Most people yearn for a simple, easy, and stress-free life, but the best of our character only emerges when we face a true challenge, often one that leaves us defeated.
This weekend I watched an amazing documentary about one of the best games of tennis ever—the final of Wimbledon 2008.
Roger Federer was the undisputed king of grass and the Centre Court at that time. He had won the title for the previous five years and was going for a sixth win in a row, which would have beaten the previous record held by Bjorn Borg, who was watching from the stands.
However, in his way stood a young pretender, Rafa Nadal. Already a winner on the clay of Paris, Nadal was ready to challenge for the throne despite losing the two previous finals to Federer.
The final was an epic. Nadal raced into a two-set lead. Then Federer showed his quality as the champion, clawing his way back with brilliant tennis to level the match. Finally, in a dramatic final set, with the London light fading into darkness, he finally fell defeated to the Spaniard.
The final scoreboard read:
6–4, 6–4, 6–7(5–7), 6–7(8–10), 9–7
After four hours and forty-eight minutes of tennis, Rafa Nadal was Wimbledon Champion.
The moment signaled a change in power in the tennis world. Federer was no longer undisputed world number one. In fact, in the next major grand slam final in Australia, Nadal beat him again, leaving Federer to break down in tears and admit, “this is killing me.”
Nadal had become his nemesis.
However, as Nietzsche said,
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Federer turned it around. He worked harder on his game, fought back, and won Wimbledon again. Their rivalry had truly begun. In 2017 he would finally avenge the 2008 match, beating Nadal in the Australian Open Final in another close and dramatic match.
A rivalry that, over time, made them both greater players. As Federer retired in London last month, he thanked Nadal for being with him on his journey. His nemesis had become his companion and friend.
When I look back over my professional career (not quite as stunning as Roger´s!) I can see some parallels. I have had a couple of bosses that pushed me really hard. At the time, I saw them as my nemesis, making my life so hard and complicated that, at times, I even considered quitting my job. How I wished they would have left me in peace!
However, because of their demands on me, I became a better professional and learned to step up my game. They made me better, and now I look back and thank them for their pressure.
So if someone is pushing you or demanding of you in your current role, rather than wishing they would get lost, look at what happened to Roger Federer. He needed Rafa Nadal to turn himself from being a great player into a tennis legend.
Moral: Your nemesis may be the best thing that ever happened to you.
If you need to reframe how to deal with a demanding boss, peer, or subordinate, reach out to me, and let´s talk.