Sometimes things just don't go our way. Be it a trouncing on the tennis court, the loss of a client, or problems at home, seldom do the events of our lives follow the script that we've written. How we choose to deal with life's mis-hits will ultimately determine our level of inner peace and happiness.
Let me tell you about a student of mine:
John is a classic example of a "sad sack." He shuffles to my court each Saturday perennially depressed over the unfairness of life. After 60 minutes of complaints about his tennis, job and marriage, John hobbles away, fully accepting of the fact that God has chosen him to bear all of the world's misery.
John is not alone. The world is full of "poor me" people who offer one excuse after another for their unhappiness.
"My forehand stinks, so I'll never be a good tennis player."
"My boss hates me, so I'll never get that promotion."
"My wife doesn't understand me."
Well, I've got news for you. If you're unhappy, it's because you've decided to allow yourself to be unhappy.
UP or DOWN?
A tennis match is a steady stream of decisions: Serve or receive? Crosscourt or down the line? Attack the net or hug the baseline? Our lives are the same. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we close them at night, we're making decisions, and it is those decisions that will determine our fate on and off the court.
Anthony Robbins, self-help guru and author of Awaken the Giant Within, says that "it's our decisions, not the conditions of our lives that determine our destiny." We have little or no control over the events of our lives. What we can control is how we react to them.
There are literally hundreds of stories of people who've been given a head start in life but have failed. There are just as many who have risen from difficult circumstances to become major successes. The difference between the successes and failures is the decisions these people have made.
Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of TYCO, seemingly had the world by its tail until he made some extremely poor decisions. Randy Snow is an example of a person who was dealt a poor hand and rose above it.
Snow was a highly ranked junior tennis player from Texas when a 1,000-pound bale of hay fell on him. Though he survived the accident, Randy was left paralyzed from the waist down. Facing life in a wheelchair, the 16-year-old Snow had a decision to make.
He could easily resign himself to an existence of physical inactivity and psychological acceptance of being "less." Who could blame him? Life had played a cruel trick on him. Or, he could symbolically rise above his chair and reach for a life of activity and productivity. Snow chose the latter.
Nearly 25 years later, the energetic and charismatic Snow has turned his circumstances into a life of fulfillment we all should aspire to. A 10-time US Open wheelchair singles champion, Snow is the only athlete in history to have competed (and medaled) in three different Paralympic sports.
He is the author of Pushing Forward, and travels the world speaking on overcoming life's obstacles. He has become a true ambassador for disabled athletes around the world. His actions and words have made a difference in the lives of thousands--all because of a decision.
Muhammed Ali could have retreated into a private, comfortable life upon learning he had Parkinson's disease. Though the disease attacked his body, Ali chose not to let it dampen his spirit. Today, he travels the globe spreading goodwill and is perhaps the world's most-loved public figure.
Recently my son Mike came back from a mission's trip to Mexico, where he built a house for an underprivileged family. He returned with quite a different perspective on life. I'll let him tell you about it:
"Of course, they were appreciative of what we had done for them, but I was so surprised at how happy they always seemed to be. Before we got there they had virtually no home, little to eat, yet were always upbeat and positive. I thought about how much I had and how upset I would get when little things in my life would go wrong. It actually made me feel guilty."
How is it that some people who seemingly have nothing to be happy about remain positive and upbeat, while others who appear to have it all fall into the trap of negativity? They make the choice.
Every aspect of your life is the result of a decision. Take my student John--please. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) Let's go down his list of complaints:
- "My forehand stinks, so I'll never be a good tennis player."
John's absolutely correct: His forehand does stink, and if he doesn't improve it, he'll never crawl out of the 2.5 league he struggles in.
- "My boss hates me, so I'll never get that promotion."
Right again. I also teach John's boss, and he doesn't particularly like him. "He complains too much," he tells me.
- "My wife doesn't understand me."
Three-for-three. John's wife is in a clinic of mine, and she frequently talks about not "understanding John's attitude."
What John fails to realize is that his lousy forehand, difficult time at work and shaky relationship with his wife are all the result of decisions he's made. Why would anyone decide to be so miserable you may ask? Because the other option is simply too painful for them to accept.
Our behavior in every aspect of our lives is decided by two factors: HURT & HAPPINESS. Everything we do is either out of our need to avoid being hurt or our desire to gain happiness.
For John, the perceived "hurt" involved in fixing his forehand, his situation at work and home is greater than the "happiness" he would derive from changing them.
To improve his forehand, John would need to change his grip. That in itself would be a painful procedure. For a while he'd have no clue where the ball was going, and he might lose to the few players he could now beat.
The idea of sitting down with his boss and asking how he could improve himself is more hurtful than plugging along in the same boring job. At home, the thought of having a heart-to-heart with his wife is just too painful to even consider.
Adding to John's dilemma is the fact that we live in a short-term society. We want it all now, and the thought of having to suffer for a while is, to many, out of the question. So John stumbles though life as if he's carrying a 1000-pound weight around his neck, because in his mind it would hurt too much to try to change things.
To climb out of the misery that has become his life, John must learn to make his hurt/happiness decisions from a long-term perspective. He needs to say to himself that, "Yes, my forehand would get worse for a while (if that's possible), but if I struggle through the 2,000-3,000 balls Greg says I'll have to hit to get that new grip, I might move up 2 or 3 levels in my play."
"To sit down with my boss and say, "How can I improve?" would be a bit humbling at first, but with the guidelines clearly drawn, I can get to work on that promotion. To have a heart-to-heart with my wife will be awkward, but once the words were said and emotions revealed, we'd be well on our way to a more fulfilling marriage."
Will there be bumps along the way? Of course. The forehand may take longer to come around than expected, the boss may say there is nothing John can do to improve and fire him and maybe John and his wife just aren't compatible. John could then beat himself up because he didn't get the outcome he thought he wanted, or he could step back, figure out where he went wrong, and move on. It's his decision.
When Pete Sampras was 16, he was one of the country's top junior players. Pete Fischer, his coach at the time, felt that his two-handed backhand would limit him in the pros, so he had "Pistol Pete" change to a one-hander.
Did Sampras struggle for a while? Yes. Did he suffer some bad losses while trying to groove his new backhand? Yes. Did he allow the short-term "hurt" derail him from his long-term plan? Absolutely not, and it paid off. I would say that Pete looked pretty "happy" each time he raised a Wimbledon or U.S. Open trophy, wouldn't you?
Decide what you want from your tennis and your life. Accept nothing less. Come up with a plan, and if you don't get the desired result, step back, figure out why and try again. Attitude is a choice--make the right one!
Mortal Tennis/Circle Game Archive
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This column is copyrighted by Greg Moran, all rights reserved.
Greg Moran is the Head Professional at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Connecticut. He is a former ranked junior and college player and certified by both the USPTA and USPTR. Greg has written on a wide variety of tennis-related subjects for numerous newspapers and tennis publications including Tennis, Tennis Match and Court Time magazines. He is also a member of the FILA and WILSON Advisory Staffs.
Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Greg by using this form.