What YOU think of me is YOUR business

I’ve blogged about tennis failures – things like how I’ve let my emotions get the best of me, or how my game has suffered due to a “crisis of confidence.” But I also want to pass along what I’m learning about how to overcome these problems.  My tennis journey may be a long one, but it’s not so different from other roads I’ve traveled.  In fact, there are days when my “tennis journey” and “the midlife passage” have a lot in common.  And I don’t just mean the effects of gravity.

 

I reached a point where I felt as though I had invested so much time and money in learning a sport, watching the pros play it, buying trendy clothes for it, and even taking some “tennis vacations,” that I felt I deserved to be playing better than I was.  I held myself to a higher standard than I should have and was constantly evaluating my improvement against better players.  As a result, I was always coming up short.  By my own standards, I was never going to measure up, never going to get out of my USTA 3.0 “rut.”

But at the same time as I was tired of not improving, I felt locked in: I had put so much of myself into tennis, for so long, that I didn’t want to quit.  I was addicted to an activity that wasn’t going anywhere for me.  Aside from a bit of exercise and socializing on the court, I couldn’t point to many positives about my involvement with tennis – I wasn’t having fun, and I could have gotten a better workout by going to the gym.

 

So what started my turnaround?  Well, I was complaining about my frustration  with poor play in matches and my irritating “voice of judgment” to Coach Alan Margot.  He told me, “You can’t silence the voice, but tell it to quiet down.  When you worry about what other people are the court are thinking about you, remind yourself, as if you were speaking to them: ‘What YOU think of me is YOUR business.’”

This seems simple, but it’s deep.  For years I’ve taken ownership of how others perceive me on the tennis court, and more generally, in most other sectors of my life.  Since I’d rather please people, I end up pressuring myself to make a better shot than I’m capable of, let my partner choose when she wants to serve and whether she wants the ad or deuce side in doubles, try for a heroic poach when simply getting the ball back over the net would be good enough.  Outside of tennis, I rearrange my own schedule to accommodate an appointment that works better for my husband, or I ask a friend to give me a ride so my son can use my car.

At the end of the day, however, I don’t feel satisfied about setting aside my best interests in order to make others happier.  I’m not sure they even notice my efforts, to tell you the truth.  But it’s helpful to acknowledge that what someone else thinks of me is his or her responsibility, not mine.  It doesn’t give me license to be obnoxious — rather, it reduces a burden I shouldn’t be carrying anyway.

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It’s my last SAT too, you know

Today my last child takes his last SAT. He took it earlier this year, and conventional wisdom suggests taking it a second time can help you improve your scores, but you need to be careful about giving the appearance on your college applications that you’ve taken it “too many” times.

Meaning you have to guard against looking as though you’re spending time on marginal score improvement when you could be doing something more worthwhile. You know, like applying your knowledge of computer programming to organize carpools in your town that would save individuals gas money, help people get to know their neighbors, and reduce CO2 emissions — thus in your own small way, help save to our planet.

But seriously, I got up early this morning to prepare one of my son’s favorite breakfasts — fried eggs, bacon and chocolate chip coffee cake I had baked yesterday. Earlier in the week I had purchased a box of Ticonderoga #2 pencils for what would probably be the last time. When I woke up, I offered a prayer that all would go well for him today — and I thought about the old saying that, as long as there are exams, there will be prayer in schools. But mainly, I reflected on the fact that this was “my” last SAT.

Our family has acquired a lot of logistical knowledge about preparing for and taking the SAT. Based on the experiences of three children, we now try to avoid Gunn High School for standardized tests due to the long wait for a left turn from the route we take from our house, its single driveway that backs up easily when everyone arrives at once, and overall, Gunn’s poor parking situation.  Palo Alto High School functions better on these factors, in my kids’ opinion — plus it is located close to excellent après-test restaurants for lunch. However, the last time Micah went there, his test was canceled due to someone setting off the fire alarm — the culprits were never found, but it was assumed to be  a senior prank. Today he went to his favorite location, Los Altos High School. Although a bit farther away from our house, LAHS has easy parking, even some covered spaces, and it’s small enough that they take less time to organize students into classrooms. Thus they tend to start (and finish) their tests on time.

But enough about my children and their SATs — back to me.

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What’s behind the poor play? Are you ready to find out?

I played tennis this week with a friend whom I haven’t seen since our last match together, back in the winter when emotional issues were affecting my game.  In fact, the last time we played together, I felt like such a failure I considered quitting tennis entirely — it had ceased being fun for me, and I was letting my partners down by inferior play.

 

 

But this time, things felt different.  I still made mistakes, we still lost our match, but I didn’t come away with the sense that my partner would never speak to me again, nor that I had performed so miserably as to discredit the sport.  While there were moments where I double-faulted or missed an easy shot and started to panic, I was able to settle down and focus on the next ball.  I even felt strangely calm when serving or returning serve on “pressure points” like “ad-in” – moments where winning or losing the point can decide the outcome of that game.

In spite of these improvements, though, I’m still not winning matches.  But this is a journey, in my case a long one, and at least I’m taking a few steps forward.  From my current vantage point, I now understand how strongly my attitude correlates with how I play tennis.  Knowing this, I see that what I needed a few months ago was not more tennis tips to pull me out of a slump, but a partner who could step over court boundaries and be a true friend.

 

 

I’m not blaming anyone — since I hate to let on that anything’s amiss, others might not even see that I’m having a bad day.  I’d prefer to give the appearance that all is fine, and I shy away from exposing vulnerabilities with anyone but family and close friends.  However, I’ve learned from this and other experiences that not only do I need to be more open about wanting others’ help — I also should be on the lookout for people who might need someone to pay attention to them.

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Becoming a teaching pro may take the fun out of tennis

I was struck by this article by Rob Johnson, printed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal . Headlined “Point. Set. Match. I Lose.”, the story concerned how Johnson, an avid amateur tennis player in Orlando, Florida, became disillusioned with his career as a journalist and decided to gain certification as a tennis teaching pro, then work at various resorts in the Orlando area. It was a business model where he would be his own boss, doing what he loved, wearing comfortable clothes and working with carefree tourists rather than cranky editors. Not to mention the fact that his overhead would be low, and he would keep the majority of what hotels would charge guests for lesson fees.

But the reality turned out to be different from Johnson’s expectations, and he ended up working with clients who wanted tips on local restaurants and shopping as much as they wanted to improve their tennis games. Or with kids who wished they could have spent another day at Disney World instead of on the tennis court. His adventures in entrepreneurialism ended in a pile of unused “Coach Rob’s EZ Tennis Academy” T-shirts that now lie in his basement. And for Rob, at least, teaching tennis took the joy out of playing tennis.

So Johnson returned to working as a journalist and playing tennis for fun. But I appreciate his honesty in sharing the experience of trying to blend his passion for a sport with his career. It provides helpful input in thinking about what I might want to do.

It may at first seem like you’ve failed if you realize you’ve bumped up against your limits. But just like when you have to draw the line with your kids, and they hate it but secretly appreciate knowing what your rules are, it’s actually helpful to discern your personal boundaries. Last week I attended a thought-provoking conference for alumnae of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. One of the speakers, renowned entrepreneur and investor Heidi Roizen, cautioned attendees about the “flip side” of accepting venture capital: while it’s great to receive significant financial backing for your entrepreneurial concept, VC funding comes with high expectations for return on investment. While she conceded that not everyone at the GSB finds her views popular, she said that for many entrepreneurs, the choice to maintain a “lifestyle business,” where one makes a good living but chooses not to “go big or go home,” can be a perfectly acceptable decision.

When you live in Silicon Valley, where Facebook just went public for a record-setting $104 billion, it’s counter-cultural to state the view that one can be happy with a job providing merely adequate income for one’s needs and wants. While Johnson and Roizen come at their messages from different backgrounds and most likely different economic profiles, the core of what they say is similar: maximize career happiness by doing something you enjoy, but don’t get fooled into thinking you would enjoy working at something that’s better left to others. Respect your limits, and you’ll be happier.

Works for me.

New match. Love-all.

Maybe it was as simple as sunlight deficiency during the winter months, but I was on the verge of quitting tennis after a few disastrous performances earlier this year.  “Performances” – that’s the key word.  As if a bunch of people were watching me play a ladies match that counted for nothing, that would not be recorded in the USTA’s computers or anywhere else.  I had let tennis become all about me and how I was doing, whether I was playing well and what others would think of my abilities.  Narcissism was killing my game, and it was certainly killing the fun others might receive from including me in their games.

Not surprisingly, I also couldn’t get going with my writing projects.  I had nothing worthwhile to say.  I’d type out a few sentences, then backspace over them to delete most of what I’d written.  My feelings were similar to those I experienced on the tennis court.  I feared my writer friends might judge me as eddying, stuck in the same essay — while at the same time they were progressing from one chapter to the next in their books.

So something had to change.  Fortunately the days got longer, which for me seems to make a big difference.  Don’t forget the iPhone weather app icon, 73 degrees and sunny, was created in Northern California.  But I also decided that, if I couldn’t enjoy tennis and writing, I would have to find other activities.  After all, no one was forcing me to do these things – they were luxuries I supposedly chose to pursue.

So I made two big changes.  In tennis, I started to focus on singles.  At first I did this because I figured other people were getting sick of partnering with me, but then I started to like it.  It was simple: just me, my opponent and the ball.  I could concentrate better, I didn’t need to worry about interpersonal dynamics on my court, and I didn’t need to stress about letting my partner down if I missed a shot.  Perhaps it’s the ultimate expression of narcissism, in that singles means every ball is mine, but I’m no longer worried about my performance.  I’m just playing the game.

In writing, I started to check into things I thought would be fun.  It’s a subtle change, but while I had enrolled in a creative writing program with the goal of writing a non-fiction book because that’s what the syllabus said I was supposed to do, now I’m thinking about heading in a different direction.  What I like is the intersection of writing, social media, podcasting, video and the interaction with readers – in other words, forming an online community.  There’s so much to learn here, and that’s why I enjoy it.

So I’m augmenting my traditional writing classes with others on internet publishing in all its forms.  I hope to change my blog posts to be shorter but more frequent, and to add podcasts in the future.  So stay tuned.  It’s a new game.