One summer Christmas holiday, when I was as thin as spaghetti and a head taller than every other girl in my primary school, I was given a Tether Tennis set.
What is Tether Tennis (also known as Totem Tennis or Swingball)? Imagine a green metal stake about the height of the average teenager. At the top of the stake was a thick metal coil to which was clipped a long nylon string attached to a tennis ball.
The object of the game was to hit the ball backwards and forwards around the stake using plastic paddles.
You could play against an opponent, but I preferred to play solo (mainly because my brother was much better than I was and was not interested in playing with his bratty little sister).
My first attempts at hitting the ball saw the nylon string repeatedly attempt to kill me – wrapping itself around and around my neck and ending with a solid bop on the nose by the tennis ball when the string ran out.
My neck was raw and bleeding by the time I figured I needed to take half a step back from the pole. I was a slow learner!
The Disaster Continued
Then followed weeks of hitting the string instead of the ball.
When you hit the string, it gives a very apologetic slapping sound and then the ball wobbles off into a drunken circuit.
If I did hit the ball, it either tried to turn into a rocket and head for the moon or turn into lightning and aim for the nearest ground.
Moments of Elation
Every now and again … out of the blue … I would manage a clean thwack.
Those were the moments I lived for.
Feeling a solid connection with the ball and watching it sailing confidently past my eyes on a wonderfully even line was a thing of beauty.
But thwacks were few and far between. Mostly it was apologetic wobbles and moon orbits.
I headed out onto the dew-tipped grass in my nightie straight after breakfast each morning, ready to do battle with the set and to see if sleeping on it had made me any better. It hadn’t.
I practised for hours every afternoon after school as the shadows lengthened into dusk and the mosquitoes started their nightly blood collection.
Eventually, almost imperceptibly, thwacks increased, and wobbles decreased. Then thwacks became the norm and wobbles were almost non-existent.
I could easily and smoothly hit any ball and know with certainty it was going to fly in a nice solid circle.
Over time it took much less effort to hit the ball. I was no longer running around or over-reaching. I just stood my ground and barely lifted a finger to get the same strong results.
If you asked me how – I couldn’t tell you in words. I just know that over thousands and thousands of repetitions, I learned how to adjust my bat, so it hit the ball straight and true and was not on an angle. I learned the timing so I could tell to the split second the exact moment when to start my swing. And I learned how to judge the distance from the bat to the ball so that it always hit I the sweet spot.
Each improvement was a tiny micro habit repeated until it became second nature – without forethought or planning. It just happened.
And then …
… I swapped my paddles for a tennis racket as that is what my brother used.
Once again, the nylon string tried to kill me again. Once again, I saw moon rockets, lightning strikes and apologetic wobbles – only this time they were much faster and much stronger, and each hit hurt more.
Everything I had learned had to be unlearned. Yes, the concept was the same, but the new tools meant a whole new stance, movement, and swing. I had to change my timing of shots, adjust my position, and continuously try new things.
It took many more hours and weeks of relentless bruises and constant thwacks to get even vaguely back on an even keel.
I longed to go back to the paddles but knew that going back to what I had once known was not an option. I needed to master the new tools.
What was the point of all that time and practice? I mean, there is no Olympic Tether Tennis sport. No-one was watching except me. There was no money to be made from doing this. It was just something I wanted to do.
I enjoyed learning and mastering something. The elation of a series of clean hits was something I felt as a joyful dance in my heart. A series of rope tangles and off shots was a dark experience in failure. Picking the paddle back up after a few days of nothing but the string was a life lesson in resilience.
I did it because something inside me whispered that this was something I needed to do even if other people didn’t understand my fascination.
Thinking back over this year, mastering Tether Tennis is a lot like running a small business during a pandemic (and massive bush fires).
For many of us, before this year steamrollered through our plans, we had mastered the basics of our business. We had our marketing working well. We had decent employees and some great clients. We were consistently hitting nice even shots, and things were humming along nicely for our business.
Then the Pandemic forced us all to change everything we thought we knew about us and our business.
Where before we had mastered the game, we were now suddenly playing a whole new game, with tools we didn’t know how to use.
We tried new things and watched as many of our shots went haywire, and each failure hurt more and left deeper bruises.
Some found a new rhythm and mastered the new skills needed to play this game. Others are still at the hit/learn/repeat phase and others have taken a breather and are sitting things out for a while to recover.
Whatever stage you and your business are at, this year we all have learned more about ourselves, our community and resilience.
We are leaving 2020 with new knowledge, new insights, and a greater appreciation of the little things in life we previously took for granted. (Who knew we would be so grateful for full shelves of toilet paper in a supermarket!)
Don’t waste this learning experience. One quiet evening before the end of the year, when you are in a reflective mood, allow your mind to quietly turn over the thoughts:
- What have I learned about myself and my community this year and how I respond to forced change and things that are out of my control?
- What do I regret doing/not doing this year?
- What am I proud of myself for doing/not doing this year?
- What did I learn about what I need for self-care?
- What small things did I miss the most?
- What client expectations have changed as a result of this year?
- What worked/didn’t work for marketing my business this year?
- What did I do to provide hope, support, and inspiration to others?
- How did I go beyond self-interest to help others or be community-minded?
- What did I discover about my fundamental values and how I see those values reflected in our leaders in government/business?
(Here’s a post if you are looking for more end of year reflection questions).
What have I learned in 2020?
Some of the things that stand out for me after this year:
Big picture lessons
- Many of the faceless and invisible people, in often forgotten jobs, are some of the most important people in our society. These people are heroes and we need never to forget the difference they made during our time of need. (In this group, I include teachers, nurses and medical professionals, supermarket staff, food delivery drivers, transport workers, mail delivery people, cleaners, call-centre employees, volunteer firefighters and security staff.)
- We need to listen more to science and scientists and less to people with strong opinions and loud voices but no qualifications other than a few hours on Facebook or YouTube surrounded by fellow conspiracy theorists to back up their thoughts.
- Standing up for what is right based on science rather than what is right based on PR or opinion polls is important. Our political leaders DO influence our everyday lives and choosing elected officials who are collaborative vs combative across political boundaries is vital to a healthy society.
- Political point-scoring and rampant self-interest destroys communities rather than builds them up, and promises are only as good as the actions to follow them up. A headline is not a solution: Action is.
- We need genuine empathy and the ability to listen to what people need, which is something that can’t be taught in a one-hour seminar.
- Leaders need to be good communicators during complex and ever-evolving situations to provide clear information and facts to help people make logical decisions. Not sharing information to “protect people” from fear is paternalistic and makes things worse.
- I hope that the fear many of us felt when our basic needs were not being met, and the desire to flee strong limitations on our movement, or to get away from “hot spots” despite all the risks, will help us all be more tolerant towards refugees who have made similar choices.
- We are only as good as the community we live in. Our personal preferences and individual rights stop when our actions have the potential to harm or kill others. We may not like seatbelts in cars, but the law says we have to wear them to protect ourselves and others travelling with us. Masks are the same thing. Deal with it or move to somewhere where there are no other humans around you that can be impacted by your self-centred and selfish behaviour.
Some personal lessons
- Dr Norman Swan is my hero for his clear communication during a health crisis. His unflagging sharing of facts without fear is my shining light on how to do this the right way.
- Doom-scrolling is my personal word of the year. I turned that into a dark-art-form and need to find alternate ways of self-care.
- Trying to provide hope and support will sometimes attract critics and negative-nellies, and too many of those in a row can derail me when my resilience tank is low. There are other ways to help and support that don’t require being in the public eye, and that’s OK too.
2020 has been a darn tough year for many, and yet my business thrived and expanded while we worked with some truly exceptional clients. My heart is full of gratitude and happiness in the success of the people we worked with this year. We did some brilliant work together, and our client’s new websites are all doing well at attracting new people to their businesses.
My biggest lesson of 2020 is that I am intensely grateful for my close relationship with my daughters.
We are all in IT-related industries, and all of us working/studying from home and fighting for the internet in 2020 was challenging at times. It was also funny, strange and nurturing all at once. We made it through and are closer than ever. This strength, support and closeness has been the truest gift for me from this very unusual year, and for that gift I am grateful beyond measure.