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Three Tragedies & A Laugh

Three Tragedies & A Laugh - Owen Thomas explores 3 Life Principles & Laugh

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Nolan Gandon sat on her lecture desk. She was not particularly beautiful – she was relatively short and somewhat round. Her feet dangled over the desk, wore bright red lipstick, so bright it could guide you home at night. As was her wont, she would take a long drag on a cigarette, with a rasping sucking sound, and as she exhaled would launch into whatever was the subject matter for the day.

Nolan was my favourite lecturer. She was the head of the university’s theatre department – Which is now Western Australian College of Advanced Education. After coming from a conservative religious background where I grew up believing the going to the movies was a sin – the world of theatre was exciting, frightening, and pushed many boundaries. It is here that I learnt about Greek plays, the history of the format and the joy of performing.

I learned about the golden age of Greek Theatre and the great competitions that drew the day’s best writers. Performed at the Theatre of Dionysus they would consist of three tragedies and a comedy around a mythological subject. The first Three plays would deal with profound questions of life, the consequences of behaviour and the follies of fate—the last and fourth a play, a play that laughed at the human condition.

It’s a pretty good format, and if you think about the basic idea, our news services use on every nightly news. Lots of bad news and then at the end a “lucky dog” feel-good story to leave you feeling that the world is not quite as bad as you thought.

So here we go – Three life principles that you can use to improve your life and a reminder to always “go before you go!” – but you will have to wait for that. Trust me – it will be worth it.

burned 100 US dollar banknotes

1. Chase Passion Not Money.

“Once you are full of passion, and you pursue excellence, success will come naturally. Enough money will follow, and important things in your life will occur.” –

Dr Pankaj Naram.

Unemployment was close to 10%, and I had just seen the destruction of a business I had spent eight years building. Finding work was not easy. To sustain life, I was selling cakes on the side of the road every weekend. I had always believed that if you wanted a job, you could find one. I discovered that it was easy to say but not so easy to do. I had applied for any job I could get an interview. I remember sitting in front of one job – delivering freshwater ( the start of the water cooler phase). The owner of the business said, “you can sure do the job, and we would probably do well to have you, but you’re too good – in six months you’d be gone.” He was right; I would get bored, and it was just a fill-in job till I could find something else. So he didn’t offer it to me.

It was a buyers market. I went home.  I was talking to my parents a few days later complaining about the problem. Since I had time, my mother suggested  – why not keep working at the motivation music album idea and see what happened.

I picked up my creative hat with that seed planted and dug out the files and went to work.

I had spent the previous two years negotiating with various record companies to licence music for a concept album, and the agreements had just come through a couple of months previously.

I had been under a considerable amount of pressure to rush out the project but had resisted as it wasn’t “perfect”. I don’t mean it had to faultless, but it had to be emotionally perfect. As someone listened to it, they were taken on a journey. There could be no point in the 70-minute experience where you were taken out of the space, at No point where you were allowed to think about anything else.

You’ve had the experience – you see a great movie – you are taken out of your life and what seems like you just sat in your seat is actually two hours. You’ve even forgotten that you were in your seat at all. I wanted emotional excellence – a mesmeric experience

The album was released twelve months later. It went gangbusters – it couldn’t be manufactured fast enough. I remember calling the record companies to check the royalty reports I wrote covered all the needed information. Their reply “all good here” with a big smile in their voice – “Just keep sending that money”. They were very, very happy. I had phone calls from the US asking how many came in a container load.

The money kept coming.

This lead to the obvious question – “when’s the next one?”

I was motivated. When you’re coming out of a business loss, this result got me excited. But try as I might, I could not get the second one to work. It didn’t sound right the flow was wrong… it just wasn’t working. I sat at the mixing console one day and realised I was only doing it for the money, and unless that changed emotionally, it would never work. I pack everything up. I would not touch the project until I was emotionally connected to the passion of the project. I prepared to wait until that idea, and that feeling was with me. I was also ready never to create another album.

The commitment paid off, over the next nine years, I created another four albums. The royalises allowed me to reduce my work commitments and go to film school, a dream I had for ten years. They gave me the confidence to start a production and entertainment business. I purchase my first house.

I wished I had followed this advice at other times. Often getting involved with sound business ideas that intellectually made good sense, and I had more than the adequate skills to be successful. However, they missed the one crucial ingredient – I was not passionate about them.

We all at times have had to do things to keep the roof over our head. In those times, I look to find something I can have some passion about or at the very least can fine-tune skills that I can use with my desires. But don’t stay too long. Keep moving forward in the direction of your life passions.

So what important things can happen from following our passion and excellence?

To quote Dr Naram again.

“You will be happy, content, and you will eventually discover fulfilment.”

Passion or Money - chase one get the other, chase one and find unhappiness.

2. The Power of Association.

“If you want to stop smoking – stop hanging around smokers.”

My grandfather in the 1930’s won enough money one afternoon, at the racetrack, to put a massive down payment on the first family home. That leads to a significant family interest over the generations with the whole idea of horseracing. Two sons tried out as jockeys’ – one successfully with 100’s of winners to his credit. The other – too heavy – left and became a professional foot runner – and in his 70’s pull off one of the greatest betting stings on one of the world’s richest professional foot races. So, you can see my father’s family have pretty enamoured with all things betting. Unfortunately, it also exposed their personal flaws which meant somethings didn’t go well. So gambling is something that’s not recommended.

It is an industry that encourages a lot of scammers and Ne’er-do-wells.

However, when in my late 30’s, my health was deteriorating, and medical costs going through the roof, and money tight, I ran across some betting programs that “promised” to make significant returns – I fell hook line and sinker for the Con. I would love to say I did that just once –  but no, I did it three times.

It’s amazing how blind we can become when we want something to be true.

As I wrote about in Stolen, things are things; we can decide how we take and use our lives’ events.

“Pain is inevitable – suffering is a choice.”

The above activities put my name on a marketing list, and as a result, I ended up meeting two friends, Matt and Jess, who were professional gamblers. I very soon discovered that everything I had been doing was wrong. These guys were the real deal.  I would later hear about their friends who ran Australian Blackjack teams aka like those featured in the hit Movie 21, based on the book “Bringing Down The House.”

I would eventually find out they had the same interest in personal development.  We would often share interests about the same authors; Not the typical gamblers profile.

I met them when my life was at a low point. My health was poor, and walking to the end of the street was a big day out. I had no idea what would be in store for my life; what careers or life’s work were possible. I never wrote down a goal or even thought about what might be possible for nearly four years. My only aims every day were what I have later written about in My Daily Ten.

I did know that I never wanted to be a professional gambler. It didn’t feel fulfilling or part of a life purpose. However, I was interested in a professional approach to racing and sports investing. At the time, it gave me an interest something to master. It also gave me a sense of accomplishment that I could do well at something that most people will lack the personal discipline. It gave me a social network when the home was the only place I could be. Most importantly, it could move at whatever pace I was emotionally and physically able to move.

I did not know all this at the start. What I did know was the power of association. If I wanted to get good at this, hanging around skilled people was the key. Even if my goal was to make some money, the crumbs from a wealthy persons (professional persons) table, are some of the best pickings around.

Once I had established their bona fideses, I allocated a modest bank of money, the money I was prepared to lose – $500. My goal was to double it. If I lost it, I could not and would not start again. So, I was meticulous. If I could double it the principles, what I would learn would be the same whether I was betting with a bank of 100k or 1/2k.

Matt and Jess thought me money management, the whole idea of bookkeeping, and understanding my psychological makeup. The real battle here is, just like everything else in life, the struggle with self. I learn the analysis of risk and my risk profile. When I read New York Times Bestselling author Anna Kornikova’s latest book The Biggest Bluff – How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win – it was like I was reading a mirror experience. Here she was a complete unknown to poker, taking on a mentor and mastering the game. And more importantly, mastering herself.

I never made enormous sums of money, but over time I won enough money to continually pay for my significant health care costs and a trip to see my brother in England. I doubled my bank every year and on occasion more frequently. I still have a record of every bet I made. It was a good eight years. I stopped not when I wasn’t making money, but one day the need and the interest had gone. I had lost heart for it.

One of the most fascinating and informative experiences I had with Matt was around Christmas time. I rang to ask some question or another, and when I asked how he was going, he let me know he was in a bit of a quandary. I was intrigued. He explained at this time of year a lot of the betting opportunities had stopped or slowed significantly, and he had to wait until late January to start again. He was up for a holiday but didn’t know what to do with the 500k he had sitting in various bookmaker accounts all over the world. I suggested why not put it in shares for a few months. He responded with a loud outburst – “Shares? – That’s risky”.

I had to laugh here is a guy who regularly puts large chunks of money on a horse running around a track but thought “shares” was risky. He went on to explain. As he knew nothing about shares, the concept of buying some for him was gambling. He was playing in a world of which he knew nothing. He could tell you whether betting on Tiger Woods was a good bet today, or Manchester United would likely win, lose, or draw and at what odds, but no idea whether Apple or Google was a good bet. That is someone who is a professional and knows their limitations, strengths and weakness.

Now, I do not suggest you take up gambling or start regularly hanging out at casinos, as a matter of fact, I would actively discourage it. Most people are not capable of the discipline it takes to do well. And if you have a problem with it regardless with its betting on horses or for that matter betting on the stock market, most countries around the world have a lot of government-backed support programs. Check them out.

Aristotle Onassis, the Greek Shipping Magnate, and husband to the widow of President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier; was once asked what he would do if he lost all his money. He replied that he would take any job he could get since he came from a poor background, poorly educated, and possessed no particular skills. That job would probably not pay very much but would eat beans and rice and save enough money to purchase a nice suit. He would continue his saving strategy and in his nice suit would hang out in the hotel lounges where all the wealthy businessmen stayed. He would get to know them and listen to what they say and apply that knowledge. He exercised the power of association – if you want to be rich, hang around rich people.

I learnt a lot from those years. Most importantly, what I knew about the power of association.  It paid off big time, playing in one of the most world’s most difficult money-making arenas, where most people lose, and frequently for the wrong reason.

Next week we will explore one more life principle and as promised a rather good laugh at ourselves.

So, till next time.


Ancient Secrets of a Master Healer: A Western Skeptic, An Eastern Master, And Life’s Greatest Secrets – Clint G. Rogers.

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win – Maria Konnikova.


Written By Owen Thomas


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