Among the many sports that I enjoy playing and watching, tennis is right at the top. Every point in a game is an intense physical, emotional and strategic battle between two players. A point, a game or a match can swing first one way, then the other. You can see the momentum change and then change again, never quite knowing whose momentum will win the day. Just when you think a player is utterly exhausted and out of contention, the player digs deep and finds something, anything, to keep battling and to win.
A number of the top tennis players have put out autobiographies over the years, tracing the ups and downs of their careers. I don’t usually buy the books because they are not as enthralling to me as the game itself. They just don’t capture the drama that plays out on the court. Except for one book, Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open. I am reading it for the third time. And I can’t put it down. Agassi is indeed ‘open’—about his strengths, his weaknesses, his successes, his failures, and about the tough life lessons he learned on the punishing public stage of the professional tennis circuit.
Here are some pieces of wisdom I have drawn from this book, that have helped me over the years, both professionally and personally:
Dream while you’re awake. Agassi’s personal trainer, Gil, said this to him, passed on to Gil by his mother. There is no point in taking refuge in your sleep dreams. While they are comforting and let us sort things out our emotions subconsciously, in an abstract way, they are not real. Go after your dreams while you are awake. Those are the only dreams that count.
Assemble a team of people who will let you stand on their shoulders. Agassi didn’t achieve his success on his own. He was not a one man show. Sure, he was the one out in the spotlight, battling away on the tennis court, being the target of the press for every bad shot and every bad personal decision. But behind the scenes there was a team of people—a manager, a counselor, a personal trainer, a coach, a girlfriend. They were a team Agassi carefully assembled, to meet specific physical, emotional and business needs so that he could do the one thing he was good at—play tennis. Gil once again put it well, “You stand on my shoulders as you reach for your dream. I can’t get that dream for you, but I can let you stand on my shoulders.” We all need people in our lives, a team, upon whose shoulders we can stand as we reach for our dreams. And that team doesn’t magically assemble on its own—we have to consciously construct it, monitor it, adjust it, change it. And we have to recognize it and value it.
We must care for ourselves, which means we must be careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements. We must manager our lives carefully, in order to avoid becoming victims. Agassi had the honour and pleasure to meet and speak with the amazing Nelson Mandela. Mandela shared this wisdom with Agassi, that we need to take care of ourselves, for ourselves. We need to make good decisions, for ourselves. We need to be careful with the gifts we have been given, for ourselves. Only by taking care of ourselves first, will we then be in a position to take care of others.
Even if you don’t like tennis, and don’t know who Andre Aggasi is, pick up Open. It is worth your time.