When Our Back's Against the Wall
Instances of self-doubt are natural and far more revealing of our character than fleeting moments of success.
He was almost three hours into the match, and defeat seemed imminent. Already two sets down, a visibly-exhausted Rafael Nadal needed to win three straight points in the Australian Open final on Sunday just to avoid having his serve broken.
His mind flashed back to the past.
There was 2012, when he lost in the Open final that went nearly six hours.
There was 2014, when he was upset in the final.
Then, there was 2017, when he lost in the fifth set of the championship.
“I was repeating to myself during the whole match, I lost a lot of times here having chances,” Nadal said. “I just wanted to keep believing until the end. Just fight and keep belief in trying to find a solution.”
Nadal won those next three points and would rally to pull off what he said may be the greatest win of his career. The Grand Slam championship was his 21st in total — breaking Roger Federer’s previous record.
“I feel lucky to achieve one more very special thing in my tennis career,” he said. “I don’t care if I’m the one or not the one or the best in history or not the best in history.”
While there are valuable leadership lessons from Nadal’s humility and achievement, it’s those moments of near surrender from Sunday that might be most relevant to us as leaders.
There are countless times where we will have our backs against the wall. We may be overmatched against a forceful opponent, we may be in over our heads on a project, we may face external pressure from clients or a loud fanbase.
We ask ourselves questions like “How will I ever get through this?”, and “Am I really good enough to succeed?”
It’s important to remember that these instances of self-doubt are natural and far more revealing of our character than fleeting moments of success. And the difference between succumbing to these pressures and overcoming them is a will to triumph and the ability to get our mind to a place of realistic self-belief.
Who knows if Nadal would’ve been able to pull off the shocking victory had he not had this mental maturity in the moment?
The lesson for us isn’t that “We can overcome all” or “Nothing gets us down.”
It’s that when we’re facing hardship, when it appears there is no way to get through the challenges staring us in the eyes, we have to get our minds to a place of mental fortitude and realistic self-confidence.
They’re serves that can never be returned.