“If” doesn´t exist

Rafael Nadal (right) celebrates his win at the 2017 China Open after defeating Nick Kyrgios (left). Source: Express.co.uk

It is July 4th at night at a press room in Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Thirty-three year old Rafael Nadal, the world´s number two player, 18-time Grand Slam winner and widely considered one of the best athletes of all time, just defeated twenty-four year old Nick Kyrgios, sitting at number 52 in the world rankings, known for his talent and potential, but also for his rebellious demeanor and controversial actions. Kyrgios has, in past occasions, made it known that he does not have a coach, and that he doesn´t prepare as he should. Rafa is now answering questions from reporters, and is about to deliver an absolute diamond of a quote.

I am a huge Rafael Nadal fan, as I have expressed in past pieces. But even if I weren´t, I don´t hesitate to affirm that Nadal is objectively one of the greatest winners of all time. He has provided endless examples of his perseverance and competitiveness. His consistency and mental toughness are unparalleled. More importantly, his values and approach to life are exemplary for anyone. During that press conference, he taught yet another life lesson when a journalist asked him about what Kyrgios would be able to accomplish if he possessed Nadal´s rock-solid work ethic and passion for tennis.

Here´s Rafa´s answer:

“If, if, if… Doesn´t exist. As I said plenty of times, he is a top, talented player, but there are a lot of other important things you need to do to become a champion. He has a lot of good ingredients, but there remains an important one: the love and the passion for this game, and without really loving this game that much it is difficult to achieve important things… He has the talent to do it. Things can be different for him if he wants to play all the matches the same way that he tried today.”

Rafael Nadal, while delivering his “if, if, if… Doesn´t exist” response. Source: YouTube

The suggestion that Kyrgios could possibly be at the same level or above Nadal or other top players if he took tennis more seriously is a lack of respect towards those players, just because it is not a real question, but a hypothesis, a sci-fi movie. It is simple: Nadal´s work and success are there, and they are extraordinary; Kyrgios´ are not. Period.

Asking ourselves “what if” is inevitable. It is embedded in our human condition. It comes from the unlimited curiosity and imagination that we often exercise. This question becomes even more frequent in sports, a highly-competitive sphere in which stories of outstanding success and greatness coexist with countless examples of wasted talent and what ifs because of lack of passion, preparation, and competitive fire, Kyrgios being the ultimate example.

The only possible event in which the “what if” question becomes productive or useful is when we actually address that hypothesis and consequently find out the answer to that question. In other words, if we effectively and decidedly do whatever we think could have changed the outcome of a process.

“Chase Your What If” illustration. Source: Founders Brewing Co.

I know it is more complicated than I make it sound here, and a lot of times there are a variety of factors that make it difficult for us to take action, but think about this: we don´t ask ourselves questions like “what if I go to sleep now?” or “what if I do some laundry today?”. We just do it, because those are generally easy tasks for us. The key is to identify extraordinary, make-or-break moments or habits (which there are quite a few of during our lifetime), and act accordingly to the best of our abilities in those instances, so that no what ifs follow.

Types of “what if”

Don´t get me wrong, we all have dreams. I often wonder what if I had become an NBA player, my dream job. But I have assimilated (even though I struggle with it) that playing in the NBA, or even professionally, is not an option for me (it never was, but hey, we all have dreams). Those far-fetched what ifs allow us to daydream and wish (which is great sometimes), but the possibilities of changing their outcome are minimal, if not nonexistent.

There are also what ifs as a result of unfortunate, unpredictable turns of events. I can easily recall, among others, the cases of Brandon Roy or Derrick Rose, two extremely promising basketball superstars that experienced tremendous downfalls in their careers because of significant injuries. Roy and Rose are two of the biggest what ifs in basketball history, but of course it is not their fault that they suffered injuries. For that reason, it is the reaction to adversity and the comeback from tragedy rather than the anticipation of the moment what define the individuals in these cases.

Brandon Roy, a three-time NBA All Star before his career was ended by injuries, is now a highly successful high school basketball coach. Source: Seattle Times

I am rather talking about actionable situations, like Kyrgios´ training and change of mindset. In these instances, we can prevent the response from being the primary factor, and make the prior action or the decision the catalyst of a satisfactory outcome that doesn´t leave us wondering what if. In other words, it´s the what ifs that can be changed or avoided and what we do about them what matter. Again, just like Kyrgios´ respect for others, training, or professionalism.

Mastering fear

Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL´s Guide, by Brandon Webb and John David Mann. Source: Amazon

Before writing this post, I felt inspired by the book Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL´s Guide, by Brandon Webb and John David Mann, which describes, among other fascinating topics, the rewards and feelings of accomplishment we get out of overcoming our fears, how to get over that hump of fear and not miss out on said rewards.

*This is not a paid or sponsored piece of content (I wish), it is simply a recommendation of a book that I liked, and that can get you started and make you take action.*

The what ifs in the life of a “normal” person like us might not be as glaring as Kyrgios´. Some stem precisely from those deep fears, others from lack of faith or passion, and we don´t even know the origins of others. Thankfully, we all know what our what ifs are, and what we can do about them. Here are some examples: start working out, make that investment, have that conversation with your boss, force yourself to speak in public, make that trip you have always dreamed of, start that YouTube channel or that diary, ask that girl or boy out, run a marathon, try that food, speak to that person, don´t waste your time or your talent... The opportunities are virtually endless.

I am not encouraging you to be reckless, but rather to challenge yourself and take risks from time to time that can likely yield remarkable rewards.

Be a Nadal, not a Kyrgios.

Rafael Nadal (left) and Nick Kyrgios (right). Source: Tennishead

I hope this article inspires you to minimize the actionable what ifs in your life. Make it a challenge to make bold decisions, take control of the situation, listen to your heart and gut more often, put in the work, and be patient. The most important step is that you feel that you are in control, that this is your decision.

If you shy away from the moment or make the easy choice, or if you are not ready just yet to take the leap, that´s fine. At least, please, be conscious of those moments, make yourself aware of the fact that you are missing out beforehand and don´t do yourself the disservice of constantly asking what if after the fact, when you´re dissatisfied with the outcome and there is nothing left to do, because it is completely useless, and a waste of time and energy.

Remember: “If” doesn´t exist.

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