From the Desk of Jay Rainey – November 6, 2020

One legacy of the four years that my family lived in Chicago is our affection for the Bears, which is more often a curse than a blessing. The Monsters of the Midway have scared up only six winning seasons in the 18 years since we moved away. This week’s contest against the Saints took a Bear-friendly turn, though, when Saints kicker Wil Lutz (nickname: “Clutch Lutz”) banged the football off the right upright and back onto the field from only 27 yards—a distance that our own Joe Buck ’87, who was calling the game for Fox, termed a mere “chip shot” before it went sideways. “Of all the attempts to break that string,” he said. “He had made 29 straight!” With his 38-yard score minutes earlier, Lutz had actually made 30 straight. He had not missed a field goal in over a year.

When I was a math teacher, I loved to study probability with my students, and the counterintuitive improbability of streaks was a favorite topic. When informed that an event has a 90% likelihood of occurring on any given day, for example, our tendency is to believe that 10 days will need to elapse before it fails to happen. This intuition is wrong on both sides. After only seven days, it is more likely than not that the event will have already failed to happen at least once, but after 10 days, there is still a 35% chance that it will have happened every day consecutively—that the streak will remain intact.

Mathematically, these estimates are determined by calculating the probability of the streak—the likelihood of an individual occurrence raised to the power of consecutive occurrences—and subtracting this value from 100%, which is the sum of all possible outcomes. Steph Curry’s career 3-point goal percentage is approximately 43.5%—an incredible rate of long-range accuracy. The chance that he will make four 3-point shots in a row, however, is 0.435^4, or about 3.6%. The chance that he will NOT make four 3-point shots in a row is therefore about 96.4%. I expect that many fans would be surprised to learn that the most accurate 3-point shooter in the NBA today would be so very unlikely to score four consecutive 3-point baskets in a game.

I have written before about the perils of perfectionism, and I am confident that I will write about them again after today. As long as there is such a thing as a “perfect grade” on an assignment, I will have to. The fundamental hazard of perfectionism is that, by definition, it permits no room for failure, and yet failure is inevitable. After failing so improbably (and publicly!) from 27 yards on Sunday afternoon, the Saints’ Wil Lutz went on to make his next three field goal attempts, ultimately finishing off my unfortunate Bears in overtime. How much healthier it is to accept and to recover and learn from failure than to fear it and be paralyzed by it.

I have run out of time to write as much to you today as I would have liked. While I was at work on this letter, the Upper School strings players set up behind Olson Hall and, overlooking the athletic fields on this happily warm day, played Greensleeves and some other pieces as groups of Beasley students walked past and admired their musicianship. I cannot regret this distraction given the appropriateness of it to the theme of my words to you today. On several occasions the players made mistakes. David Doherty and Erin Hamill, their teachers and conductors, stopped to correct them, and then they continued. It was an imperfect performance. I cannot imagine a more beautiful one to have witnessed.

Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you happiness in the imperfect weekend that awaits you. We will continue to find our way forward together in this imperfect year.

Jay Rainey
Head of School

This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Top Shelf by Logan Vath. “And sometimes I find myself in binds. / And I’ve gotta use what I can find.” (YouTube / Spotify)