Career Success Lessons From the Final Four

The Final Four is this weekend.  How is your bracket at this point?  Mine sucks – but I do have Kentucky and Kansas in the Final Four with Kentucky winning it all.

I was looking at the records for the four teams.  Kentucky is 36 – 2.  Kansas is 33 – 6.  Ohio State is 31 – 7.   Louisville is 30 – 9.  Louisville, with the worst record over the course of the season, is the only team in the Final Four that won its conference tournament.  In other words, Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas lost their last game before the NCAA tournament began.

I’m not trying to over analyze all this.  The teams will decide the ultimate winner and National Champion on the court on Saturday and Monday.  However, there is some career success advice to be found here.  In total the Final Four teams lost 24 games this season.  Three of the four did not win their conference championships.  They all have suffered some setbacks in their journeys to the Final Four.

I address the whole issue of rebounding from failures and setbacks in my career advice book Success Tweets.  Tweet 36 says, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  You fail only if you don’t learn something from the experience.  Treat every failure as an opportunity to grow.”  Tweet 37 says, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it.  Don’t dwell on the negative, use it as a springboard to action and creativity.”  Tweet 38 says, “Don’t let a slow day get you down.  If you come back empty handed in your quest for success, get up the next day and keep working.”  Finally, Tweet 39 says, “While other people and events have an impact on your life, they don’t shape it.  You get to choose how you react to people and events.”

Think about these tweets.  36 encourages you to not fear failure.  No team would ever take the court if they were afraid to fail.  There is some career advice here too.  Fear is the enemy of self-confidence – and career success.  Most people fear failure, criticism and rejection.  It’s only normal.  We all want to feel good about ourselves.  Failure, criticism and rejection are not pleasant experiences.  They lower our self-esteem and make us feel bad about ourselves, so we often avoid doing things that we think might lead to failure, criticism or rejection.  However, if you want to create the life and career success you want and deserve, you have to have the courage to do things that might result in failure, criticism or rejection. Failure, criticism and rejection provide you with the opportunity to grow and develop – to succeed.  You can’t take failure, criticism and rejection personally.  Failure, criticism and rejection are outcomes.  They are a result of things you have done.  They are not who you are.  We all make mistakes and fail.  We all do things that cause others to criticize or reject us.  This doesn’t mean that we are failures.  It means that we have made some poor choices and done some not-so-smart things.

Tweet 37 suggests reacting positively to the negative things that happen to you.  The Final Four teams experienced defeat 24 times this year.  Three of them lost in their conference tournaments.  But they didn’t dwell on the negative.  They put aside these negatives and now have a chance to win the national championship.

Here’s the career advice I take from this.  I have a book on stress management by Evelyn Brooks, called Forget Your Troubles: Enjoy Your Life Today.  Evelyn suggests that you get S.M.A.R.T. about managing stress…

  • S Smash the negative.
  • M Maximize the positive.
  • A Act.
  • R Relax.
  • T Target your next action.

Losing is stressful.  But the Final four teams all found a way to handle their losses in a S.M.A.R.T. way.  One of them will be a National Champion come Monday night.

Tweet 38 encourages you to keep working – especially after you come back empty handed.  This tweet was inspired by a quote in a book by Tracey Chevalier called Remarkable Creatures, the story of two women fossil hunters in early 19th-century England.  Her protagonists are a middle-aged spinster and a young girl.  Both are committed fossil hunters.  Here is how Elizabeth Philpot, the spinster, describes committed fossil hunters…

“Hunters spend hour after hour, day after day, out in all weather, our faces sunburnt, our hair tangled by the wind, our eyes in a permanent squint, our nails ragged and our fingertips torn, our hands chapped.  Our boots are trimmed with mud and stained with seawater.  Our clothes are filthy by the end of the day.  Often we find nothing, but we are patient and hardworking and not put off by coming back empty handed… Those serious about fossils know their search is never over.  There will always be more specimens to discover and study, for, as with people, each fossil is unique.  There can never be too many.”

I love this passage.  It describes – in wonderful prose – my thoughts and beliefs on the importance of knowing your purpose in life and committing to taking personal responsibility for living it.  “Often we find nothing, but we are patient and hardworking and not put off by coming back empty handed.”  That’s exactly what I’m talking about when I tell my career success coaching clients, “Stuff happens.  The stuff that happens, good or bad, isn’t what’s important.  What is important is how you react to it.”  I bet this is the type of advice that the Final Four coaches — John Calipari, Bill Self, Thad Motta and Rick Pitino gave to their teams following a loss.

Finally, Tweet 39 makes the most important point of all.  Stuff happens.  Successful people choose to react positively to negative events – like losing – learn from their mistakes and keep working toward their success.  This tweet is all about attitude.  As a human being, you get to choose how you respond to the people and events in your life.  You can choose to have a positive, optimistic attitude and respond to difficult people and events in a constructive manner.  Or, you can choose to have a negative attitude and respond to difficult people and events in a self-destructive manner.  Your attitude is the difference maker between a successful, rewarding life and career, and an unsuccessful and unfulfilling life and career.

Take it from a career success coach.  You get to choose how you respond to every person you meet and everything that happens to you.  Your moment of choice comes in between the stimulus and your response.  This can be a small space, but it is a space that exists.  Your attitude has a big impact on what you choose in these moments of choice.

John Maxwell says, “Your attitude makes a difference in how you face challenges.  Successful people don’t have fewer problems than unsuccessful people – they just have a different mindset.”  That bears repeating – “Successful people don’t have fewer problems than unsuccessful people – they just have a different mindset.”

We all have our problems and challenges.  The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is simple.  Successful people choose to respond to problems in a positive manner.  They choose a positive, proactive approach.  They choose to take personal responsibility for themselves, their actions and their life and career success.  They choose to see problems as challenges – and they meet the challenges they encounter.  Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Louisville did.  That’s why they’re in the Final Four.

“Choose” is the important word here.  We human beings have free will.  We can choose how we respond to the things that happen to us.  We can choose our attitude.  Successful people choose to respond positively to the negative people and events in their lives.  Successful people choose to have a positive attitude.

I’m looking forward to watching the games on Saturday and Monday.  I’m sticking by my prediction.  I think Kentucky will win it all.

That’s the career advice I take from this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on career success – and basketball.  I really appreciate your time and attention.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site last September.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  You can find out about the membership site by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.


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