Not really. But, yes, really. Catching up on my reading, I just finished Agassi’s 2010 autobiography Open and it is the best book on business I have read in a long time. It’s true he is writing about his remarkable career in tennis but like any really good book – and this is a really good book – it works on a lot of levels, including business.
“Pressure is how you know everything is working.” Agassi’s doctor says this while administering a shot of cortisone for the pain in his congenitally damaged back. Some people read problems as a sign that things are wrong – and unfortunately sometimes that’s true. That’s what is so confusing about life. Doing the best thing sometimes looks and feels exactly like doing the wrong thing looks and feels. How to tell the difference? Sometimes the only thing is to let the thing play out which is why tennis – and business – is not for the faint of heart.
“Butterflies are funny. Some days they make you run to the toilet. Other days they make you horny. Other days they make you laugh, and long for the fight. Deciding which type of butterflies you’ve got going …is the first order of business …” Agassi with a career that spanned some two decades, still got butterflies before a match. (Musician Bobby McFerrin used to run around the block several times before a performance to keep from getting sick to his stomach.) There’s two valuable things her. First, it is necessary to identify, identify, identify what the situation is before attempting to apply a remedy. I have seen time and time again, money and resources wasted because someone just panicked and threw money and resources at the problem without identifying what the problem actually consisted of. And after wasting valuable time and resources, still have to deal with the problem. Second, don’t expect to get over some of the discomfort involved in business. It’s like a tiger in a cage – just because you managed to put some black lines around it does not make the tiger any tamer.
“My father says that if I hit 2,500 balls each day, I’ll hit 17,500 balls each week, and at the end of one year I’ll have hit nearly one million balls. He believes in math. Numbers, he says, don’t lie. A child who hits one million balls each year will be unbeatable.” Agassi reports at length on the amount of practice that his father demanded of him. He resented it during his childhood, but it is exactly, precisely the thing that made him a champion from the start and carried him through an unusually extended tennis career. (Most retire around 30. His wife Steffi Graf did.) I always tell my clients regardless of what they are attempting, whether it’s piano or managing people – there is no substitute for practice. None.
“My shoulder aches. I can’t hit another ball. I hit another three. I can’t go on another minute. I go another ten.” Most of us sell ourselves short. We don’t really know just what we’ve got or what we’re made of because we stop as soon as it begins to hurts. Sometimes hurt just means new. It just means our bodies or our emotions or our intellect doesn’t understand what we are doing. It feels wrong on some level and we as humans experience that as pain and pain the ancient limbic system says must be avoided at all costs. Pain means to stop, we think. We’re wired that way. Unfortunately that way lies dissatisfaction and disappointment. Use some judgment but and analyze before you quit. Anything.
Then there was the time his regular trainer was away and he had to use a substitute, the man who was to be become his forever physical trainer, Gil Reyes. Take a look at this interchange between Agassi who is at this point a grand slam winner and playing for years. Agassi remains disappointed in his performance in general and has just lost a match to a player in a manner that has become too familiar, that is he had the man down but couldn’t close the deal.
Reyes: “What’s the point of this exercise?”
Agassi: “I’m not sure.”
Reyes: “Tell me again, how long have you been doing this?”
Agassi: “Long time.” I beg him to speak his mind.
Reyes: “I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes….but…if somebody can write down your routine on a piece of paper, it isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s written on. You’re asking me to put you through a workout here that leaves no room for where you are, how you’re feeling, what you need to focus on. It doesn’t allow for change.”
Agassi: ”That makes sense. Could you help me? Maybe give me some tips?”
Reyes: “Well, look, what are your goals?” So that’s the question – what are your goals? Begin with the end in mind. Define what you are trying to do and then back activities out of that. All too often I see would be entrepreneurs read a book on business and then try to write a business plan and 2 years later they are still struggling with making a buck. Stuck in the details and having lost sight of the goal. Yes, you need a plan but have a goal first and you might be surprised how the list of details shortens.
And finally, don’t try to go it alone. Agassi always had a physical trainer, a tennis coach, and someone he considered wiser than himself. He hired people who saw him clearly and had real world experience so they could see Agassi both as an individual and in the context of the real world. Hard to find. But look for these people. Pay them if you have to. Agassi paid all his advisors. Business is lonely and life can be too. You can learn to tolerate that loneliness, but additional insight in this competitive world can make the difference in outcomes. And in the end, it’s about results.