Winning Is Nice But Doesn’t Last Long. Improvement Lasts for a Lifetime 108

The last journal that I wrote was from Croatia, the day that I had something hit me like a lightening bolt. Having turned around a loss to Denmark with a win on the final day against Switzerland. For the sake of those that didn’t read it and to remind those who did…I had been on a winning streak, my longest ever and had lost two matches in Croatia. The first to a great Canadian Player, Tim Griffin, who attacked me non stop. I stayed with my game that had helped me win 18 straight matches. In retrospect I was stubborn as I didn’t use one of the rule #1s. If your game is not getting you what, change your losing strategy. It didn’t feel like stubborn. I just believed too strongly, that day, that my winning style would eventually turn the match around. The next day, against a super experienced red clay player, I was losing early, using my winning plan A, changed to plan B and took over the middle of the match, winning 7/8 games only to revert back to my plan A, which, once again, led to defeat. 

I knew what I needed to do but couldn’t get myself to do it. On the final day, playing for a medal for the USA, I played two games with my A game, lost both and then decided that I could no longer stay the same. It hit me that I was more afraid to stay the same than to lose. Switching gears to a much more aggressive style (serve and volley and attacking short balls followed by coming to the net) I sprinted to a victory helping our team clinch the bronze medal.

I announced my excitement of finding a new game style. At 71 years old I was now reentering the journey of improving by adding to my game. I would not be afraid to give up a method that worked for a long time in order to become a new version of myself. 
As with all change, there is often the pain of doing poorly and the instinct to scurry back to the safety of what was. But I wanted more. I wanted to see if I could grow as a player despite having had my best year of competition (result wise) ever. 
Really, what do I have to lose? Well, that is a question that I needed to answer. My answers didn’t please me. What if my ranking goes down? What if I lose to players that I think I “should” beat? What will people say? Why not leave well enough alone? I knew that the voice coming up with these answers was the voice of my ego. 
Did I want to satisfy the part of me that I would prefer to disown, my ego? No. I want to satisfy the part of me that is not affected by comparisons, rankings, other’s opinions of me. The part of me that I think of as just Bob. The Bob that is not afraid.

So since being hit by the lightening thought that I am more afraid to stay the same than to hold on to past successes, I have turned on my attitude of being an improvement machine. In my early days of improving, from age 35-45, from 45-60 and 60-70, my ego was a motivator. In the early days it was outsized,, as I was desperate to be noticed. As a motivator it helped but it interfered with me feeling good about myself as other’s opinions mattered so much. In the last ten years it has been less of a motivator but, of course I still cared what others thought. Will I ever be free of that? I don’t know. What I do know is that it is easier to just be Bob and to play at my highest level when my ego has weakened.

For me now the joy of playing comes from improving. After all, I have found that the destination is not nearly as enjoyable as the journey. The ups and downs, the successes and failures, the effort, the relationships and the personal growth are the joys that the wins cannot come close to. The wins and the losses don’t last very long, some an hour, some a day, very few wins last for more than a couple of days. But the work over time lasts forever. The trophy is the work as my trophy is how I have grown as a person. It is so freeing to love the work more than whatever it is I get from the win.

And so I am committed to more growing. Who will I become as I let go of what has interfered with playing free. Free of my inner critic, worry, judgment, results, doubt, negativity, past and future thoughts, comparisons, anguish, fear, proving, expectations. free of all thoughts. no more mental ankle weights. 

How wonderful to be in a place where all I want it to play free. 

Yes, I want to win. I like winning but I love what happens when I stumble. Because it is in the misses, in the losses, in the difficulties, that I learn. And grow. And become a better version of myself. 

I arrive in Phoenix today to play the Fiesta Bowl. I hit the practice court today and will be an interested observer of how I will approach my strong desire to improve by playing a new style vs. my natural desire to win. Will I be able to stay with the new or will I revert to what has worked already. My story is that I am an improvement machine.

As with any story that I write, I am not really there yet or it would not be a new story. I am always right here on the path. No longer the old and not yet the new. As John Lennon sang, “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll.”

Welcome to those of you who listened to my interview with Ian Westermann of Essential Tennis who have recently signed on to follow along.

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