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drawing of you can't change the cards you're dealt, only how you play your hand

❝My glass is half empty, but I still might sip it.❞ -Dax, "The Abyss"

Let's talk about playing cards and drinking water.

Much of what happens is outside of our control. This is true of the things that happen to us daily, but also our starting point in life.

Let's explore acceptance and action from the perspective of four quotes.


"My glass is half empty, but I still might sip it."


Dax is a Canadian country rapper who often writes and sings about life, existence, and pain. In his song The Abyss, he discusses the shortness of life, struggle, and avoidance. The line "My glass is half empty, but I still might sip it" starts with talking about the glass being half empty.

A common test for whether you are an optimist or pessimist is to ask how you would describe a glass with twice as much volume as water. Those who say the glass is half full are commonly labeled optimists.

drawing of glass half full

Those who say the glass is half empty are commonly labeled pessimists.

drawing of glass half empty

The difference is usually related to people's default responses. Half-empty people are purported to be focused on the deficit - what's not there.

Half-full people are purported to be focused on the abundance - what is there.

Other people, like me, never really fit in. My answer is always, "It depends." If it started out full and now has half the water it started with, it's half empty. If it started empty and now the cup is halfway filled with water, it's half full.

But I digress...

drawing of optimism and pessimism

Dax's point with this quote is that it doesn't matter to him whether or not his cup is half full or empty. There's water there! He doesn't want to waste time thinking about how much water is in the cup; he can't control that.

In other words, he doesn't want to complain about the cards he was dealt. He wants to focus on playing his hand.

drawing of glass half full and glass half empty


"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."

-Randy Pausch

Dax's point is perfectly summed up by Randy Pausch. Pausch was a computer science professor who, in 2007, was given three to six months to live. Shortly after that, he gave a lecture called Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, commonly called The Last Lecture.

If you're playing cards, the deck gets shuffled and then dealt to all the players. If it's done fairly, it's random. You have no control over the deal.

You have full control over how you play those cards you were dealt. You can only move forward from where you stand.

drawing of the cards you're dealt

Acceptance means to allow what already is. We don't deny what has already happened. As much fun as it is sometimes, hoping for better cards doesn't actually give us better cards.

Pausch's quote is from the beginning of the speech when he introduced himself as someone with a few months left to live. To provide context, the next sentence sums up his acceptance of his situation pretty nicely:

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you."

The best we can do is accept our cards and play the hand. We can accept how much water is in our cup and drink it up. How is up to you.

drawing of wishing for a better hand

A grateful person exhibits certain traits. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.


"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

-Theodore Roosevelt

How you move forward and what you move toward is succinctly summarized by Theodore Roosevelt's quote. Roosevelt talks about acceptance when he says, "with what you have" and "where you are."

If something has happened, it's happened. It represents who you are. And who you are includes where you are and what you have. It's about accepting the cards you were dealt or how much water is in the cup.

"Do what you can" is about action. It's about moving forward. It's about playing the hand the best you can or deciding what to do with the water in the cup.

What to do will be different for everyone. One way to think about it is to think about your potential.

drawing of your potential

What do I mean by potential? Nothing. You define potential. Success is defined by you. For some, fulfilling potential is about being promoted to the top of their company. For others, it's about being great parents. Others define it as charitable giving. There could be as many definitions as there are people.

drawing of success is defined by you

The trick is to fulfill YOUR potential, however you decide to define it. Remember, everyone has different values, so we need not do what others do. Inauthenticity is the top regret people have on their deathbeds.

drawing of fulfilling your potential

Deciding what success means to you and fulfilling your potential is our aim. People who maximize their potential are, in my opinion, doing better in life than those who waste it.

In other words, there are people who make the best of the cards they were dealt and those who don't.

drawing of fulfilling your potential vs not


"It doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty; there's water in the cup. Drink it and stop complaining."

-Rudy Francisco

Rudy Francisco is a poet. This quote is from a poem called Complainers. In the poem, Francisco tells us about several people who have had a number of things happen to them that we would all consider awful. One man had to cut off his arm to escape a boulder that fell on him. One woman fell into a river while bungee jumping and had to swim to shore with a broken collarbone with crocodiles.

He goes on to describe more examples and then tells us what each of these people had in common. When asked about their situations, they all said it could have been worse.

To add context to his quote:

"Remember that every year, two million people die of dehydration, so it doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty; there's water in the cup. Drink it and stop complaining."

drawing of stop asking if the glass is half full or half empty

This brings us back to Dax's original quote. "Drink it and stop complaining" is exactly what Dax says he wants to do when he says, "I still might drink it."

Worrying about whether your glass is half empty or half full wastes time, as does stressing over the cards you've been dealt.

Time is finite. Use your time wisely so that you can look back on it with pride from your deathbed.

drawing of don't waste your life

Once the milk has spilled, the best thing to do is deal with the mess and then learn why the milk spilled so you can try to prevent it from happening again. Crying over the spilled milk doesn't help.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Ben-Shahar, Tal: Being Happy Ben-Shahar, Tal: Even Happier Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier Ben-Shahar, Tal: Happier, No Matter What Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote Dalai Lama & Howard Cutler: The Art of Happiness Emmons, Robert: THANKS! Glasgow, Joshua: The Solace Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis Hall, Kindra: Choose Your Story, Change Your Life

Hanh, Thich Nhat: No Mud, No Lotus Hanson, Rick & Forrest Hanson: Resilient Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life Irvine, William: A Slap in the Face Irvine, William: The Stoic Challenge Pigliucci, Massimo: How to Be a Stoic Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor Wallace, David Foster: This is Water



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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