When I was younger I played a lot of tennis. A lot a lot of tennis. And I loved it, until I didn’t. But that’s not really the point of that first line.
Because I was looking back at my shiny tennis career (just kidding, I wasn’t really that great) today. Mostly because I was binging a load of extremely ‘foute’ Dutch-made romcoms (Tuintje in mijn hart, Hartenstrijd, Verliefd op Cuba – and Weg van Jou after I finish typing this) – and there was a tenniscourt in one of them. But also because tennis and life turned out to have some wisdom that could be applied to both – in my weirdly connected brain.
One of the reasons I sucked at tennis was my stubborn nature and total lack of strategic insight. Tennis is a very tactical sport in a lot of regards, and a lot more than just passing a ball back and forth on a gravel court (although granted, that is kinda key). But tennis tournaments and the competition season bring with them a lot more than just matches. Thing is: It’s not enough to tackle each match as a stand-alone entity. And I always did. That cost me important wins. And to this day – that attitude still costs me – although it’s no longer tennis matches.
Every match I played was always a clean slate. A new chance to show an opponent what I had in me. A battle in itself. And (I suppose this was a good quality, too): I was thoroughly incapable of letting any match go until it was completely over. No matter how much I was getting slaughtered – I always fought until the bitter end, trying to win my way back point by point, rally over rally.
That’s not smart.
At least. Not always.
Yes, there were matches where I managed to work my way back from a 1-5 to a tiebreaker in a set. And from being behind 0-2 in sets battle back for a victory. Those. Were. Killer.
And that’s what made me stupid.
Pouring everything of myself into every match I played was exhausting. And when you’re playing tournaments – it’s often not a tactical choice. Because not every win is necessary to make it to the finals- but saving enough strength to actual win when it’s needed is.
Oftentimes I fought so hard for matches that held little to no value, only to be too wiped to stand a chance in the ones that did. You can’t win them all. It’s so true. But I never managed to get that through my thick skull in the moments where it mattered. So I toughed it out. Gritted my teeth. Kept going even when all seemed lost and played every match to its fullest – only to be bested in the matches that followed because I had nothing left in me to give.
It’s so easy to lose sight of future battles when all you’re doing is focusing your efforts on the one your currently in. But if life is a war we’re living – it can be rewarding to yield a battle every now and then.
Not every fight is worth the trouble. Not every person is worth a fight. Not every decision has to be followed entirely through and not every loss means the end of the world. You can quit and still win. Truly.
Taking (temporary) peace at the cost of losing some terrain – just so you can regain your strength and pull in the crucial victories CAN be wise. Making some shortterm sacrifices so you can win out in the end CAN be the right way to fight. Abandoning an effort before every option has been exhausted CAN get you to your goals faster.
I’m hoping to impart that wisdom on myself, even though I no longer play tennis. And even though I know I’m probably still too stubborn to take my advice. Maybe I should get my Sun Tzu on and start reading the Art of War.