Fantasy Versus Reality

I’ve gone a bit heavy in the last few posts, so this week I want to share more lighthearted example of the Conditions of Success in action.

Preface

I’ve tried to convince you (and myself in the process) that the Conditions of Success can come together in our lives in large and small ways – call them Macro and Micro Conditions. I intend to use some upcoming posts to help us identify, understand, and then act within our Conditions of Success in repeatable and accurate ways. But first I want to take a breather. Actually, it’s more like a deep breath and a plunge down in the weeds. Check that: let’s go down into the turf and look at a particular micro example of where, by identifying and following the path formed our individual Conditions of Success, we can realize favorable outcomes – even victory in actual competition. If you caught that “turf” reference, you may be one step ahead of me…

Introduction

We’re coming up on the conclusion of a very important season. No, not Christmas Day. And not the NFL, though that’s getting warmer. I’m talking, of course, about Fantasy Football, which is more important than “real” football, and is the only football-related activity that my 5’9”, 165 pound frame has any business being involved with.

For the last three seasons (including this one) I’ve participated in a fantasy football league along with 9 of my closest friends. We don’t put any money on the line, but it still gets serious – rather, I probably take it too seriously sometimes. I’ve been from the dark valley of a nearly-winless 2012 season, which my friends will never let me live down, to the mountaintop of a runaway championship season just one year later, which I will hold over their heads for the rest of our lives.

Given all of that, I was able to “enjoy the ride” a little more this season, and that’s made this particular reflection possible.

Before diving into the relation between fantasy football and our topic here, the Conditions of Success, let’s go back and review.

First, in my last post I attempted a concise definition of Success, which I’ll repeat:

Success is an awareness of the intersections of Preparation and Providence in one’s life, and a decision to act in ways consistent with the figurative path they form.

Upon re-reading that, or reading it for the first time if you’re new here, you may be thinking, “Well that doesn’t tell me anything about how to be successful.” And on the surface, maybe you are right. I’ve also tried to establish/convince myself that Success is not solely about favorable outcomes (like having more money than the next guy) and it’s not a zero-sum game. Furthermore, and staying solely within my own definition here, Success is not guaranteed when you follow the path(s) that Preparation and Providence form in your life. You can do everything right, and things could still turn out “wrong.” Also, you can occasionally bumble and hack your way into good fortune, but I consider each of those scenarios to be exceptions rather than the rule. Identifying and acting in accord with your Conditions of Success will lead to the doorstep of favorable outcomes – consistently, and with clarity about just how you arrived there, in the hopes of repeating.

(Note: Tim Ferriss makes some of these points both here [http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/e/36335092?autoplay=true] and elsewhere, and since I’ve been listening to him a good bit lately, I’ve probably unconsciously absorbed copied some of his ideas and words. And, like last time I referenced him, beware some salty language and “out there” ideas with Ferriss. But take from him the good parts, which are definitely there.)

There are 3 parts to a fantasy football season: the Draft, the Regular Season, and the Playoffs.

(Another Note: I’m assuming that you, the reader, have at least some knowledge of the rules of fantasy football, henceforth referred to simply as “fantasy.” If you don’t, well, just smile and nod like you usually do when I talk at you.)

The Draft

A good fantasy draft makes Success – in the form of winning a league championship – possible and even likely. It’s almost surely not possible if you don’t draft well.

The Conditions of Success, the intersection of Preparation and Providence, are visible in the Draft as follows:

Even though I tend to list it second, for rhetorical reasons, Providence is really primary, especially here. Providence determines your draft order. And while I’m not suggesting that the hand of God reaches down and grants you the number one pick, it is an element outside of your control and therefore within the realm of Providence. Furthermore, Providence acts upon you through the decisions of your competitors. Each time they make a draft pick – a decision out of your control, save for bribes and blackmail – you have to deal with the consequences and act within the new circumstances.

That’s where Preparation comes in…

At the beginning, all you know for certain is one thing: the order of your pick in relation to others. You may guess, but you do not yet know, which players will be available when your turn comes around. You have to start evaluating your options as they are, or you anticipate them, not as you wish them to be.

Sound familiar? As in, uh, LIFE? We are constantly faced with situations large and small, important or (seemingly) trivial in which we have incomplete information and have to make quick, repeated decisions that will affect future outcomes. And guess what? Once you do that, you have more decisions coming at you, influenced not only by your last decision, but the subsequent decisions of others, those directly or maybe just indirectly involved in your world, fantasy or otherwise.

That’s why Preparation is so important. Once you recognize (and accept) your unique Conditions, you can make a plan to Succeed based upon them, one that includes decision making criteria that can be applied quickly and repeatedly throughout the process at these crucial early stages. What we’re trying to avoid is the “Paradox of Choice,” having too many seemingly good options, and getting “decision fatigue,” where you make poor decisions because you no longer want to make decisions at all.

Those are bad things. But they are avoidable, largely by recognizing your circumstances and then preparing to act within the unique conditions they create.

In future posts I intend to cover how we might develop decision-making criteria, but for the time being let’s move on and be content with agreeing on the importance of having such criteria.

The Regular Season

It has never occurred to me until now, but how underwhelming is that term, “regular season”? I had not intended to include this but it ties in as follows: this is the part of the fantasy season, or a “season of life,” or the bulk of any undertaking or project, that takes the longest and can seem monotonous at some level. Or just routine. Or even boring. But you’ve got to let the season work itself out, and have confidence that the system you put in placing starting with your draft, at the beginning, is a (potentially) winning one. If you don’t, you’ll get in your own head, and you’ll get distracted, scared, or even – a danger in disguise – obsessed with your early quasi-success and have fallen in love with your own ideas.

There are four pitfalls to be found in the course of a fantasy football regular season, as well as on any road formed by your Conditions of Success. In the interest of transparency, I admit that I have and likely will continue to fall into each of them.

1. Trust the Process

I kind of just said this, I know. What it solves for is the danger of overthinking, which is my specialty. In the world of fantasy, this is called over-managing your team. Every week you can look at the numbers and try to identify trends from, say, a single data point. That’s statistically impossible, I’m pretty sure, but I tend to try it anyway and you probably do too.

Trust the process, trust the system you’ve put in place starting with your draft, and gather some real experience and information before looking to make any changes. You’ve got let your players make plays, and have confidence that you made the decisions you did with good reason.

2. Don’t Panic

Assuming your draft was not a complete “butt fumble,” then it is possible for you to lose a matchup or two, especially in the early weeks, and still recover in time for the Playoffs. What you need to be careful of is a “panic sell” in the form of a trade. If your first round draft pick has a bad opening game, then you could start to think that all is lost and try to dump him off on another league member in return for a player you think has more promise for the rest of the season. Take a deep breath, and step away from the side of the fantasy cliff.

Lest you think I’m advising you not to make trades – either in fantasy or in real-life situations – I’m not. There is tremendous potential value in make a mutually beneficial exchange to acquire something you otherwise might not have access to on your own. But make sure that the trade is both of those things: mutually beneficial, and something you absolutely cannot get on your own. Those are the two rules for decision making in this area.

3. Put Down the Shiny Object

This is the “waiver wire” or “free agency,” and it’s a disease affecting millions of fantasy competitors every week. Symptoms tend to flare up on Tuesday mornings.

Why? Because on Sunday, there was some player – a backup, likely, who got his chance due to an injury to the starter. Or maybe it was just some previously unknown secret weapon the team had, and they deployed him this particular weekend, and now he’s supposed to be the next big thing. Everyone is trying to add him to their fantasy roster, and in the process decide which existing, and likely more suitable, bench player to jettison.

Don’t get me wrong – each year there are a few new players who originally went undrafted who turn out to be significant factors week in and week out. But the majority of them are actors out the well-known drama of “here yesterday, gone before next Sunday.” And you just dropped one of your later round, but still valuable draft picks, to get him. Just the movie Interstellar, it ends in regret and shame that you could be so easily duped into thinking that something that appeared so promising could actually deliver.

Think of a free agent as new, untested technology, or some “get rich quick” scheme, or that one unlikely but still longed-for possibility that will absolutely “make all the difference” for you. They usually do not work out as you might have hoped, and are generally not a strategy for long-term, repeatable success.

4. “Idea One-Itis”

I owe my use of this term, “Idea One-Itis,” to Ramit Sethi, author of the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” blog. I take it to mean those times (more frequent for me than I care to admit), when we get fixated, even obsessed, with an idea and with making it work. Ramit talks about it in context of starting a business – we can think that our idea is so good, and if other people would just see what we see, we would be millionaires! It spills into other areas of life, too, where we think that if this one event would take place, then everything else would fall into place. That’s not likely, and it’s almost certainly not healthy.

In fantasy football it can start with team loyalty, or just some hunch, where we become convinced that a particular player is going to burst on to the scene and make our fantasies (easy, now…) come true. In some especially bad cases, this can even affect your draft, if your conviction about a player’s value causes you to draft him higher than you probably ought.

This is a tough thing to prevent, because it is so deeply personal. Often it requires experience, in the form of hard lessons, to pry your jaws loose from this particular player’s leg – figuratively speaking, of course. (Legal disclaimer: No reference to Michael Vick, express or implied, is intended by that last comment.) If you’re lucky, you may also have the benefit of a good friend who will tell you hard truth that you just might listen to.

The Playoffs

If you made it into the fantasy playoffs, then you’ve either done things right, from the beginning with your draft and then through the regular season, or you’ve gotten really lucky. As we’ve established, both of those things are possible. (As well as doing everything right and NOT making it to the playoffs, but I want us to assume the best here.)

Now you’re at one of those times where Success is more narrowly defined as a zero-sum game. It really is a competition, with one winner and a bunch of losers.

By writing this post, I’ve begun breaking mental ground on a new foundation. I’m actually a bit surprised at how it’s starting to look: more “deterministic” than I expected. Let me explain…

I’ve always been a big believer in the ability of individuals to shape not only their own destinies, but also to impact important events. History is shaped by people, not impersonal forces. I really do believe that. But I’m curbing that somewhat-extreme notion of agency in favor of a more realistic, even tempered, notion of how human beings shape their own futures and the moments that comprise it. I believe it is perfectly compatible with, if not a direct outgrowth of, this idea of the Conditions of Success.

Whenever we as individuals find ourselves in actual competition, the outcome is really more certain than we might think. What I mean is that everything leading up to “that point” has made our very fitness for competition possible. That’s why identifying our Conditions of Success is so important. If and when we do, then we can follow the path formed by the intersection of Preparation and Providence, and when we come to forks along the way, certain binary focal points, then depending on how far along we are in following our path of Success and how intensely we’ve been proceeding down it, favorable outcomes (i.e. winning) are more likely to result.

On one hand that may seem completely obvious, and you agree wholeheartedly. But what about an athletic competition? Say, real football, where a star player makes a never-before-seen game winning touchdown catch? “You can’t practice that,” you say, “You can’t reproduce that outcome no matter how hard you try.” Up to certain point I agree with that. All-star players make big-time plays when the game is on the line. But, if they’re legitimate talent, then they’re a genuine combination of incredible, God-given ability (Providence) combined with relentless Preparation for moments just like that. There are plenty of examples of post-game press conferences with NBA players talking about how they practice full-court “alley oop” passes to tip in a last second shot, and NFL players throwing and catching “Hail Mary” passes in practice. There’s an undeniable amount of talent, but it’s refined by relentless preparation. If only one of the two existed, the chances of making the play when it really matters are greatly diminished.

While I fear that I’ve strayed a bit from my fantasy analogy, I won’t go so far as to insult your intelligence by repeating everything I’ve just written in order to squeeze it into a little fantasy football box. You get the relation, and in any case I’m happy with how this part turned out, lengthy as it may have been.

Conclusion  

(“Finally!”, my mom is thinking. She’s the only one thinking that, not because everyone else wants me to go on, but because she’s the only one who made it this far.)

So you’re probably wanting to know how my 2014 fantasy season turned out. Well, as I told you, I enjoyed this season more than the first two because, after winning the league last season, I felt the stain of my nearly winless first season was mostly erased. I made a number of the mistakes described above, including and especially not really having a plan going into the Draft. I guess it’s only because of failure that I’ve been able to think, and learn, and put this very article together. But failure in this case is kind of relative, because I did manage to get into the Playoffs, and, very nearly to the Championship game. That’s where the final pieces of this puzzle fit in: Gratitude, and a healthy, non-hipster sense of Irony.

I’ll start with Irony, by which I mean “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” You see, in the first round of the playoffs I lost my matchup by a mere 6 points, and I would have won had I played Tom Brady as my quarterback in the first week of the matchup. But I didn’t. And I could not have. You see, that week was Thanksgiving, and you may recall that Brady’s Patriots were playing the Green Bay Packers. If you know me personally, then you know that I’m a loyal Packers fan, which I proudly inherited that from my Dad. I was visiting my folks for the holiday, and there was no way I was going to sit by my Dad on the couch to watch the game and – even quietly – cheer for Brady against the Pack. I’m often more pragmatic than I care to admit, but I couldn’t go there. Instead, I played Tony Romo, who scored a whopping 3 points that week. The irony comes in when you consider that Brady scored 18 (more than enough to give me the win in my matchup) and the Packers won the real game anyway! I could have had everything I wanted, and that’s why it’s ironic. I made the right decision for me, no matter that outcome, because spending that time with my Dad was more important than any fantasy football win. Which segues to my final point about Gratitude.

You may recall Gratitude (or, rather, being “integrateful”) as the topic of my Thanksgiving Day post. Whether it’s that time with my Dad, or the fun of competing in a fantasy football league with my best friends, that is Success for me. I did not win the league this year. I’m one of 9 losers. But I had the chance to compete, and now I’m taking the opportunity to learn from it. There’s a positive, virtuous cycle that Gratitude creates from each situation, big or small, regardless of whether we win or lose. That’s something we must integrate and practice through any type season. It will make us more forbearing in loss, humble in victory, and a Success throughout and beyond.

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