Published: March 2, 2023 By

At CU Boulder’s Macky Auditorium this week, alumna Molly Bloom shared stories of her notorious past running big-money private poker games, the art of reinvention and the importance of believing in yourself. 

Bloom was the seventh speaker in the Leo Hill Leadership Speaker Series, part of the Center for Leadership overseen by Chancellor Philip DiStefano. 

“You can always rewrite your story and overcome adversity,” said Savannah Perry, introducing Bloom to an audience of more than 1,000 faculty, staff, students and community members. Perry, a former CU women’s volleyball player, is a senior in the Scripps Leadership and Career Development Program and the Presidents Leadership Class.

CU Boulder's Student Leaders of the Year pose for a photo with Molly Bloom and Chancellor Philip DiStefano

CU Boulder’s Student Leaders of the Year were honored at the event and received rounds of applause. Learn more about the 2023 student leaders.

With her parents and one brother―Olympian, CU alumnus and former professional football player Jeremy Bloom—in the audience, Bloom discussed her own journey and personal transformation without sugar coating details of her tabloid past. After being busted by the feds for running illegal poker games in New York City, Bloom was sentenced to a year of probation and 200 hours of community service. 

But that was nine years ago. Today, Bloom is a sought-after speaker and new parent trying to juggle life-work balance and home in on her purpose. Here are other takeaways from her talk:

Believe in yourself

Sounds easy enough but it certainly wasn’t for a young Bloom, who was plagued by crushing self-doubt, even as she ranked third in the Nor-Am Cup in women's mogul skiing. She described her fear of failure as “all-encompassing” when she was 19. 

“You don’t have to have it figured out. You have to keep showing up. The fear you have that you are not good enough is unfounded.”

Further, bad decisions and adversity can be catalysts for greatness. You learn most from failures, she said.

“You don’t just get one chance. If you are willing to grow, you will have as many chances as you are brave enough to take.”

What can you give vs. what can you get?

Bloom recalled being mortified by the cheesy gambling-themed playlist she made and the basic cheese plate she brought when she was tapped to help serve cocktails at a private poker game in LA. But she quickly got hooked on the power in the room—Hollywood A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck, billionaires and politicians. She had access to information, capital and power. 

She consulted with her mother as she sought to understand what she could get from this incredible opportunity. Her mother helped her reframe her thinking around “what she could give.” 

Bloom opted to focus on how her presence made people feel. She encouraged others to do the same. 

“Become aware of the emotional footprint you leave on the world. That will return you incredible value. That, and hard work.”

Accept responsibility 

When her game was stolen away from her in Los Angeles, she moved it to NYC. The stakes were so high she once saw someone lose $100 million in one night. 

But things started to change for her in New York, and she got caught up in money, greed and power. She began making bad decisions that didn’t align with her values.

She made mistakes. Mobsters threatened her. She was taking money off the top and breaking the law. In the end, she only had herself to blame. To move forward, she had to accept responsibility. And then she had to do something even harder: forgive herself.

Women: Own your power

Understanding your fresh perspective in a male-dominated field can work in your favor. 

“Lean into that. Don’t let people overpower you. Continue to push that envelope. Be so good they can’t ignore you.” 

In her own life, Bloom is committed to financial independence. While raising her child, she is also on the speaking circuit, working on two books and a documentary, and she just did a sports podcast. 

Make lemonade out of lemons

With nothing left, Bloom decided to write a memoir. She saw potential for a movie and hounded screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin until he agreed to put Molly’s Game on the big screen. She recalled him saying, “I’ve never met someone so down on their luck and full of themselves.”

“You can still advocate for yourself. If you don’t believe in you, who will?”

Nine years ago, Bloom was pleading guilty in federal court. Five years ago, she was at the Academy Awards because the film based on her book had been nominated for an Oscar. And this week, she was speaking at her beloved CU Boulder campus in her new hometown.

“Twenty-five years ago, I sat where you’re sitting. I walked on this beautiful campus, got coffee on the Hill. I wanted to light the world on fire. I wanted to become someone I could call my hero.”

On the stage this week at Macky, Bloom got one step closer. 

“Here I am with all of you. It sure feels like a redemptive moment.”