“It’s just this thing called life,” says tennis icon Andre Agassi, “and how you choose to go about it is very important to your peace of mind, and peace of heart.”
It was one of a multitude of inspirational messages from the 46-year-old retired tennis professional and philanthropist who participated in a discussion moderated by fellow speaker Harvard Law School Professor Sheila Heen at the Nordic Business Forum Sweden.
While the title of the talk, “Reflections on Life and Finding Your Purpose” was certainly reflected in Agassi’s comments, a separate but pervasive theme was fatherhood, with Agassi dishing out humorous stories about his father, Emmanuel “Mike” Agassi, who tied paddles onto the infant Andre’s hands and dangled balls above his crib in order to improve the hand-eye coordination of his son, whom he had already determined would be a tennis champion.
Agassi recounted a childhood and young adulthood of striving to meet his father’s vision of success, before entering a very public rebellious period that ended with Agassi, once known for his “image is everything” credo and flamboyant appearance, redefining his professional ambitions, choosing tennis for himself, and finding new, more personal reasons to embrace and excel at the sport, which culminated in his 1999 French Open win.
“Define success for yourself and define it wisely,” he told attendees. “Because if you define it wrong you can accomplish it and not feel connected with your life, but it you define it wisely, every day you have that opportunity of being engaged.”
Agassi, who now leads the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, said this kind of awareness can pay a lifetime’s worth of dividends as people continuously move towards achieving their ideals.
“Clarity is a real jewel, it’s a real gift, and, if you can, get clear on how you are going to choose to engage on a daily basis,” said Agassi. He also urged people to not feel held back by their pasts, and to spend more time each day investing in themselves.
“The rear view mirror is important, but it’s not so important,” Agassi said. “Everything we have gone through doesn’t make us who we are,” he said. “If you don’t take care of your vehicle you’re not getting there anyhow.” Rather, people must figure out how to deal with their days “profoundly, urgently, as if its crucial to who you are going to be tomorrow,” he continued.
“I think the the discipline of that really changes your perspective,” noted Agassi. “It tends to even out some of those extremes and make you a person people want to be around, helps you to inspired by others and you to inspire others on a daily basis.”
When asked by Heen what advice he would give to his own children, Agassi said he would encourage them to see problems through the eyes of other people.
“A good friend of mine said that business is easy, people are complicated, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but I think that if you can see a problem through other people’s eyes, it gives you problem solving skills and it makes you more gifted at navigating not only goals, objectives, and business, but also the relationships that you have in your life,” said Agassi.
“Having a nuanced perception of your environment is a wonderful asset.”