EXCERPT: 'On The Line'

Even so, it was a big, big day for us. I remember going through our closet with Venus, trying to pick out just the right outfit, because even then I was into how I looked on the court. (In Compton, all five of us shared a closet, so it was always a frenzied time when we were scrambling to find something to wear.) We didn't really have proper tennis clothes, but we wanted to make a good impression. Lyn and Isha played that day, too. We all fussed over what to wear, and then, when we finally got to the clinic and started playing, Billie Jean actually walked over to us during one of the drills. I'm sure she was just being a good ambassador for the sport, making special time on each court with each group of kids—just like I try to do now when I'm asked to participate in one of these clinics, because of Billie Jean's example—but it felt to us like she'd come over just to watch us play. Like she'd heard about us and wanted to check us out. That was the kind of confidence our parents instilled in us when it came to tennis; that was how they had us thinking: there were the Williams sisters, and there was everyone else. Over and over, they kept telling us we were champions, that everyone in tennis would know who we were, and on and on. After a while, we started to believe them, but here at this World Team Tennis event it was too soon for all of that. This was just Billie Jean, making the rounds, working with as many kids as she could. She didn't know us from any other group of sisters out there on that court.

Unfortunately, the meeting meant more to me when I was looking forward to it than it did when I was in the middle of it, because I didn't play too well when Billie Jean was hitting to me. Plus, Venus did such a good job when it was her turn, so that made it even worse. I panicked, I guess. (I was so nervous!) I think I hit every shot long or into the net, but that's how it goes sometimes. You look ahead to some meaningful moment and set it up in your mind like it's going to be this huge, consequential deal, and then it just fizzles. The trick, really, is to find some takeaway moment in the fizzle and carry that with you instead, and here I managed to shrug off that I'd played so poorly and ended up crying because Venus played so well, and remember instead that I got to hit with the great Billie Jean King. That alone was pretty huge and consequential.

I think back on that Billie Jean King moment every time I look forward to an event or a milestone or a special opportunity. Why? Because it grounds me. It reminds me that we can take pleasure and pride in the thrill of anticipation, but at the same time we must be careful not to invest too heavily into any one situation, in case it doesn't work out the way we've planned. That's life, right? We get disappointed from time to time. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't look forward to anything, or even that we should keep our expectations reasonable. Not at all. What it means for me is to aim high and to know that if I fall short of the mark it was still worth doing. Whatever it happens to be, if it's worth looking forward to it, if it's worth taking aim, it's worth doing.

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