A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
Last Thursday night I was feeling like a million bucks.
Actually, it was more like 10 million bucks. And it was sweet.
It was the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and I was doing surprisingly well with my picks. I say "surprisingly" because... well, I'm sort of an idiot when it comes to making sports predictions. Oh, I work hard at it. I study the games. I analyze team strengths and weaknesses to determine the most likely winners based on strength of schedule, match-ups and tournament history. Usually I do all of this work and still end up dead last in the office pool, right behind the soccer fanatic who thinks basketball would be better if the players weren't allowed to use their hands and the lady who hasn't watched a college game since that cute John Wooden retired.
But for some reason last week I was really doing well. Of 16 tournament games last Thursday, I successfully predicted the winner of approximately all of them.
That's right-I was 16 for 16, and looking very much like Nostradamus in Nikes.
This was significant, and not just for reasons of personal pride. On a whim I had entered an on-line prognosticating contest for which there was a grand prize of $10 million if you picked every tournament game correctly. I looked like the longest of long-shots going in, but after my performance that first day I was already feeling about $2.5 million richer.
If only we could have stopped the contest right then. I would have been happy to split the $10 million with any others who were perfect on the first day. Heck, I would have been happy to share it with all of those who faithfully read this column-both of you.
But no, they had to go ahead and play the next 16 games on Friday. I was out of the money before lunchtime. By the end of the day, I was just another bum with a bracket. And by the end of the first weekend of games, even my daughter Andrea is ahead of me, and she picks winners by deciding which name sounds best ("Seton Hall just sounds so cool!").
So now the pressure's off. Heading into the second week of "March Madness," I'm out of the running for any prognostication prizes. I'm going to have resign myself to just spending the rest of the tournament relaxing in front of the TV and enjoying the games.
Hey, wait a second. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? You would think that "relaxing" and "enjoying" are pretty good things, in and of themselves. And yet for many of us, they aren't enough. We feel the need to heighten the pace and complexity of our already complicated lives by applying pressure where it doesn't belong. We work so hard at having fun that we lose the joy that is supposed to be there when we wind down and get away from . . . well, whatever it is that we're trying to get away from. We stress out over our efforts to relieve stress. We find ourselves coming back from vacations, anxious to return to the office so we can finally get some rest.
"The line separating genius from madness is sometimes painfully thin," wrote Henry David Thoreau. "Often, it is no wider than the few feet required to move from the desk to the porch."
So relax. Enjoy March Madness, or whatever it is you do to help you move from your desk to your porch. Let it be joyful. Let it be uncomplicated. Let it be fun. De-stress your stress- relievers, and you'll be refreshed and rejuvenated and feeling like a million bucks.
Or 10 million bucks, as the case may be.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com