Throw me a Curveball!

Throw me a Curveball!

In her book Thinking in Bets, Annie Duke introduces a concept called “resulting,” where some of her clients review the quality of a decision based on the final outcome, as opposed to a more thorough analysis and reflection of the decision-making process in which they engaged.

Annie herself speaks publicly of the curveball life threw her when her health postponed late doctoral work and interviews.  That led to an invitation from her brother, poker player Howard Lederer, to come join him out west and play some cards while she recovered. Many successes later, she now sees that her scrapped interview season garnered challenges and opportunities, many better than her original plans.

In that spirit, I’d like to use this blog space around the holidays to convey my sincere gratitude, to thank people who threw me curveballs by making fun, calling me out, or taking something from me. Let me be clear—there is NO bitterness here. This is not an “I told you so,” nor is it intended as an  illustration of “Living well is the best revenge.”  Rather, it is a reflection—through the virtues of hindsight—on things that affected me greatly at one time in my life but ultimately made me better, rewarding me with experience, practice, even (dare I say) wisdom.


Dear TM,

I can still see us, sitting in our 5th grade Language Arts room, and sharing some personal writing with the class. “Our favorite outfits” was the topic. I wrote about whatever shirt I liked that day, and since they were all I wore, I added a line about my green Toughskins.  And oh, how you laughed. “Green Toughskins!” you repeated, and fell out laughing again with your girlfriends. Most 5th graders may not be conscious of class or socioeconomic status, but they sure as hell know when they are being made fun of. For the last 30 years, my daily dress, my fashion sense, and how I comport myself sartorially all have seeds in that moment. So when my oxblood monk strap shoes match my belt, the vintage watch I’m wearing, and one of the four colors in my pocket square, it’s partially because of you.  So thanks.

Dear fraternity brothers who saw me as a pledge class kiss-up, and called me out on it,

Never mind the first child in a family of addiction stuff. Never mind being a young man actively seeking male role models. I was trying so hard to please, to gain approval, that it made people perceive me as weak. I even heard that a spot-on imitation of my ass-kissing  got huge laughs at a Chapter meeting I wasn’t allowed to attend. As I’ve spent years becoming better at my craft, and growing more comfortable in my life and career, how people see me has mattered less and less. I've also taken opportunities to stand up for myself, and for others. An assistant principal said to me years ago, “Paul Wright…some people have been talking about you. I know you don’t care, but I thought you should know.”  When we learn to approve of ourselves, we’ve come a long way.

Dear sales manager at a north Jersey mega automall who embarrassed me in our first attempted car purchase as an engaged couple,

We knew we didn’t want the car. We knew we couldn’t afford the car. When I went to collect our driver’s licenses, you cornered me: “Come on now, you know you want this car, and you and your girl need this car. Just take the keys and drive it again overnight. Come on, you know you have to do this.” I took the keys from you then, under your sharkish satisfied gaze. Then when you walked away, I slinked up the back stairs and dropped them with some secretary in billing, asking her to return them because “I couldn’t.” That episode has informed every negotiation I have engaged in since. Other cars, homes, union contracts—all have been better since you made me see what it takes to say simply, “No, no thanks, that won’t work for me.”

Dear RDL,

I had thought you were an ally in setting up the team here at Radnor. Then some truly lousy things befell you, and you looked for a way to take control of something, anything. So you took control of that team we built, and showed me the door. Man, that hurt. Seriously, like-losing-a-limb hurt, not to mention the embarrassment, even emasculation I felt. But I followed some sage advice from two close friends and helped build something else instead. Turns out that the team you commandeered was really the beta test of what it could become. I saw how to build it better, so it could engage more kids, and offer them more athletic opportunities. Without you taking this thing away, I wouldn’t have seen how important it really was to me, and how it could improve, even thrive, if and when I had the chance again. I’ve had that chance, and it’s been everything I could have hoped, and more. Maybe Hemingway was right—it might just heal stronger at the break.

I’ll say it again—I offer these four notes of gratitude genuinely, with no sarcasm or bitterness. I am eternally grateful that each of these episodes gave me something lasting, and have given me a chance to reflect. Of course, time and experience have certainly helped also.

I hope for each of you reading this that you’ll be able to see some of your challenges that became opportunities, and alongside those, more than enough simple pleasures like some of mine:  coffee, an autumn morning lakeside, a cord of wood and a fireplace, a pile of books, the Miles Davis Quintet, and the love of those close to you.

Best to all this holiday season.


Paul Wright, 2011 Finalist for PA TOY, teaches Government, American Studies, and Sr. Seminar at Radnor High School in Wayne, PA. He is a member of the inaugural class of Teaching Fellows at the Alliance for Decision Education, https://www.alliancefordecisioneducation.org/teach/fellowship and is a founding partner of JumpStart Main Line College Essay Camps, www.collegeessaycamp.com. When he isn’t engaged in one of those three pursuits, it’s usually about reading, running, and maintaining the <genuinely> happy husband and father routine. He is proud to represent NNSTOY in education circles everywhere.

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