“Oh, grow-up for goodness sake”
How many times have you heard that in your life? Have you found yourself saying this to your children? I have told my son to grow up and he’s 3-years old. I remember telling him not to be such a baby and his response was priceless…… “but I am a baby, daddy”.
We spend so much time trying to grow-up and, in a lot of cases, when we get there we are fundamentally unhappy with what we find. This is often the feedback we hear from tennis players who achieve their dream goals. They reflect and are often disappointed it was not as they imagined.
I am now at an age, I think, where I am considered ‘middle aged’. I regularly joke I am only a third of my way through my life (I’m 45). When people question my optimism, or delusion, I always respond ‘what do I lose by believing that?’
I see a worrying trend in society where people reach my age and they start to reflect on their life. They take stock of their working situation and perhaps believe they have reached the peek in their career. This coincides with the sense of their own mortality kicking in. It is too easy to fast forward to a time where you are retiring, or worse, reaching the end of your life and believe you have not achieved much. I have seen so many instances where someone retires and the change in them is almost instant. They lose their sense of self-worth and before you know it, they are a shadow of their former self.
I strongly believe we should not attach our self-worth to our ability to do anything. If we do then logic will tell us, at some point, you are going to come down off your peak and as a result your self-worth drops at the same time.
Mental illness has never been more prevalent than it is now. In my opinion, too many are negatively comparing themselves with others and it is happening across the board. Social media has now made it possible for us to tap into ‘make-believe’ lives. It is too easy to be bitter about what you don’t have instead of being grateful for what you do have.
In tennis, we are constantly comparing as we have a hierarchal sport, rankings, ratings and bandings (international, national, regional, county, district, area, club, park, school). Then add other superficial things such as rackets, clothes, shoes, bags, looks, athleticism, class and money then it is clear to see how easy it is to fall into these awful comparison habits.
I ‘grew up’ in the 70’s and 80’s. In society’s mind, I was a grown up in the 1990’s. In the 70’s I was not even aware of what was happening a couple of streets up in my own town. I had no awareness of brands, designer clothes or who was cool or trendy. I was simply happy playing in my own little world. In many cases, that little world was my mind and I could not have cared less what was going on outside of it.
Play, for me, took many different forms. It could involve playing with my younger brother and my friends but in most cases it meant being happy in my own company. My favourite type of play was to read or play make belief with my Star Wars figures. I was perfectly happy in my own company and I vividly remember my mum saying I was lucky I had any friends at all. She still tells tales of my friends coming round to our flat and I would literally ignore them and carry on with what I was doing. On reflection, I can still be a bit like this.
In the mid-80’s I started to become more aware of this but not because I was seeking it out. It came out in the form of peer pressure or attempted bullying. All of a sudden people would make comments about my height or the clothes I was wearing. I had never experienced this before and my logical mind struggled to understand it. Fortunately this coincided with me finding tennis and this provided me with an escape from a world I was struggling with. The sport also provided me with a lifetime of challenge, not that I knew at the time.
So what does it mean to be grown-up and what does it mean to play? I know what society thinks but I will share what I have come to believe.
To grow-up means to be in a constant state of evolvement. To take anything and use it to put yourself in a learning state. Physically, everyone has a peak physical stage in their life but mentally, the world is your oyster. It also provides us with a fantastic opportunity……. we will never reach a point where we are fully grown up. This means we can still play.
To play is being in state of joy while submerged within a process. This means playing can be anything you want it to be, reading a book, doing yoga, pilates, riding your bike, walking, doing a jigsaw……
In an ideal world, I would love it if everyone felt they could naturally find something they are passionate about. Then take the skills attached and view getting better as a playful process. It doesn’t have to turn into a career but it would be great if people could turn their passions into something that provides income. Regardless, I believe we all need something we consider an escape.
I believe it is utterly crazy the age of 16-18 is still deemed as an appropriate age for children to choose subjects which are meant to indicate what they will do with the rest of their lives. That system was put in place well over 100 years ago and hasn’t fundamentally changed since. Now think how much the world has changed.
Now, take a young tennis player pursuing a life as a professional tennis player. Too many are making this decision far too early in my opinion. This then adds pressure to everyone, players, parents, coaches and federations. This leads to silly decisions being made by everyone. Perspective is lost and before you know it people fall off the edge of a cliff and become bitter with the game. We need to have as many people playing our sport as is possible, and from this base, champions will emerge. There is plenty of time to develop as a tennis player and I am sick fed up of people viewing it as some sort of race.
So, in my opinion, it is not a question or growing up or playing. Do both and, whatever you do, do not compare yourself negatively with others. It never has a positive outcome. Be happy with who you are in the moment and excited about who you will constantly evolve to be. If you have chosen tennis, you have chosen wisely, it is an amazing game that will provide you with all the challenges you need to constantly grow-up. It also offers you a life-time of process to be in joy.
Grow-up and play in tennis, become the very best tennis player you can be.
Writing has always been a playful thing for me to do. The title of this blog is, at the moment, the title of a book I am writing. There is no pressure for this book to become a success as it is my play thing. If you have experienced anything relating to this article I would be more than happy to discuss this with you over the phone or in an email exchange.
Thank you, once again, for spending your valuable time reading this journal entry.