The late Arthur Ashe delivers to us this wonderful wisdom. He was the first African American to participate in international pro tennis. It is deceptively simple wisdom, and it sounds like common sense. You can only start where you are. You can only use what you have. And believe it or not, you can only do what you can. Considering how he spent his 49 years on this earth, we can learn much from his example.
Your Starting Point Should Be Your Advantage
Let’s break it down. Many people complain about their standing in life, and continue to complain about it until they’re blue in the face. Of course, there are still others that brag about their position in life as a birthright. Embracing where you come from and taking it into account in deciding what it will take to get to the next level is important. But, remember that you can’t change where you start. You can only change where you will go going forward. Each of us starts with certain advantages and disadvantages no matter our status. It’s important to understand that there are advantages to every starting point. Identifying those must be an important step in beginning any endeavor.
In Arthur Ashe’s case, he started from what was considered a position of disadvantage. But he turned that disadvantage into an advantage in the end. He used his standing as an African American to a definite advantage. As the only black man to ever win Wimbledon, Ashe brought awareness to extremely important social issues, such as poverty and racial stereotyping. Beyond tennis, he became a prominent speaker. So while he did start at a disadvantage in the eyes of society, he actually used this starting place to actually launch not only a successful tennis career, but also one as a social activist.
Identifying the Skills You Need to Follow Your Passions
When it comes to using what you have, you will need to take your passions and build the skills necessary to succeed at the highest level at those things. It’s really best to focus yourself on only one or two things and not overwhelm yourself. In the meantime, you can brush up on complimentary skills in any number of other areas. No skill that is learned or mastered is wasted. It can be surprising how a wide breadth of skills does far more than just give you stuff to list on a resume. Knowledge is applicable in ways you would never expect.
Say your dream is to be a baseball player. Obviously, there are talents needed to play baseball at a high level. These include hand-eye coordination and physical flexibility. It’s best to identify what skills you are best at, whether you’re more talented with the bat or with the glove or with the ball in your hand. That’s how coaches eventually figure out a player’s “natural” position. But it’s still best to try playing everywhere you can. Diversifying your skill set only makes you a better player in the long run.
Talent is not everything. Just like it’s good to try out all the different positions in baseball, diversifying your activities helps you become a well-rounded person. For example, playing a completely different sport could teach you training methods that you wouldn't ever connect to baseball. However, those methods may enhance the skills that you already have excelled in. You could also study how coaches from all sorts of sports motivate (or demotivate) other players. This can help you to understand what motivational methods work best for you. These you may later use to help motivate your teammates and peers, as well. Turn your passion into something that can do a lot of good for others. This is the best way to build the skills to help you succeed, as well.
Now, we're at the most important part.
You Can Only Do What You Can
Yes, you really can only do what you really can. It is a sad truth for many aspiring ballplayers that you may find that you don’t have the physical skills necessary. Not everyone can rise to the highest level like Ashe did in his sport. Sometimes, determination and hard practice can help you to overcome physical limitations. But if you can’t perform then you can’t. Yes, you will have your off-days. Sometimes you just have to remember that you need to just use your yesterdays as learning experiences, and not burdens to be treated as baggage. But eventually, you may find you're not getting better as a player. You need to not waste your time trying to improve at something you’re not able to. Recognizing that is the hardest part. But sometimes it is for the better.
How can failing at your life dream actually be for the better? What you do is find something related to your passion. In the case of baseball, this could include working in a baseball front office. It could be working in sports marketing, or perhaps sports writing. You then take all you've learned through your failures and successes. Share those experiences and those skills you worked on to help others. That’s how you get coaches. And there’s nothing better in life than helping to coach others. You can be a coach in anything, believe it or not.
Arthur Ashe used his relatively short life to great advantage. He really did all he could. I could write an entire profile about him, but the obituary of him written by Robin Finn tells his story well as it can be told. Read it here on the New York Times Website.
What you should take away from Arthur’s wisdom is this. In anything that you do, make sure that you are always growing and refining your skills. Some day you may find yourself in a position to mentor others in whatever your passions are. By helping others that share your passions, you will find that your own passions will grow, as well. Just remember to turn your disadvantage into advantages and any advantages into advantages for not only yourself, but everyone around you.