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What March Madness teaches us about beating the odds

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If you’re anything like me, you kick off every March with the familiar thrill of filling out a fresh bracket for March Madness. For me, it’s bigger than basketball – it’s an annual prompt to reflect on life’s unexpected twists and how we handle the things that are outside of our control.

In my younger days, I dreamt of dominance. Maybe it was fueled by my alma mater’s record Final Four appearances in history or perhaps just a nod to my competitive spirit, but I would always scribble in undefeated runs for my favorite teams. Only after many years of having my predictions shattered, did I start to see the tournament for what it truly was: a masterclass in managing expectations.

I have a theory that the real reason we love sports is because it’s one of the few places in life where we can still be genuinely surprised by the outcome. But March Madness takes that element of surprise and turbocharges it because the tournament taps into our meritocratic ideals.

We desperately want to believe the ‘best’ will simply rise to the top, but we’ve seen a single off-night end a team’s dream dozens of times. The unofficial slogan, “Survive and Advance,” is as straightforward as it gets, highlighting the razor-thin margins between victory and defeat.

This idea—that the best team wins—sounds great in theory, but anyone who’s played knows it’s not that simple. In March Madness, teams don’t start on equal footing. The bigger schools? They’ve got advantages like better recruits, powerful alumni resources, and easier early games in their region. Smaller schools? They’re the underdogs from the get-go, just hoping to defy the odds in real time.

The whole setup is a lot like the economic mobility in America. Our outcomes, much like the tournament brackets, are often determined by where we start. We’re pre-sorted along harsh socioeconomic lines and if you’re an underdog, the path to the top is an endless gauntlet of tests with the potential for a major setback at every stage. In other words, if you weren’t born into a certain set of privileges, it’s like starting each round with a 20-point deficit.

When the system is that stacked, consistent effort alone might not cut it. Despite giving it your all, you learn that working harder and relying on sheer willpower often falls short because invisible forces keep proportionate rewards just out of reach. Financial success, then, becomes a test of endurance.

It’s in this uphill battle of steep odds that the importance of resilience and stamina comes to light. Resilience is that inner fortitude. It’s Fort Knox-level protection against soul-crushing blows. After enough reps, you develop a calloused mindset that helps you cope with inevitable setbacks like unemployment or health crises without falling apart.

The ability to get knocked down and stand up ready for more helps you survive any economic situation but, to truly move ahead, you need more than just resilience; you need stamina too.

Stamina is that relentless commitment to push forward and tackle new challenges with determination. It’s the x-factor that gives you the audacity to advance past the missteps and backslides, beyond the funky detours, and just keep on keeping on to continue reinventing yourself. Together, resilience and stamina are the unsung heroes of financial progress.

While resilience helps you weather the storm, stamina drives you through it, mile after grueling mile. It’s not a matter of prioritizing one over the other because they’re not competing ideals. They work together, reinforcing each other on the path towards better circumstances. The combination is where the magic happens so you have to get better at both by continuing to show up.

March Madness, with all its twists and turns, is a rare opportunity to see this dynamic dance between resilience and stamina on full display. It reminds us that plans only take us so far, and the best outcomes often emerge from the way these two skills chart new and surprising paths to victory.

If resilience raises the floor and keeps us in the game; stamina is what raises the ceiling on our potential and takes us to the next level.

These days when March rolls around, I still pick my favorites but I approach my bracket with a different mindset. I make sure to leave room for a little madness and mystery to unfold because I’ve learned to embrace the chaos and find beauty in the upsets. If anything, Cinderella stories prove that sometimes labels like “best” don’t tell the full story of what can happen on the court or in our day-to-day struggles.

So as we celebrate Final Four weekend, let’s take inspiration from those who survive and advance and reflect on the lessons they offer for the bigger game at hand: life.

Our guest on the podcast this week is none other than Lynnette Khalfani-Cox. She’s a NY Times bestselling author, personal finance expert, mentor and so much more. We’re chatting about her new book Bounce Back: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Resilience and she’s sharing so many of the lessons she has learned (and continues learning) about building financial resilience.

The post What March Madness teaches us about beating the odds appeared first on rich & REGULAR.

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