Thoughts From a Busted Bracket

By Geoff Schaefer

Geoff is a Wealth Advisor with Intergy Private Wealth. He writes for The Steadfast Fiduciary to help people live with an abundant heart, open mind, and boundless generosity.

April 9, 2024

“And when it’s done,
win or lose,
you always did your best,
cuz inside you knew…
One Shining Moment, You reached for the sky,
One Shining Moment​, You knew,
One Shining Moment, you were willing to try,
One Shining Moment….”

-Luther Vandross
(This song is one of my favorite parts of the tournament every year and if you’ve ever watched the championship with me, we will watch the entire post- game coverage until they let Luther cook!)

So, another March Madness passes us by, and once again your bracket is busted and you’ve lost your family pool to your six year old nephew that picked based on mascots and your office pool to Janet in Accounting who picked UConn because her friend’s kid’s sister went there once on a college visit. Frustration and annoyance are normal feelings in this case. You may be like me and watch far too much college basketball. You recognized 62 of the 68 teams and knew their play styles.  You knew which teams were experienced and which ones would likely struggle under pressure. You filled out, “the perfect bracket” and you were proud of it.  Then the first round happened and by the end of the fifth game, your bracket had more markups than your first book report in the fourth grade. Obviously, I am unfamiliar with these feelings *sarcasm*, but am trying to empathize here.  (Full disclosure, I picked 1 of the Elite Eight and 0 Final Four teams, my bracket was trash.) A wholehearted congratulations to my eight-year son who won his first family bracket challenge- a huge deal in my house.

What can a busted bracket teach us about financial planning and life?

  • No matter how much you know or don’t know, the one thing we all have in common is that we don’t know the future. We all made a guess on some upsets here or there, but even if you picked it, did you really believe it? I mean, there is no way Oakland should have beat the University of Kentucky, but they did. We all went into today with a plan in mind, and it can all change in an instant. A phone call, a wrong turn, a decision made by a person that runs a fortune 500 company, all can change what you thought was going to happen into a foreign new reality. Understanding that not knowing the future is ok and even normal is a healthy realization. It should be a foundational truth in your financial plan.
  • For every Cinderella story, someone else went home from the dance.  Last night one team won the tournament.  That leaves 67 unsuccessful groups of highly talented and skilled individuals who all believed they had a chance, but fell short. Were the seasons of all those teams a failure?
    • Purdue reached the Final Four for the first time in 44 years.
    • NC State’s season should have ended in early-March, but a historic streak had them playing into April. They went from a likely NIT snub to a Final Four team.
    • Duquesne started the season losing five games in a row and finished by stunning a talented BYU team in the First Round.
    • Oakland won its first ever First Round NCAA Tournament game.
    • Alabama reached its first ever Final Four and became relevant for a sport other than football.
    • James Madison finished the season with the most wins not only in their program history, but in the Sun Belt conference’s history and added a tourney win.

It’s tough to follow these story lines and draw the line they all failed.  With basketball and with life, some perspective is required.

Maybe we’re not at the top of our game this year?

Maybe we were at the top, but are facing a disappointment?  

Or maybe we’re winning at everything?

No matter where you find yourself, it’s important to have perspective and grow.

Not at the top of your game could be not reaching a business goal or missing the mark with relationships. Maybe you messed up more than you got right.  Realizing that is important and knowing that the future is an opportunity to improve and get better.

At the top and facing disappointment could be getting laid off from work, a family tragedy, or something that really comes from left field and knocks you out.  Could you have done anything to change the outcome? Perhaps, but often, you did all you could. Is there a learning opportunity from this or perhaps a way to make sure we do what we can to prevent the same feeling in the future?

Maybe you’re winning at everything and good for you!  Your career is taking off, your business is selling next week, your family is healthy and happy.  Great, now just like UConn, how can you stay there?  Back-to-back championships are not accidents, but a result of intentional decisions. “Success doesn’t stop when you get there.” – Michael Jordan

Just remember, having to leave the dance isn’t a mark of failure, but a point to learn from the past, be grateful today, and dream of a better future.

  • We are not nearly as smart as we think we are.  If you are like me, you were very proud of your bracket. It made sense. Matchups, play style, injuries were all taken into account.  Even though the reasoning was sound, I was wrong… a lot. If this is true for a bracket, what else in life are we kidding ourselves about how smart we are? We all have things that we do incredibly well, but no one can do everything. Perhaps asking for help is not a bad thing. You may be a great doctor or can fly a plane better than Tom Cruise, but that doesn’t mean you can teach a child how to read, or farm crops that will feed thousands of people, or understand the complexities of of the US tax code. Know what you do well and know when you need some help.  Asking for help is strength, not a weakness.
  • A great game is better than a great bracket.  I may be alone here, but I will cheer for the underdog nearly all of the time.  I love a good comeback story or following a lovable and charismatic team. In the early rounds of the tournament, I am excited for upsets and buzzer beaters even if is contrary to my bracket picks.  The takeaway here is that we can’t make a plan so perfect that it prohibits you from living life.  A lot of life is the product of well laid plans, but there could be an equal amount that is a product of good timing, serendipitous circumstances, and divine intervention. Failing to have the flexibility to adjust to opportunities in the name of following a plan could rob you of a joyous outcome. Make a plan, but be willing to cheer for something that the plan may have not laid out.
  • Last, our journey is made by the people we choose to take on it. Listen to any post-game interview and a good player or coach will always reiterate one thing: It was their teammates that gave them the opportunity to succeed. Yes, Zach Edey went off for 40 points in his Final Four Matchup against NC State, but he directed that success to his teammates taking care of the ball and facilitating him getting the ball in great position on the post. Oakland’s Jack Gohlke reflected on their second-round loss to NC State by saying, “the thing I wanted most was to see everyone at practice on Monday. That is what I will miss the most.”  He didn’t say, winning would have made this season better or we just needed to win one more game, he said he wanted more time with his teammates on the court. Everyone has their team, the people who are coming along with you on your journey. We can all learn a lot from Jack and understand winning is great and losing sucks, but having the people you love and live for is key. Don’t be so distracted by Apple maps that you miss who is in the minivan with you.

March Madness truly is the greatest time of year. No sporting event comes close to the tournament. If you won your bracket pool, congrats! If you are in the majority and lost, I hope you enjoyed a game with a friend. I hope it opened a conversation with a relative. I hope you laughed with a family member about your terrible bracketology advice. The latter things are really what it’s all about anyway.

So until next year, and remember, next time you get a hunch and want to pick some stocks, just pull up your bracket as a reminder of how your hunches go.

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