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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Not Everybody Likes Me???

The truth is, not everybody likes me.

This is a hard truth for someone who has spent a great deal of his life wanting to be liked.

But it is, nonetheless, the truth.

And it is essential to know in going forward with any endeavor of importance without being paralyzed.

TLC Instructor Ally Baker

When my daughter, Madeline, now a first-year in college, was eight years old, I had what I thought was a difficult decision to make recording a solo CD, knowing a chunk of our audience would not like me for the content it explored (including racial, religious, sexual orientation, and gender advantages, and the intentional and unintentional biases we have around them) and the way I expressed it.  When I told her I was scared, she asked me why.  I said, “If I put this CD out, some people won’t like me.”  She looked at me patiently and said,  “Dad, even if you don’t put the CD out, some people still won’t like you.”

It was the best advice I may have ever been given.  It, in an instant, freed me up to go with my conscience.

I now make fewer and fewer decisions based on “Will they like me?” and more and more based on, “How can I best serve?”  Maybe it’s my age (58 and counting).  Maybe it’s the pain I have experienced – and inflicted on others – in my life.  Maybe it’s seeing friends of mine of different races, religions, genders, orientations, etc. constantly being bombarded with subtle suspicion and sideways glances, or aggressive and outright hateful comments and actions.  But I have decided that the best way I can serve is to stand together with those who are not being heard and, first, listen to them, second, change myself, and third, do what I can to help the world change.  And we at TLC can be a force for education and change.

TLC Instructor Dannick Boyogueno

This causes discomfort.

When Steve Wilkinson started Tennis & Life Camps in 1977, he named it “& Life” for a reason.  He wanted people to go home with an enriched approach to life that would not only positively affect their tennis game and their relationships, but would challenge them.

As long as I am director, we will continue that tradition and put our cards on the table.  We talk at TLC about how winning and playing well are out of our control, and the only things we can control are the Three Crowns: our attitude, effort, and sportsmanship.  Some people do not like this and think it is “soft” (even when we have proven it can produce champions).  One mom, talking to another tennis mom, told her she would never send her child to TLC because “they talk about all that sportsmanship, and I don’t want my child being taken advantage of by others who cheat, I want her to fight back fire with fire.”  Not everyone is going to like us.

We talk at TLC about parents being cheerleaders – never coaches or strategy advisors – of their children (unless their child begs for it, which, believe me, is the rare child).  This really bothers some parents who insist their child wants them to coach them, but who have never even asked their child how they feel about it.   And fails to recognize that coaching our children so often damages relationships, even though we swear we are doing it “for their own good”.  Not everyone is going to like us when we say this.

We talk about realizing in tight moments in matches that – even then – it is a game.  Not everyone wants to hear this when a championship is at stake.  And not everyone is going to like us.

Tennis Legend Billie Jean King

And, yes, we are now talking openly about gender bias and the other biases I mentioned above that our campers and instructors experience, and how to call it out and change the culture.  Billie Jean King, in a 2013 documentary dedicated to her on American Masters, talked about how she went from being one of the most beloved figures in sports to one of the most hated and vilified, because she refused to stay quiet on gender equity issues.  When asked why she wasn’t taking a stand for males, too, she replied, “If males were underserved, that is where I would put my energy.  But they aren’t.”  So we bring up uncomfortable conversations of how females in our society, our staff, our campers, and in tennis and in life are not treated with the same respect, dignity, or equity as males and how we can be agents of change with that.  Not everyone is going to like us when we bring it to attention.  “Why don’t you just stick to tennis?” is the question asked.  Think of where women’s tennis  – or tennis as a whole – would be if Billie Jean King just “stuck to tennis”.  And we still aren’t there yet.

Whatever we do at TLC, we desire and try to do it compassionately, whether it is teaching the serve, or teaching how to serve.  But not everyone is going to like us, because learning new things is uncomfortable.

If you can learn anything from my mistakes over my life, I would like you to learn what my then eight-year-old said:  “Even if you don’t put out the CD, some people still won’t like you.”

This is a license to be yourself, to serve others bravely.  And compassionately.  To speak up like Billie Jean King, whether it is about societal inequities or a method of teaching through positive reinforcement that some may like and some may not.

When you stop caring so much whether you are liked, you begin to serve the mission, not yourself.  And that makes all the difference.

Because then you are free.


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