I got into a...well, let's call it an "animated discussion" Sunday night at (of all places!) an Oscar party about (of all subjects!) mathematical probabilities.
The argu...okay, "animated discussion," centered on little Quvenzhané Wallis' chances to take home the trophy (which is almost her size) for Best Actress.
My antagonist (for I am ALWAYS the protagonist) was one of those "betting guys" who scours the Net, reads the magazines and checks the Las Vegas "official line" for all things of undecided outcome, be they championship football games, high-office elections or competitions for golden statues given for appearances in little-seen films.
He insisted--quite authoritatively, I must add--that despite her remarkable performance, the child prodigy had less than a 10% chance of winning. He based his insistence on a multitude of factors, including her age, her inexperience, her being up against media darling Jennifer Lawrence and the fact that Entertainment Weekly "had her at only 5%."
Needless to say, he was enraged when I calmly said he was wrong, and that her odds of winning were 50:50.
Cut to an obsessive friend of mine, who's up for a life-changing role in a hit TV reality show. He was part of a final audition pool of 20 candidates, "so on the surface, it's a 5% chance," says he. But being obsessive and over-analytical, he reduces his reality to about half that "because the producers may want to go with a minority more visible than me, or maybe with a woman to balance out the show's cast, or maybe someone older..."
I tried to calm him, to reason with him, to even compare him to an Oscar-nominated actress by saying that like darling Quvenzhané, his chances too, are 50:50.
Life doesn't listen
to the odds.
Life may use them as a crutch, but unlike the risk-management algorithms used in the banking and insurance industries, life's "odds" are like ghosts--wispy, ephemeral visions that emerge when we get scared.
In a competitive field of five (like Quvenzhané) or 20 (like my friend) or even 100, it doesn't matter is who or what you are up against. It doesn't matter what advantages--real or imagined--your competitors may have on you.
All that matters is whether you win.
Or whether you don't.
Thus, my very rational 50:50 argument.
Now I'm no arithmetic ignoramus. I took advanced statistics at McGill and ravenously devour all sorts of media on predictive data. It's just that, in the end, who cares what's stacked up against you?
In the end, it's either you...
or not you.
You, or not you. This is what VCs bet on when you show them your business plan. This is what your teammates and your fans depend on when it's that big match showdown. It's what your family and significant other are waiting for after that big job interview.
This is what it all boils down to.
The competition is irrelevant. So is the playing field. So is the inclement weather, or the past history or the favoritism, or any of the intangible variables that may be held up in the end as excuses.
When the ultimate decision comes, the only relevance your ultimate position.
Standing tall, or on your ass? Or put another way, heads or tails?
So even though she didn't win last night, kudos to sweet Quvenzhané. I ate a handful of gleefully-delivered "I told you so's" in her honour, but I know she'll be back in contention as she blooms from child actress into a young woman...uh, just like Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.
Uh...51:49 for her next time, anyone?