Game Change Nation

Simona Halep’s Journey to Forgiving Herself

Simona Halep has emerged as one of the great stars of women’s tennis, but it has been a rollercoaster ride to the top. In 2014, at the age of 22, Halep had already won several tournaments and made it to the French Open final. Her trajectory was rising, but then in 2015 and 2016, she hit a wall.  

The biggest issue that Halep faced was overcoming her natural predisposition to be negative. To put it simply, she beat herself up too much when things went wrong. Watching a Halep match was akin to a Shakespearian drama. She stormed through matches, screaming at the skies, tossing her racquet, and kicking at the ground after missing shots.

In 2016, Halep hired Darren Cahill as her coach. There was certainly many strategic and technical things that he helped her with, but probably the most important was his insistence that she also work on her mental approach to the game. In a New Yorker article about Halep, Cahill said, “She became her worst enemy quite often.” 

It got so bad that Cahill temporarily left her. It’s not supposed to work that way. In professional tennis, a coach is hired and fired by the player, but in a twist, Cahill fired Halep because he felt that she wasn’t working hard enough to improve her mindset. It all came to a boiling point at the 2017 Miami Open. 

The New Yorker article told the story of how Cahill was called over by Halep between the second and third set of a quarterfinal match against Johanna Konta. Halep had won the first set and was two points from victory, when her game started to unravel, and she lost the second set. Cahill tried to encourage her, but Halep replied, “I’m so bad. I’m ridiculous bad.” When asked how she could correct her errors, Halep just stared at the ground with no response. 

Halep lost the third set and the match. After the match, Cahill told Halep he was done coaching her. Halep realized to get him back, and more importantly, to get her career back on the right track, she would need to heed his words. She worked hard on making changes to develop a more positive mindset. 

The change in focus brought Halep quick dividends. She reached the semi-final at the Stuttgart Open, won the Madrid Open, and reached the final at the Rome Open. After the Stuttgart tournament, Halep told that she asked Cahill to return. “He said yes, because I improved a lot, and he saw that I really wanted to change.” 

After Rome, Halep marched through the field at the 2017 French Open and, once again, reached the final. Although she acknowledged that nerves had gotten the best of her, and she lost, Halep’s mindset slowly improved. In the aftermath of losing a Grand Slam championship, that was within her grasp, Halep was understandably down, but she began to realize that when things don’t go your way the best response is to forgive yourself and just keep striving to get better. As she told The New Yorker, the priority was to first grow as “a person, not a tennis player.” 

One year later Halep was back In the French Open final, where she faced Sloane Stephens, the defending U.S. Open champion. The ability to bounce back from adversity was mightily tested in this match. Stephens took the first set 6-3 and was up 2-0 in the second set. Unlike in Miami, Halep did not crumble under self-doubt. She came roaring back to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. It was Halep’s first Grand Slam championship. 

Everyone makes mistakes. It could be a lousy play in a big moment of a game that caused defeat. It could be something you said to a loved one or a friend that you wish you could take back because the relationship never recovered. It could be a bad investment, which set you back financially for years. 

We are often our own worst enemy, unable to forgive ourselves for mistakes that we have made. For many of us, this inability to be kind to ourselves and let go of our past failings is the single biggest obstacle that we must overcome. Oftentimes, it will take something dramatic to happen to get your attention, like a coach firing you as in Simona Halep’s case!

It doesn’t matter what the regret may be. What matters is where do you go from here? Do you continually live in the past and dwell on an error in judgment or a mistake made that negatively impacted you? If you could only go back to reset history; unfortunately, that isn’t possible. If you continue to hold onto a past that you wish could be changed, then you will never realize your true potential of what lies ahead. 

The only solution to this living hell is to let go and forgive yourself for being human. When you truly let go, you will be able to feel a weight lifted from your being. You will be lighter, and you will have created space for other amazing experiences to gravitate to you. Here’s more good news, once you forgive yourself for past mistakes, you will be better able to forgive others for any harm directed your way.

Living in the past is the surest way to not have peace in the present. And, without peace in this moment, the future that you believe you want is clouded. When you free yourself from past screw ups, the time becomes ripe to plan for a clearer, and more achievable, road ahead. So, what are the things that you want to do in life? What can you do today that can help you achieve that goal? 

Most importantly, ask yourself, what type of person do you want to be?

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