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I just finished reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography titled Open.
I LOVE tennis bios, they are possibly my favorite book genre because I love tennis, but more than playing it, I love following the professional tour and especially the people in the game. For me, it’s the personalities and the human stories that really inspire, hence I love it when the top players release books about their life playing the game.
Agassi’s bio was different to others I have read (I have Sampras, McEnroe, Newcombe and Scott Draper in my collection so far). Why it was different was because how much the book focused on Agassi and a few key people in his life and less specifically about the game of tennis, the matches he played and the people he played against.
Tennis tournaments and players certainly play a role in the book, but the focus is more on Agassi’s personal journey to discover himself. Reading the book felt a lot like reading what an angsty teenager goes through growing up. Lots of uncontrolled emotions from a person locked into doing things he doesn’t want to do.
Surprisingly, Agassi actually hates tennis and states so many times in the book, further demonstrating how bizarre a life can be for someone who is brought up to do one thing and one thing only, when he doesn’t actually want to. As Agassi grows up he gains control over his life, yet his hatred for the game he keeps playing remains, which makes the contrast even more bizarre, since he is choosing to continue to do something he doesn’t want to do.
Then of course, if you really think about it, Agassi is doing the same thing most people do today.
How many people continue working jobs they don’t want to every day because they feel they have to for whatever reason? Lots. Probably more people do this than people who actually enjoy and have passion for the job they do. This unique form of insanity is shared by many people on this planet, but the fact that Agassi excelled as he did, makes his story even more compelling.
I took away a few key lessons from Agassi’s life as a tennis player that relate directly to all of us, no matter what we do.
Although Agassi had a unique talent, it’s pretty clear why he was as good as he was, is because of his work ethic and training regime.
It started with his father who made him hit a million balls a year as a kid to develop his strokes and reflexes. It continued as Agassi was molded into a super-athlete thanks to Gil, his trainer and bodyguard. Many times Agassi won matches because he had “more in the tank” than other players, playing just as fresh in the fifth set as the first.
You have to take this on board beyond just the physical advantage. It’s a huge mental advantage too, knowing you can outlast other players physically. This means you won’t give up mentally because you trust and believe in your abilities.
Knowing you can do something is often more important than actually being able to do it. Having the belief can make it true, and although you can never know what came first, the chicken or the egg, often it’s what you believe and thus act that makes things real.
I found Agassi’s book motivating because of how hard he worked. It made me want to work harder too.
One of the dangers in the lifestyle I lead, which you are likely striving for right now, is that you gain tremendous freedom. Once you meet your financial goals, set up some passive or near passive income streams, you find yourself with more time and too many options.
Some people become addicted to the rush of achievement and the thrill of making money, so they use all their time to grow an even bigger business. Others use their new found freedoms to do different things, to relax, have a holiday and indulge in leisure activities. Unfortunately most people tend to lose balance, either becoming workaholics, a slave to always wanting more, or they become lazy, and start to lose their passion altogether.
I personally strive for balance, but it’s not always easy. I’m lazier than I’d like to be, so I found Agassi’s story motivating. It made me want to achieve and do so on a grander scale each time. It’s made me want to turn 2010 into a big year, a bigger year than I may have otherwise if I didn’t read the book.
Although Agassi had a hate-love relationship with tennis, and you could say it continued beyond tennis – he had a love-hate relationship with life and he struggled to reconcile the two – there were some key moments in the book that stand out as beacons of clarity.
These moments focused on one very specific thing – helping others.
Agassi noted that he felt so right helping other people, whether it was the injured daughter of his trainer Gil, or starting a school for disadvantaged teens in his hometown of Las Vegas, or helping to save the life of a friend’s premature baby. There was no angst about these actions. It was just right, pure, what he – what all of us – are meant to do.
It appears to me that we are wired to find peace, enjoyment and contentment in helping other people. Whether it’s the smallest act of everyday kindness, up to grand gestures of giving or lifetime commitments to serving others. We’re meant to make other people feel safe, happy and find comfort, that in turn gifts us the gift of purpose and peace.
The wonderful thing about giving is that it’s not just about what you might term altruistic activities. Yes it’s a wonderful idea to be like Mother Theresa and spend your entire life helping those in dire need, but it doesn’t have to be as single-minded as that, if you don’t want it to be.
Giving has also emerged as the most powerful marketing technique available today. There’s nothing more satisfying in my life knowing I can write a blog post that has the potential to help thousands of people, and I can earn money doing so. It’s wonderful that you can write a report full of your best ideas, give it away so you can help lots of people without them spending a cent, and still make money when a tiny fraction of those people choose to give you money in exchange for more from you.
Helping others, giving of yourself and focusing on how you can deliver value, is the key to living a fulfilling life. However in yet another of life’s wonderful dichotomies, most of our focus is on what WE want. How we can get what WE desire, improve our OWN lives. When you realize what’s best for you is actually what is best for everyone else, you start to realize how connected we really are.
One thing I’ve noticed lately, since I’m more open to it than I have ever been before, is how life is one constant example.
Books, people, events, actions and consequences, whether it is your life or others, are all designed to help you discover what is your truth. Everything is a lesson, teaching you either what you want, or what you don’t want, creating clarity by simply showing you more about you.
The truth is already in you, but you need the stimulation of outside influences in order to crystallize it. Thankfully we can’t opt-out of this process, just by living you are participating. However you can choose to ignore it, which unfortunately leads more often to a focus on what you don’t like and choices made to perceive experiences in a way that doesn’t benefit you. That’s the only risk you face – choosing ignorance – of who you are and what everything around you means.
If you’re a tennis fan, or just enjoy a good character story, I recommend you check out Andre Agassi: Open.
P.S. In Agassi’s book he comes across as very different to the way I perceived him as a player, which I think except for those people close to him, is a statement many people will share. Agassi spent much of his career flat out lying to the media, saying what he thought people wanted to hear, rather than his truth, which was buried deep within layers of the angst, confusion and lack of identity he felt. The book feels very much like a decision to “wipe the slate clean” and come out with how it was really like for him as a person, rather than how the media portrayed him.
Consequently, due to the openness of the book, it’s garnered a lot of press coverage. Agassi did drugs. Agassi lied to the ATP about it. Agassi tanked in some big matches. Agassi is brutally honest about his opinion of other players, much of which is not friendly. The book is full of drama, and the media – and us – love drama. You could say it was a very smart marketing decision, given sensationalism spreads, but it was also a risky choice for Andre as he has damaged his reputation in the eyes of some people.
I like this book for its honesty, and as I said previously, it serves as a great example to come up with our own truths. Agassi is just as good of an example of what to do as he is an example of what NOT to do. I think the biggest example of what not to do in this book came from Agassi’s father, who didn’t let Andre grow up as a normal child and make the decision of what to do with his life for himself. Instead his father made the decision and then turned tennis into a jail for Andre. That’s not healthy, and it’s clear much of Agassi’s personal torments were born from this upbringing, even if his father was doing it out of love for his son.
Agassi made the choice to be honest with many things and he obviously prepared himself for the consequences, though he no doubt could never be truly ready for what was to come. I feel it’s more important to use his story as a tool to enhance your life, rather than simply a means to judge Agassi. Take Andre’s good traits and use them as inspiration in your life. Observe what you consider negative things that Andre did and make sure you don’t repeat his mistakes in your life.
It’s easy to label someone as good or bad based on their actions, but you should judge the actions and not the person. People are always a work in progress – life is a work in progress – and you’d have to agree you are too. It doesn’t matter how good or famous or gifted you are, we all are human.