The Final Four: Heartbreak, Elation and 3 Lessons for Underdogs
March Madness 2018 is barreling towards its climax. In the men’s division, the Villanova Wildcats are set to take on Michigan Monday night in the championship battle. Meanwhile, in the women’s finals, Mississippi State will face off against Notre Dame, which managed to take down the top-ranked UConn Huskies in a wild overtime finish.
It’s been a crazy tournament, with loads of upsets. Perhaps the most memorable game of 2018 came from the improbable upstarts at 16th-ranked UMBC, who managed to ice the number 1 ranked Virginia in the first round on March 16—and in convincing style, too. That 20-point underdog victory marked the first time in the history of March Madness that a 16th seed ever bested a number 1 seed.
So what can we learn here? How does the road to the Final Four (and beyond) rhyme with our own journeys to wellness and clarity?
Whether you’ve been waylaid because of an injury or thrown off by an unexpected event, internalize these March Madness lessons:
1) How you respond to a shocking, negative event defines your character. For instance, let’s say you wrenched your back lifting a box at work—or playing an ill-advised game of pick up. Should you bemoan your fate and get lost in what-ifs? Or should you accept your reality and do everything you can to improve your situation? Virginia’s coach, Tony Bennett—named AP’s coach of the year before the UMBC loss—offers choice advice along these lines: “Life on the wrong side of history is challenging, and that’s Virginia’s plight now… We get to choose how we respond.”
The moral? Just like Bennett and Virginia, you have agency about how to deal with your injury: you get to choose how to respond.
- Past performance does not predict future results. When life is going well—when you’ve got your health, you’re earning money, you’re feeling great—it’s easy to imagine that good fortune will continue. Likewise, when the opposite is happening—you’re in pain because of an injury or illness or you’re cash flow negative—you will naturally project dark thoughts about the future.
Human beings are bad about predicting our futures and how future events will affect us. An object lesson here: the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team seemed unbeatable this year. They have been beyond dominant this decade. Coming off a ridiculous 111 game winning streak that ended in 2017, UConn entered 2018 with an even more dominant advantage. And yet they lost in the Final Four for the second year in a row, on a buzzer beater.
The moral? Life is always in flux. Just because you’re healthy and happy today does not guarantee a healthy, happy tomorrow. The converse is true, too. Just because you’re in pain and miserable today doesn’t guarantee endless suffering.
- Don’t sacrifice your values—there’s always a price to pay. One of the biggest March Madness stories this year has been the corruption scandal. Or should we say scandals. As ESPN reported back in September: “Four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern California were charged… in a federal corruption investigation, and that might be only the tip of the iceberg in a three-year FBI probe that focused on coaches being paid tens of thousands of dollars to steer NBA-bound players toward sports agents, financial advisers and apparel companies.” The echoes of the FBI investigation shook this year’s tournament in many ways.
The moral? Even if you want something very much—for instance, fair compensation for an injury someone or some company caused you—never sacrifice your ethics. Play to win, but play by the rules.
With the top two teams remaining the Villanova Wildcats and Michigan Wolverines we will see who will take it all home. Villanova is the favored for this game. Let’s see if the underdog can make another appearance in this tournament. I guess that’s why they call it March Madness.