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6 Life Lessons from Open by Andre Agassi

Photo by Howard Lawrence B on Unsplash

Andre Agassi is one of the greatest tennis players of his generation. Winner of eight grand slams, a father, owner of charities, and an overall great personality. Here are 5 lessons that I’ve learnt from reading his autobiography.

Hard work is everything.

The amount of work that it took Agassi to become a number one ranked ATP player in the world is enormous. Starting at age 7, forced by his demanding father, he would hit the tennis ball 2500 times each day while training with automated ball spitting machine tuned by his father to be faster and stronger than its market counterparts.

Besides Andre, his other siblings were also playing tennis but none of them was as talented nor did they put in the amount of effort that would match the champion. His father noticed Andre’s very fast reflexes when he was a kid and decided that he will do everything for his child to become the best. He built a tennis court in their Las Vegas home, and invested all of his time and money for his children’s careers.

While reading the memoir, it’s clear that it never was what Andre wanted. He keeps repeating that he hated tennis and the relationship he had with his father was very complicated and brittle with almost no parental love present but focusing mostly on tennis and hard work.

In seventh grade, Andre is being send off to Florida to train in prestigious Bollettieri Tennis Academy where he becomes rebellious, but also, where he manages to become amazing tennis player and where he becomes a champion. He drops out of school and focuses all of his attention to tennis and his career.

Hard work is nothing, if people you work with are not right

Before Andre met Gil Reyes in 1989 and took him on as his personal trainer and conditioning coach, he was trained by a Chilean strongman named Pat. Pat wasn’t exactly the best for the job. He made Agassi do things that never applied to tennis and didn’t improve his on court endurance and stamina.

Running five miles daily while tennis is more of a multiple sprints, all-out efforts sport, seemed pointless, and thanks to expertise of Gil he was able to take a better direction in his training.

If Andre stuck with Pat, he might have never got to be the best in the world, or even worse, his career might have ended with an injury that was completely avoidable. This teaches us the importance of recognizing if someone who works with us isn’t the best fit, and importance of finding experts to help us out.

It’s more about losing than winning

Once Agassi became an amazing tennis player, he kept losing. And he was losing a lot. I was shocked by how many games he has lost after winning his first slam tournaments and after becoming no.1 in ATP ranking.

I was expecting his career to be a smooth ride after getting through those first large obstacles but it was never so. He kept losing game after game, tournament after tournament. He was lost and couldn’t figure out what’s going on. In the end, he went back to winning, but it was an ongoing struggle and from what I gather he lost a lot more than he won. What is amazing about Andre is how he was able to get himself back up after each loss. His greatness seemed to be in his persistence through major events and letting go of matches and tournaments that he deemed unimportant.

Which brings me to next lesson.

Perfection isn’t necessary (and it doesn’t exist)

Agassi had a problem at the beginning of his career. He was too perfect. Every ball, every match, every move had to be ideal and he was punishing himself in his mind for any errors. This thought process was exhausting and was causing lot of mental and physical problems. Andre needed help from an experienced trainer to point this issue out to him.

His new coach, Brad Gilbert, pointed out to win tennis game or a tournament you need to get by with lowest possible effort. You have to save your strength and you can do it by not fighting for points that aren’t worth a fight. If you are set to lose a gem that doesn’t change anything in the match, it’s pointless to sprint from side to side to get each ball and waste more energy.

It’s far more advantageous to let it go, do good enough, recover, and put more effort into next gem, or set.

This a lesson I’ve been personally trying to apply to my career as software developer. When I write components of software, I try to decide how important it is to the success of the business, and if it isn’t, I am ok if it’s just good enough and not perfect. This saves a lot of effort, money and allows me to focus more on the core application that is crucial to the success of the company.

Being at the top will not make you happy

This is something that plenty of people get wrong. People think that reaching their goal, being the best, getting promotion, earning more money, having that dream car, or dream house, finishing a marathon or an iron man, will make them happy forever. It’s simply not so. That feeling you get when you reach or get something very important to you is always fading quickly and you get back to your day to day self very fast. How can you be happy then?

The answer is to find joy and happiness in your way toward reaching the goal. The struggles and the sacrifices. All of the new experiences and things that we’ve learnt during the process is what we should be happy about and what we should cherish.

The final goal is only the cherry on top of the cake, not the whole cake.

Andre expressed this (at least) twice in his memoir. First when he wins his first grand slam, a Wimbledon, he says he doesn’t feel anything special. Even though this is a dream of any tennis player, it doesn’t affect his happiness. Instead it deepens his emptiness towards the sport and life.

Second, when he becomes a no. 1 ATP player in the world, the situation repeats. Part of the problem for Andre was also that those titles were never really his dreams. They were everybody else’s dreams and he was pursuing what everyone else besides him wanted him to do. One sentence that I’ve found to be very truthful is:

A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad.

This applies to our everyday lives and careers. When we do something good in our professional or private lives, the good feeling doesn’t last. But when we screw up, the bad feeling hunts us for days or weeks. It’s just how things are if we concentrate on the good vs the bad; if we concentrate too much on final outcome. Instead, it’s important to concentrate on the experience that lead us to the finish line. What did we learn? How much effort did we put in? How much did we grow? How much did we improve? By concentrating on effort and growth instead of the outcome, we will always be more happy because we will always see the struggle we’ve put in and not if the result made somebody else pleased with us or not.

Money will not make you happy, helping others will

Once Andre got rich and famous he was still struggling. And not only professionally. His private life was a mess, too. He got married to someone he didn’t seem to love. He and his wife were getting threats. He couldn’t break through with his play. With all the money and the fame, private jets, luxury vacations, he couldn’t find any happiness, and in fact he was more unhappy and lost than he was before his career blowing out.

In 1996, Andre helps a friend with an investment to pay for future college tuition of friend’s child. This deed is when he realizes what is important in life, and what can make him happy. The satisfaction and gratitude he receives from his friend helps him find out that helping others, in any way, is what is truly important and what can bring meaningfulness and fill the gaps in our own lives.

The experience of helping friend with his child education and realizing how important that is to them, inspires Andre to start up a college prep school where he helps kids get ready for college and gives them the best options and education. This causes Andre to shift his mindset about his game. He understands that he is now playing not only for himself and his family but for all of the kids in his organization and without good results and raising money it will never be successful. It propels his actions and motivates him to be better and better.

Andre slowly, deed by deed, realizes the importance of helping others. When the daughter of his long time personal trainer and best friend, Gil Reyes, starts having health issues, Andre is there to help. Through his help, not necessarily financial, but just by being there and being supportive he realizes more and more what impact helping others has on his own life.

… my part in easing her suffering — this, this is the reason for everything. How many times must I be shown? This is why we’re here. To fight through pain and, when possible, to relieve the pain of others.

Giving back, taking care of other people, helping people who struggle should be the purpose that we have in life. Even if you career doesn’t directly involve helping others, or you can’t help out financially with a charity donation, there are multitudes of ways to get back. I personally started teaching kids from immigrant families how to make websites. If you own a skill, I am certain you can find a group to teach it. You can volunteer at a local charity. You will be surprised how much effect this will have on your life.

Losing hair sucks. (Not really a lesson)

Really. This was almost a leading theme in the autobiography. Since Andre’s hair started falling out he became obsessed with it. Each major stage of his life revolved around his hair, or rather lack thereof.

This is it. Six lessons I’ve learnt from Andre’s life. It was a very informative read with a lot of life lessons. If you ever have time, I strongly recommend reading the book, if you don’t, well, you’ve read part of it here.

I apologize for all form or grammar errors. I am new to writing and still learning the basics. I‘d really appreciate any feedback.