Sunday, December 13, 2009
Feeling Like a Fraud
I just read Andre Agassi’s book “Open.” I’m a big tennis fan—I was at the US Open the day he retired and had the honor of giving him a 5-minute standing ovation as he said goodbye—and I found the book fascinating. Not so much for the tennis dirt, but more for his honesty. He says that he was forced to play tennis from a young age, subject to a well-meaning but abusive father who de-valued education and elevated tennis as the only way for him to succeed. Agassi never graduated from high school and was stuck in a career he hated because he thought it was all he could do. He had amazing talent but he says over and over again that he hated tennis. It was a lonely, scary, physically painful life.
As a result, he had a very up and down career. What was most interesting to me, though, was that his youthful rebellions—long hair, crazy loud clothes, and bad-boy style—were interpreted by the media as his personality. He says he didn’t know who he was. He certainly wasn’t this rebel everyone thought he was. Actually, he was towing the line he was told to by his father and coaches. He was wearing a hairpiece because he thought he’d be ostracized if fans and his sponsors knew he was prematurely bald. He even married actress Brooke Shields, not because he really wanted to, but because he thought it was what he was supposed to do. He was numb to his own life.
I was struck by how miserable and self-destructive he was when he seemingly had so much. Around age 30, he really screwed up by using drugs. That's when he got a second chance at tennis and out of his marriage to Shields. That’s when he committed to his career, he committed to building a school for disadvantaged kids in Las Vegas, and he committed to a real relationship with a woman he was suited to (tennis star Steffi Graf).
At first, I wondered why Agassi would admit to using crystal meth or not having a good marriage to Brooke Shields. But having read the book, I see he was on a mission to be real and authentic by telling all. The book is a cautionary tale about being too afraid to go for what you want, and about the damage that living life as a fraud can do to you.
Wow. How brave. I respect him even more.