Five years ago I started taking tennis lessons, and a year later I began playing with men in their 70’s, 80’s and one in his 90’s. Now I am playing with much stronger players in their late 20’s, early 40’s,50’s, and 60’s . My game play has improved greatly. I have played 10 times in the last 14 days, and yet only in the last four days have I discovered that I hit better with a different grip, hit a superior forehand with a changed motion, and that there is a special swing for returning a serve. I was also given a book for Father’s Day, The Art of Doubles by Pat Blaskower, that guides me to new strategies I’d never heard of.

This major hitting transition started six days ago, when I played with Joe Marshall and two other very strong players. Joe noticed that I had improved (since we last played and I had been playing with the younger, stronger guys), but my serve was still the weakest part of my game. He gave me some tips, and then I went to a web site, that has lots of terrific instructional videos with stop action photos and slow motion videos of pros swinging that really break down each swing and grip. Fantastic. I am so giddy with my new ability that I can’t believe it has taken so long to learn some of these suggestions. I am even using a kick serve now.

I am amused that I can be playing so long (for me…I know it’s not 20 or 40 years), but only now learn such major ways to improve my game. I wonder if all of life is like this: we plod along, have some successes and more failures, and then late in the adventure bump into techniques or methods that allow us to make huge leaps toward our lifetime goals. It’s sort of a shame that we can’t uncover the secret paths sooner in the process. I have had quite a few tennis lessons that still didn’t reach me as forcefully as those videos. I don’t know where I could have taken life-solving lessons.

Over the last three weeks, I was also involved as an intermediary working to resolve differences between two parties with clashing opinions. Lots of frustration. Much emotion. Certainly aggravating at times as the lawyers muddied things up during the process. But in the end, after it looked like the deal had fallen apart, there was complete resolution and a compromise both sides could live with. I went from feeling all my efforts had proven fruitless and a waste to seeing that I had made a significant contribution toward the final outcome.

Life’s challenges aren’t always that clearly defined. Years can pass without significant improvement or weighty results. It’s how our lives evolve. We can’t often achieve success quickly, in spite of the super stars in entertainment and sports who are famous in their teens or shortly after their efforts begin. So whenever we make a tiny step toward a better relationship, job, promotion, or other goal, we have to be grateful and proud and humbled. It’s all part of the process.