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Lessons From Serena Williams' Legacy

Serena Williams retired from professional tennis. But did she, really? When we think of tennis, it is synonymous with the Williams' sisters, mostly Serena. In an open letter in the iconic September issue of VOGUE, she details an emotional transition from life as she knew it – a professional athlete. Her life is now defined as a businesswoman, designer, producer, and mother. This is not to say she was not any of those identities during her tennis career, but now she is having a shift in prioritization. With her already gilded athletic career, she found a need to reorder her pursuits to feel a sense of fulfillment. She needed to evolve.

So let's talk evolution. Transition. Prioritization.

Notice I didn't mention the "r" word, retirement, that Serena herself shied away from in her farewell letter? She spoke of a new perspective that better aligned with the multitude of opportunities on her horizon. She spoke of evolving. And I really like this purview.

Too often when we retire, it can mean death. The death of the work. The death of career. The death of self identity. But that's not possible. How can you elect to put to death something that's been a part of you for so long? It shouldn't die. And can't die. It simply transitions into something else. Your priorities shift and force you to take your next step. You evolve into a something different. A different professional. A different business. A different identity.

In life like in business, every project has a life cycle. And sometimes these life cycles end sooner than we envisioned or adapt into something unexpected. With each new project you learn something new. Achieve something expected or even unexpected. All roads formed were influenced by evolution.

At a point in our business life cycles, wherever they exist, we make a choice that alters the trajectory of what comes next.

So the key element to remind ourselves is what we should do within each life cycle. The question to ask is, "How will I evolve from this idea, project, purpose, business?"

"I've been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I'm up to is evolution. I'm here to tell you that I'm evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me."
"There is no happiness in this topic for me. I know it's not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain," Williams wrote. "It's the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it's not. I'm torn: I don't want it to be over, but at the same time I'm ready for what's next." - Serena Williams


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