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March Madness

Well this is an exciting time of the year for so many people with NCAA basketball tournaments going on in men's and women's, plus NIT, plus I just watched NCAA College Wrestling Championships. Now my friends and family know that I am not really much of a basketball fan. Not a hater or anything, just not something I ever played and do not really follow. But almost everyone I know fills out brackets, watches games 24/7 and is all wrapped up into it.

I suppose what makes all of this so captivating is that in each tournament of whatever sport there are always upsets, an underdog that makes it further than they should, some kind of tragedy, and of course wildly exciting finishes. While I am not all tied up into watching the games/matches that much or following the tournaments, I do think about the athletes because that experience, the end of a season and/or a career, is universal to almost all people who have ever played any type of sport at whatever level. EVERYONE plays a last game, whatever it is they play. So when the end of a season finally arrives (and remember that for every team or participant in the field except for one it always ends in defeat) it can bring, sadness, disappointment, and ultimately the realization that this part of your life is over.

So while the end ultimately comes for all of us, what I find most fascinating is how people are so different in the way they prepare and respond to it all. From coaches, to staff, to players, to families and fans, the experience is so different across the board. But for me it is the players who are in the midst of, or at the end of, their college careers that are so intriguing.

I watched the NCAA wrestling finals this past Saturday night and while I am the first to admit that wrestlers are very much a different breed, even amongst them there was a broad spectrum of responses. For the wrestlers you had everything from calm and cool, to cranked up and excited, to the angry, determined, and serious thing, all focused and ready to take someone's head off, or at least that is how they looked.

Here these athletes are getting ready to perform at the highest level, often at the peak of their career, and on the highest stage. And for each of them this is a "window" that they have dreamed about, prepared for, worked at, often since early childhood. They have dedicated their lives for this very moment and done everything they could to put themselves in the best position they could to be successful in this their finest moment.

So this is a window they have seen coming, dreamed about, and prepared for for many years. And now here it is right before them and watching them we see the wonder of humanity in the broad spectrum of methodologies and strategies used by these folks in how to be successful in this moment in their lives. Then in a flash it is over and they have either achieved their goals or they have not. And each of us have been in that spot also yes? Having prepared for something and then when it was over not had it turn out the way we thought or planned it would. When that happens do we reflect back and examine how we prepared and then try to explore if what we did was really the best way to do it? If we discover there is another way or other strategies do we adjust what we do for the next time in order to try to have greater success?

Personally I would have to offer a loss in the state finals in wrestling for one of those moments for me. Worked hard, prepared all year, fought through all of the tournament to get to that one match, and then lost it by a single point. And in the moments leading up to that match I felt like I was mentally ready and had done all I could do to win it. But watching the finals the other night I was struck with the consistent theme of the mental aspect of the sport each wrestler mentioned. I looked back on that moment and concluded I was not ready in the way I thought I was for that moment. Instead of loose, relaxed, ready to leave it all out there, I was tight, nervous, and conservative in my approach. And I believe in the end that cost me.

In the NCAA finals ESPN, after each championship match concluded, did a quick interview with the winner to talk about the match and get their reaction. And almost every single one of them made some reference to either being or staying focused, staying relaxed, and finding a way to wrestle "their" match. Many of them referenced their coaches for helping them believe in themselves and that they could win it all. They talked about getting reinforcement and affirmations from the coaches on their abilities, of letting go of their fears, not being intimidated, and just letting it all go with everything they had once they hit the mat. The winners went out and wrestled to win it and avoided wrestling not to lose.

And it showed. Over and over you see the athlete who was aggressive, kept pressing, pushing, making things happen, attacking, they were the ones who won. Those who held back, played defense, were cautious, did not do so well. This is also true in the basketball games. Teams that had confidence, avoided feeling under pressure, having fun, playing hard, trusting in what they had been coached and their abilities, seem to do pretty well. I knew plenty of athletes like this in my day that had a genuine confidence and bravado, and when it came time to compete they could leave it all out there. Those are the things that help with success.

All this is a reminder of how powerful our minds are and most importantly our mindset as to what we believe we are capable of. It again tells us to avoid setting limits on ourselves and if we fail it is in the grandest way going after that which we desire the most.

Each of us are at different stages in our lives and we all have more windows approaching us. Maybe its a new job, a new degree program, new family members, retirement, or a world of other things. Not all of these are the same as playing in the Final Four I know. But how will we approach that new window and the opportunities that come with it? Will it be with confidence, belief, and anticipation, or fear, trepidation, and regret, or somewhere in between? And how does our mindset impact the choices we make and how those choices play out?

I have been doing a lot of yoga over the last 4 years. The more I do the more I realize that the physical side of it is only a method for getting to the mental side. That is, being able to shut off the never ending chatter our minds go through and finding quite in the midst of all the chaos. For it is in the quiet and silence that so much can be revealed to us if we are listening. But it is a process of learning to trust yourself and being able to follow your heart without fear. To be confident that you do know the choices you need to make and that whatever choice your heart is telling you to make that it will be OK because you are being true to yourself.

So go be a champion in your own life, whatever that may mean. Believe in yourself, listen to your heart and follow it. The windows keep approaching and then moving past us and over time are forever gone. What window is approaching in your life at this moment and what will you do with it? Will your mind allow you to do what you need to do? Will it inspire you and affirm you, or hold you back. Be free and go. And may you enjoy all of the madness.

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