Ugo Humbert, I feel your pain.
If you’re not an avid follower of tennis news … well, neither am I, to be honest. But the news out of Wimbledon a couple of weeks ago is the sort of thing that any of us could sympathize with.
You see, Ugo’s match got delayed 90 minutes by rain. And when everyone got the word to start up again, he got excited to get back on the court. Maybe just a little too excited.
“Despite coming on court carrying a massive red bag,” Reuters reported, “the 24-year-old sheepishly admitted: ‘I don’t have any rackets – sorry for that.’”
That’s right. A professional tennis player showed up without his racket.
Really, who hasn’t been there? I mean, I we’ve all walked out of the house without something, haven’t we? Car keys, wallet, glasses, phone, the major implement of our profession … it’s all good, right?
OK, it’s easy to tease. But we have all had the nightmare, haven’t we? It’s the athletic version of the “came to school undressed” dream, complete with the inevitable crowd of people laughing nearby. And it’s almost always born of anxiety: the fear of being off guard, unprepared, out of control.
Of course, there’s an irony. What’s most likely to make us unprepared? Anxiety – or rather, the sense of hurry that anxiety can bring.
Don’t get me wrong. There certainly are situations that call for urgency, excitement, even haste. When something’s on fire – metaphorically or literally – it’s a time for action rather than dithering. But it’s easy to get caught up in what needs to be done without spending any thought on how to do it. And that’s how rackets get left behind.
In the ocean, it’s the difference between flailing and swimming.
On the battlefield, it’s the difference between a panicked mob and an army.
In any situation, it’s the difference between impulse and direction. Or the recognition that “Do something!” isn’t the same as “Do anything!”
That’s hard to remember in a crisis. But essential. It requires awareness, thought and preparation. You have to know your goals and what it will take to get there. Sure, you’ll always have to adapt and change for circumstances … but it’s a lot easier to adapt if you have some idea what you’re doing. “Plans are worthless,” Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “but planning is everything.”
We’re having to plan for a lot these days. Alarms scream on the deck from every direction: about the environment, about politics, about viruses, and about 137 other crises besides. (But hey, it’s early yet.) None of these are back-burner questions. All of them are going to require all the ingenuity and energy we can bring.
But energy without focus doesn’t accomplish much.
That’s where we need each other. Not just to support our goals, but to give the “hey, wait a minute” that keeps things on task. It’s the sort of grounding that stage managers give actors, that editors give writers and that friends give friends.
Ugo got that kind of help – belatedly, but it came. Within two minutes, someone arrived with a fresh set of rackets. He was rattled at first, naturally, but went on to win.
It’s a simple lesson: Together, we can keep each other in the game.
Or at least make sure that we’re ready to raise a racket.