Out of the blue one day, I got a call from a local retailer telling me I’d won the use of a projection-screen TV for the Final Four weekend, plus platters of munchies for a March Madness get-together. This was before HD and flat screens — it was a Big Deal to have that giant television wheeled into the house for the weekend. We had our friends Tillie and Jim over, and together we cheered for and yelled at the players and ate a lot of deli food. Good times!
Jim passed away just a few short years later. He was in his mid-30s. Every year when March Madness comes around, I’m reminded of the surprise of winning that prize and the unexpected way in which watching few basketball games deepened our friendship. It makes me realize what a good coach the universe is — there are lessons for life everywhere, even in the playoffs.
Here’s what March Madness taught me about life:
1. Surprise is a gift that’s wrapped to look like something else. Open it anyway. The funny thing is, I don’t watch basketball. Or any sports. At all. I didn’t even remember entering the contest. It’s a very human reaction to be skeptical when something isn’t exactly what you’d anticipated. But when you open yourself to the unexpected, you give way to the possibility for grace … and growth.
2. You can’t get to the playoffs without putting in time on the court. Watching really good athletes then thinking back to my last attempts to even make the laundry basket, it’s clear that you can’t succeed on hope alone. Success — in the arena, at work, in your personal life — is made up of countless hours of practice, then countless more hours of perfect practice. Get lazy here, and your goals get waylaid. Do the drills, and watch your dreams come true.
3. You can’t get to the playoffs without passion. Though I’m more at home behind the cover of a Jane Austen novel than an issue of Sports Illustrated, it’s easy to spot the players and teams who love what they do. Whether you’re an athlete or, to borrow a line from Grease, “an athletic supporter,” or a parent, or an accountant — whatever you do, when you come from a place of passion, you’ll go the distance.
4. Friendly competition makes you a better friend. When you know that the teammates in your life are bringing their best game and expect you to do the same, you push yourself to be your best self. Likewise, when you know that you can speak honestly to a friend’s missteps — and receive critiques in the spirit of hopeful help in which they’re given — relationships get firmly grounded in trust. And only good can grow from trust.
5. Sharing doesn’t divide; it multiplies. My partner and I could have holed up with that ginormous television and watched whatever we wanted all weekend. I know I could have easily turned the party platters into a single-serving meal. Instead, we called our favorite couple and shared the gift in the way it was meant to be shared, and now have magnified memories of that time together. It’s the same feeling I see expressed on the faces of teammates who played their best or a community that comes together or generations that learn to bridge the gap. Sharing the work, sharing successes, even sharing setbacks makes life exponentially better.