Your career is a lot like an NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket. How are you seeded? How hard will you work to advance?
It's here. The Big Dance. March Madness. Brackets. Cinderellas. The Sweet 16. The Final Four.
You filled out a bracket for your office pool. You started grandstanding in group emails after the first day of tournament play. You called the upsets. You did your homework. Deep down you know the eventual pool winner will be the one person who hasn't watched a single game all season. But you can still gloat for now.
What is it about the NCAA Basketball Tournament that resonates so much with, well, basically everyone? It's the brackets, right? It's having an ownership stake in the outcome of the games, right? It's the possibility of winning some supplemental income in the bracket pool, right? It's competitiveness, right? Bragging rights to everyone who doubted YOU could pick the games correctly, right?
Deep down, everyone wants the underdog to win. Unless you're a fan of a perennial powerhouse team, you want the underdog to win. America loves an underdog. And that's why everyone loves the NCAA Basketball Tournament: underdogs. You want the 16-seed upsetting the 1-seed to finally happen. You want the Cinderella story. Does it usually happen? No. And if it does, the dream voyage is quickly grounded by a higher-seeded team. The lowest-seeded team to ever win it all? An 8-seed. So, for all the upset-happy picks out there, most of the time, the tournament plays out like you expect it to. Most of the time, anyway.
Careers are a lot like NCAA Basketball Tournament brackets. Think about it. You've got folks that start out ahead of the game. Good parents, a solid childhood, debt-free after college, connections, recommendations - these folks are seeded higher than everyone else. The have a much better chance of winning. On the flip side, you've got kids growing up without any kind of support. Limited resources, limited education, student loan debt, limited professional network, geographic limitations - these folks are 16-seeds. Their chance of rising through the ranks is greatly lower than their higher-seeded counterparts. But like 16-seeded NCAA Basketball Tournament teams, 16-seeded professionals have heart. They have grit. Determination. A chip on their shoulder. A willingness to work harder, smarter and faster than everyone else. And even though most of the time the higher-seeded individuals "win" in life, sometimes the lower-seeded folks take it.
America was built by underdogs.
The difference between your career and an NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket is that your career "bracket" goes on forever and is always changing. Do you ever get to "win" it all? I guess that depends on what you consider winning. You could start out your career as a 1-seed in a small-town and advance as far as you could possibly go. You've made it. Maybe that's as far as you need to advance to be happy. But guess what? Change industries? Move to a new city? Now you're back to playing as a 16-seed. The chips are stacked against you. Now you're going to have to work harder than everyone else in that bracket to get to the top.
But you know what? Be the underdog.
Even if you don't have to, challenge yourself to face adversity. It builds character. Innovate. Grow. Get better. Because there will always be someone else who is willing to if you're not. And that's how the 1-seeds get knocked off.
Everyone roots for the underdog. Rise to the next challenge and never accept the path of least resistance. How do you feel after you finish something that challenged you? Tired? Exhausted? Fulfilled? Now how about after you finish something that didn't require much work on your part? Are you fulfilled? Do you feel whole? Even if you started your career as a 1-seed, find a way to play as a 16-seed. And win. And then start over. And win again.