March Madness, David and Underdogs


We’ve all had the experience of feeling like the deck was stacked against us, afraid that maybe we didn’t have the necessary tools, strength, or courage to get the job done.

Maybe it was when you got your first “real job” and you walked in for the first time feeling completely overwhelmed. Or maybe it was when you had your first child and panic set in when you realized that this new human was 100% dependent on you, and you didn’t know what to do. Or maybe you’ve started your own business, excited at the possibilities and then realized that the only person invested in your success was you, and there was a lot of competition who wanted you out of business.

No matter who you are and where you’ve been in life, you’ve probably experienced being the underdog at some point. The question is, how did you handle it?

Did that position cause you stress and anxiety or did you thrive on it? Were you intimidated by what you didn’t know, or were you excited about the possibility of surprising everyone?

This week marks the beginning of “March Madness” the US men’s college basketball tournament. What I love about the NCAA tournament is that you never know what is going to happen. The tournament begins by announcing the 64 best teams in the country who have been chosen to participate. There is much debate that ensues as each team is ranked 1-16 in four regions. People argue over whether such and such a team should have been a #2 instead of a #3 or a #12 instead of a #13, but after the tip-off of the first game, the debating ends and excitement of game begins.

The excitement comes from the fact that despite the rankings, even the most seasoned expert can’t predict what will happen. Many will offer their picks, but no one is ever completely right.

If the tournament unfolded as it is “supposed to” every higher ranked team would beat their lower ranked opponent until the four #1 teams would face off at the end. The only guess work would be which #1 would win. But in the history of the tournament all four #1s have never reached the final four! Which is what makes the tournament so exciting. There is always a chance that an underdog will win. In fact, it’s quite likely.

I think life is like that too. No matter what the odds say, the underdog always has a chance. Whether or not the underdog succeeds depends on how well they can do a few key things.
So what makes an underdog likely to succeed? Here are 3 key characteristics of underdogs who win:

1. Self-Confidence: This doesn’t mean arrogance or foolish optimism. It means having a genuine faith in your abilities. If you think you can’t win, you’ve lost before you’ve begun. You must believe you can do it.

2. Focus on What You Control: So much of life is out of your control. You can’t control the economy, your employer, or even your partner. Too often we waste time and energy trying to control things that we can’t control. If you want to win as the underdog, you have to focus on what you CAN control and do that well.

3. One Step at a Time: When you are the underdog, looking ahead at the long journey to success can seem overwhelming. The further away the goal is, the more intimidating it feels. That’s why it’s critical that you not bite off too much at once. Start with the first thing you have to do. When that is accomplished, move to the next thing, and then the next. One step at a time.

You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and you run a marathon one step at a time. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

When you’re the underdog you may feel like it would be better to be the favourite. But if you choose to see it differently, being the underdog can be a lot of fun. When no one expects you to do much, it’s that much more fun to succeed.

After all, if Goliath had killed David, we probably wouldn’t even know that story. But Goliath didn’t win, David did, and we still tell that story thousands of years later. Go be David.