 they seized all my assets every cent i had made and two years later i got rested arrested in the middle of the night by 17 fbi agents holding semi-automatic weapons they put a piece of paper in front of me that said the united states of america versus molly bloom i had a day and a half to get to new york city to find an attorney who's willing to take an iou because the feds have my money and to represent me in the fight of my life i found a decent honest attorney named jim walden who decided to take on my case and i
went into the office after the arraignment and i said to him okay walden what's our strategy and what's our angle and he said molly integrity will be both our strategy and our angle and man that that just hit me like a ton of bricks you know that was the girl i was raised to be that was what i cared about and i lost my way and i i knew i knew that the way home and the weight of redemption was to prioritize integrity once more and life gave me an opportunity to test how serious i was about that just a few short weeks later the prosecutors wanted to have a meeting with me and they said uh molly bloom you've been running one of the biggest gambling syndicates for eight years ever and we think you have information on some of these people and we're interested on in information on the politicians the the uh rock stars the celebrities the wall street titans
and if you're willing to do that if you're willing to wear a wire and get us our information or turn over your hard drives and cooperate with us we'll give you all your money back and and we'll make sure you stay out of jail but if you don't we're going to fight for real jail time so i i had a day to go home and think about this and what i had to what i had to admit to myself was that this was all my fault that these people had shown up and supported my business that i had become friends with them that i'd gotten to know them and their families and i was the one that made the mistake i was the one that put everyone in this situation and so i knew that i had to take responsibility for that and so i went in and i turned down the offer from from the uh from the prosecutors and i waited to get sentenced and luckily i got a judge that was uh
pretty pretty uh lenient and and understanding although he vehemently disagreed with my life choices and so the good news is is that i didn't have to go to jail the bad news is however is that i had to go to dinner with my family that night and i come from this family of ridiculous high achievers my youngest brother is a two-time olympian who went on to play in the nfl and my middle brother is a harvard educated cardiothoracic surgeon and here i was 35 years old millions of dollars in debt network destroyed convicted felon and i said to myself this is not how this story ends i have to figure out a way forward and the way that i have to figure out a way forward is to learn the lesson forgive myself and believe that i can get there and so this brings me to the final lesson or play in my playbook which is to be in growth mindset growth
mindset is a really fascinating term coined by stanford psychologist carol dweck and it talks about two different types of mindsets people who have a growth mindset believe that they can get places become more intelligent develop abilities through sustained effort and and positive thinking and people in a fixed mindset believe that they are limited by these innate capabilities and she does really incredible interesting work in which she went into um these schools that were underperforming and there's this one in particular in the bronx these kids had scored uh in the bottom of the heap on their math districts and the only thing that carol dweck and her team did was go in and tell them about growth mindset she said to them you're just not learning math yet and here is how you do it if you continue to apply effort here's what will here's what is what will happen in your brain you will
create new neurons and new networks and you will get there that's the only thing that they changed in this kid's curriculum and at the end of the year the kids scored number one in their math districts so believing in yourself and believing that you're not just there yet again is not motivational nonsense it's not woo-woo it's quantify it it's quantified science and data and so i had to believe i could get there and when i took inventory of the whole mess i thought that maybe the story was the unique asset and so i decided i was going to write a book and then i was going to take that book to hollywood and hopefully get aaron sorkin to write the movie aaron sorkin is my favorite writer he wrote the west wing the social network moneyball and um i thought if i can get him to take this on it'd be great so i finally got to aaron sorkin and i was told that i would have one
hour to pitch to him and then i had to uh i had to let it go and so i told my story to aaron sorkin and when i was done i'll never forget what he said he said well kiddo i've never met someone so down on their luck and so full of themselves and you know i wasn't full of myself i just believed that where i had been or what i had done did not have to dictate where i was going and so i said are you in zorkin and he was so you know a couple years ago i was pleading guilty in federal court and recently i got to go to the oscars with molly's game and you know these are the lessons um a disciplined mind a kind heart learning how to let things go developing the vision to see opportunities and the problems prioritizing integrity and developing a growth mindset but each
of these requires great cultivation they require the willingness to get uncomfortable they require the humility to look at ourselves and change what needs changing they require the courage to not take the easier softer way and they require the resilience to stay open-hearted and compassionate no matter how much darkness surrounds us you know ever since i was a little girl i wanted that big life and i chased the things that i thought would bring it to me to the end of the earth yet at my richest and most powerful i was sick broken and alone and it wasn't a best-seller or an oscar-nominated movie that saved me though they helped it was a return to decency you see i've found that winning has less to do with conquering the world has very much to do with conquering ourselves and everything to do with how we show up for other
people thank you so much i am so so honored to have been here i wish you all a prosperous peaceful and purposeful 2021. thank you