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Be Like Gravity

01/17/10

From the coach who turned around Agassi’s game, in Agassi’s book Open: “Quit going for the knockout, he says. Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid…Be like >gravity,< man, just like motherfucking gravity…Perfection? There’s about five times a year you wake up perfect, when you can’t lose to anybody, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player. Or a human being, for that matter. It’s the other times.”

I’ve been repeating this phrase “Be like gravity” to myself a lot recently, ever since reading Agassi’s book a few weeks ago. It’s been running through my mind particularly on a big project I’m currently working on–a class built around a complicated role play with a lot of moving parts. Sometimes I get tired or discouraged at the difficulty and my emotions rebel at the idea of going further. When I remind myself to be like gravity, everything changes. I find myself recommitted and refocused, ready to do some good work.

So what’s the big deal here? What does it mean to be like gravity? Well, what do we know about gravity? It’s powerful, powerful enough to keep you on this planet and to keep the entire universe in motion. It’s also unwavering. You cannot argue with gravity, cannot expect it to let up. It is simply a fact of life, and you have to accept and adapt to it. Which would you rather face off against if you were a tennis player: an emotionally volatile Agassi that is just as likely to self-destruct as beat you or an Agassi that simply will not let up?

To “be like gravity” is to bring your best to the table every time. The opposite, which I’ve seen in myself and I think is common, is to work in surges. It’s the romantic idea that it’s all on the line this time, so this time I’m going to bring my A-game. As Agassi’s coach puts it, it’s swinging for the fences, going for the knockout, putting it all on the line. And it usually means trying to act well above your actual ability, in an impassioned but fairly uncontrolled way.

The teenager in me is kicking up in protest right now, because it feels like I’m advocating mediocrity or a boring but consistent existence. Is this shift in thinking part of the process of settling down to live an uninspired life? I don’t think so. I think I’m advocating the kind of mentality that is required to pursue exciting, ambitious goals. Those kinds of goals are always, necessarily long-term.

The exciting stuff isn’t won and lost on one moment; it’s won and lost by how persistently you hammer away at your exciting goals. Even the short-term or one-time goals are actually long-term goals in disguise (but that’s for another post).

I also don’t think that being like gravity means that you aren’t living a passionate life. Passion is the fuel for all work worth doing. If you are showing up, checking off your work, and going home; that’s not being like gravity. It’s not bringing your best self consistently, which requires passion and focus. I think I’m just advocating bringing that passion to the table persistently, instead of erratically.

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