Arthur Ashe put it best when he shared these thoughts about taking on challenges.
Whether confronting an opponent on the tennis court or trying to bring about radical change in your life, I suspect that the same principles apply.
Working to achieve something is hard. Battling adversity as we work on a project, or just in day-to-day life is even harder. Progress demands seeing beyond the frustrations and fears that strike on a daily basis. Staying the course requires that we put aside frustrations over results and improvements that come infrequently and on a smaller scale than might be desirable.
When such hurdles occur in my life, and I‘m able to view them objectively, it seems to me that they come from three main sources:
- Annoyance that I’m not starting from a better position where the results and rewards flow regularly — A reluctance to accept where I am.
- Frustration that my results feel woefully inadequate and disproportionate to the considerable efforts I’m putting in and the sacrifices I’m making — Refusal to simply ‘do’ without being fixated on the outcomes.
- Demoralisation that everywhere I look there are the others who seem to find life easy, who don’t suffer the same discontent and frustration that I do — Unhelpful comparisons with others and a refusal to acknowledge what I have.
I know it’s irrational to allow these feelings to hold such influence over my mood and mind-set. Knowing it makes it no easier to ignore or manage.
I invest hours trying to talk myself down, and I find myself doing it often. I believe it’s because I struggle to follow Arthur Ashe’s guidance. Here’s how (and where) it breaks down:
Start where you are
I’m fond of reminiscing on the past, and revisiting treasured memories. Looking back can be helpful and heart-warming but the past can also be a source of great despondency and frustration when viewed through a different lens.
When I get caught up in the past, it’s far too easy to analyse past-decisions, regret the failures and to question why I did things that I did. My past has shaped me and determined my present reality. I’d much rather be starting from a better position than I am, and it frustrates me that this is the case, especially since I should be grateful for all I have.
Greater financial stability and freedom of time would unleash me creatively and take the pressure off me to make a success of my endeavours. It would allow me to throw myself wholeheartedly into the business, unencumbered by the legacies of my past (or so I tell myself). Maybe so, maybe not.
Maybe such imagined-freedom would remove the hunger and determination to create something of nothing? It might lessen my resolve to help and to serve other people? Perhaps the lessons of my past have equipped me with the skills and determination to do what am doing now?
Whatever scenario I may imagine for this alternate reality, it matters little.
I cannot change the past or where I find myself now. I am where I am. The past has been written and contains many stories, events and experiences. Each of these has played a part in making the present what it is right now. To resist this reality is futile and serves only to divert time and effort away from the things that could make a difference.
Use what you have
One of my biggest challenges is in keeping focused on myself and avoiding the unhelpful comparison with others. I know it’s essential to do this and yet it’s incredibly hard to practice.
“The death of contentment is comparison”
Whatever you may be seeking to change in your life, you’ve likely been inspired to do so through the example of someone else. In every field there are the gurus, the industry figureheads, the stars and the luminaries whose examples we’ve observed and decided we want to emulate. It’s not just celebrities or heroes either; I know I’m prone to looking around at peers, friends and even family-members who have got or done things I want for myself. Taking inspiration from others is positive, but it’s seldom the only outcome from comparing ourselves to them.
Comparisons are generally unhelpful since:
1) We’re only likely to compare ourselves to others whose achievements dwarf our own and hence make ourselves feel bad in the process. It’d be fine if we sought their example as inspiration to work hard to get there, but most (myself included) use the comparison as a means of beating ourselves up for not being where we’d like to be.
2) We only see the publically shared information that represents the highs, the good-points and the accomplishments. Nobody really shares the downs, the failures or the difficulties, only the bits they’re proud of which will inflate their ego. If only we could remember this when comparing ourselves to them, we might feel better about how we measure up.
3) We don’t recognise all the years of hard work, disappointments, the failures and the occasional good-fortune that resulted in their achievements.
Using what we have means maintaining an inward focus on making the best use of our own time, skills, potential and attention rather than being driven by factors outside of our influence. Progress towards our goals each day, depends on how we apply our skills, time and resources, the actions we take, the decisions we make and the distractions we resist. It all comes down to us.
Do what you can
My wife will patiently listen to me bemoaning that an article I’d written was amazing and yet it gets little more than a passing glance from the wider world. Conversely, a piece from someone else seemingly goes viral for no apparent reason (by my skewed judgement). Whatever the relative outcomes, it makes no difference. The public wants what the public wants and another person’s success doesn’t come at the expense of my own. It’s simply that on a given day their art found its audience where mine didn’t.
I’m certain that to free myself to take the action required to bring about change, I need to have some expectation and anticipation of results or payback from my efforts, otherwise I’ll feel defeated before I’ve begun. The tricky balance is in making sure the action is undertaken in its own right and for its own benefit; the results may or may not come as quickly as expected, to the scale expected but results will come nonetheless. They will only come though, if action is taken and if things are done.
We just have to trust that if action is taken then results will follow.
Start, Begin, Do
The common theme throughout Arthur Ashe’s quote is that it all comes back to a focus on doing things, of starting rather than procrastinating or hoping for better. Resisting distraction and comparison, focusing attention upon taking action and accepting our starting point as the launching pad for the process of creation are all essential if we’re to free ourselves to take action and get on with the process of doing.
Sure, we may wish for more favourable conditions. Our starting point may be non-ideal. Progress to now may well have been rocky, or non-existent to this point. Regardless of all these factors, we have the choice to accept them and to act regardless, or to use them as further sources of despondency and justifications for inaction.
It’s a battle I fight with myself daily, but I know that it feels better when I choose the path of action. I hope the same is true for you.
p.s. I also recorded a video on this subject earlier today. You may be interested to check it out below:
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