On Knowing When to Walk Away (and When to Run :))

16iht-tennis16-bartoli-articleLargeWTA tennis player Marion Bartoli stunned the world last week when she announced her retirement in her first tournament back after winning Wimbledon earlier this summer.

“I’ve been a tennis player for a long time,” she said, “I had a chance to make my biggest dream a reality. I felt I really, really pushed through the ultimate limits to make it happen. But now I just can’t do it anymore.”

I love that she realized this and acted on it.  What stunned the world wasn’t that she had Marion-Bartoliaches and pains and injuries. That’s part of professional sports. The surprise came, I think, from the idea that she could be satisfied with what she’s accomplished, retire graciously, and turn her eyes to something new.  (I love this picture of her to the right – doesn’t she look pretty and happy and relaxed?) Fellow Wimbledon champ Andy Murray said about Marion,   “I think the best compliment you can give someone as an athlete is that I think that she’s reached her potential, and that’s all you can do. She’s got everything out of her game that she can, and it’s great to see. She deserves everything that she gets. She’s a really, really hard worker and she’s a really nice girl.”

It’s tough for most of us to know if we’ve reached our potential.  How awesome would it be if whenever we reached our best accomplishment in some area of life, someone appeared out of nowhere to hand us a big check & a trophy while a sea of cameras took our picture??? Then we’d know it’s okay to consider moving on.

I guess I envy the clear delineation Marion Bartoli sees in her life: she had an impossible dream that inspired her to work through pain and setbacks and frustration and boredom. She pushed and kept going, and then she reached her dream. Of course, she could push for more. That’s what most players do–step up on this new rung on the ladder and use it to reach higher. But she doesn’t want to. So she’s climbing back down, having seen the view from the top, ready to look around for a new dream to inspire her.

That’s heady stuff.

In retort to interviewers who suggested that she’d be back once she’d had a chance to rest, as have so many other players (Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin), she said firmly,  “You know one doesn’t make a decision like this looking at what others do. It’s an extremely personal decision…. I’m not doing this in relation to others.”

How many of us can say the same about our own decisions?

This week, I’ll be thinking about Marion, wondering if it’s time to retire and dream a new dream.  I’m not even sure what I’d retire from, to be honest. But when someone else’s choice captivates me in a way that seems all out of proportion, it’s usually worth considering why, and if God might be trying to tell me something.