Chapter 4: Support systems
“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone. Whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life — all the weaving of individual threads from one to another that create something.” Sandra Day O’Conner, former U.S. Supreme Court Justices
We all need somebody to lean on! Dogs do this naturally and on their own. They are not shy to come to you and lay right on top of you whenever they feel like they want your company. They don’t overthink. They love, they feel, they do. I wonder what our lives would look like if we had the same courage as dogs to love, feel, and do. What if we didn’t overthink? Are we able to admit to ourselves that we are not a product of our efforts, but instead, we are a product of all that is and all that has surrounded us since we came into this world? We are a product of our environment, the people who positively and negatively influence us, our beliefs, our experiences, the decisions we did and didn’t make, and routes we took or didn’t take.
I listened to a fun Freakonomics podcast episode named “Forget Everything You Know About Your Dog” with Alexandra Horowitz that made me think of the symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship between dogs and humans. The podcast talks about the benefits of humans having dogs, but it also talks about that this was not a one-way decision. It was not only that humans decided to have dogs but also that dogs’ grandfathers decided to become dogs. The relationship between humans and dogs was mutually beneficial.
Additionally, if we look across the animal kingdom, we observe that many animals live in some groupings. Wolfs, lions, foxes, horses, gorillas, dolphins, many wildebeests, bees, and ants — they all live in packs, herds, troops, pods, swarms, colonies, etc. Nature and the history of our human evolution taught us that support systems are critical to our survival. Furthermore, we can learn and observe from professional athletes that support systems play a crucial role in maximizing our talents and potential.
What is a support system? A support system can be defined as follows:
A network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support
A group of people who give someone help, money, encouragement, etc.
From biology: Support systems provide the structure (and support!) for your body: your muscles, skeleton, and skin.
Is it possible that dogs chose us to be their support system, or are they mainly supporting us? Sometimes I wonder how it would feel to be this dependent on someone. I have to admit that the thought is terrifying. When you think about it, dogs cannot do almost anything without us. Alli, my dog, depends on me for pretty much everything.
1. We feed her OR bring her dinner to bed. Although, she is not always in the mood for cooked chicken.
2. We take her for walks.
Boardwalk in Laguna Beach
3. We take her to a dog park so she can play with her dog friends. Or she can sit there and watch them play.
4. We take her for trips to the beach.
Alli and I at Newport Beach.
5. Or for hikes.
6. Sometimes we carry her on our shoulders for 2 miles when she gets too tired from the heat.
In return, Alli gives us her unconditional love, compassion, empathy, and support.
1. Alli watches over our diet and helps us eat our breakfast so we don’t get fat.
2. Alli warms up my pillow and my side of the bed.
3. Alli protects us from dangerous wild animals running in our yard at 2 a.m. She smells a raccoon through our door and starts barking loudly, wanting to go out and chase it away. “Don’t come near my house. This is my house and territory.” Alli barks out loud while running circles around the house.
4. Alli cheers me on during workouts. Sometimes she gets chalk all over her.
5. Alli supports us when we feel sick.
6. Alli helps me sit still while meditating.
“One is too small a number to achieve greatness. You cannot do of anything of a real value alone.” John Maxwell
Dogs are amazing, and I would argue that Alli is a big part of my support system; however, there is more to a support system than just dogs.
What sport taught me is that to be great, you need to surround yourself with people who help you grow and who want you to be great. I grew up in a tennis academy since I was 13 years old. The majority of my day consisted of chasing a yellow tennis ball on a court and doing many fitness exercises, physical and mental recovery work that supported my goal of becoming a Grand Slam tennis player. I read tennis magazines and books to learn about tennis tactics, played matches against other players to practice different plays, strategies, and match mindset, and competed at many tournaments to learn how to compete well and hopefully climb in the rankings. In school, I had what we call in Czech an individual study plan, which means homeschooling. My support system consisted of:
Family and coaches who helped me in the sport,
friends at school who would allow me to copy their notes they took during classes, and
teachers who would allow me to schedule exams every 2–3 months to test my knowledge from all they covered while I was gone, practicing tennis, and traveling for tennis tournaments.
I don’t want to dive too deep into my tennis journey as that can turn into a completely different story; however, the main point of mentioning this is to create a simple example. Professional athletes are a great example of what one has to do to become extraordinary. (I understand that the definition of extraordinary may mean something else for different people, and it should be something that each of us defines ourselves.) Thus, it is relatively easy to apply the principles of a competitive athlete to our life.
During my Grand Slam Journey podcast interviews, it has become clear that support systems are essential, and we cannot maximize our potential and talent without them. Julianna, Takeshi, Fazal, Wayne, Liz, Christian, Mitch — all mentioned during my Grand Slam Journey podcast the importance of having a support system. In each episode, you can hear their examples of how they thrived when they had the right support in place and how their performance deteriorated when their support was lacking, or they didn’t have the right people on their side. We may have talents, intelligence, skills, etc.; however, if we don’t have the right support system in place, it is highly improbable we will achieve anything of exceptional importance.
Try this: Have you ever tried cleaning up your diet while the people in your household continued to eat poorly and your fridge and pantry were flooded with terrible food choices? How hard was it to stay on track and stick to your diet? Compare that with the opposite situation where you could control the environment and where you only had food that is good for you, which aligns with your diet. Now, add to this scenario people in your household who support your new habits and eat the same thing as you. Which system is the easiest one to keep?
For example: When we go grocery shopping, we only walk through the store aisles with the food we want to buy. I don’t buy ice cream or cheat food as having it at home creates an opportunity to cheat when I have “cravings” or when my will power is low. If it is not at home, I cannot eat it. By eliminating the first wrong decision (buying food that is not good for you), you save yourself from making a second wrong decision that is even worse than the first one — eating food that is not good for you. When it comes to food and diet, what typically works is to create principles, commit, be consistent, and be discerning.
Creating principles, being committed, consistent and discerning applies to much more than food and diet. I believe it applies to our whole life and our support systems.
I invite you to think about the following:
Who is part of your support system on the journey of your life?
How strong is your support system?
What are your goals? How does your support system’s expertise align with the goals you want to achieve?
Does your support system have gaps? Do you need to recruit more people or dogs into your support system?
You are also part of somebody else’s support system. Perhaps you are part of multiple support systems. Are you clear on the role you play in their support system? Are you supporting them in the way they want to be supported?
What are the trust levels of your support systems?
How much do you trust the people who are part of your support systems?
How much can the people you are supporting trust you?
Wayne Ferreira and I talk about trust at the end of the Grand Slam Journey podcast episode #4. This episode may be a good one to listen to learn more.