Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to meet with Tennis pro, entrepreneur, best-selling author, Olympic Gold medalist & designer, Venus Williams, as she flew all the way to Montreal, straight from the Stanford Classic finals, to take part in this year's Rogers Cup tournament and to launch for the very first time in Canada, her new collection of athletic gear branded EleVen by Venus. Currently ranked World No. 6 in singles, winning over 45 career titles, Venus Williams is an inspiration to all career girls across the world for way more than just her athletic endeavours. Here's what I learned from the woman who has been dominating the world of Tennis for over a decade now on having it all…
1) DISCIPLINE STARTS EARLY
In our world, 10 might be just another number, but EleVen (her sportswear line) is a lifestyle, according to Williams. It’s about challenging your status quo, embracing positive change, and pushing beyond whatever is holding you back from living your ideal life. A relentless work ethic was ingrained in Venus Williams since birth. After four to five hours of practice a day, her father would hold family discussion about economics and social Darwinism, while her mother concentrated on fostering a curious nature and a powerful sense of self-worth in her daughters. Both parents expressed the value of thinking entrepreneurially.
"I definitely have to stay focused on my priorities", she says. "The first thing I do in the morning is work out. If I want to get to work earlier, I get up earlier. But I'm also just made this way. For example, I can't go to the movies. The thought of going to the movies drives me crazy because that would mean I would have to sit still."
Words we live by : "It's all about being your best... To do something positive for yourself, to do something positive for your body" - Venus Williams
2) COMPETITION AND SUPPORT GO HAND-IN-HAND
With young sister Serena withdrawing from the Rogers Cup this year because of an important shoulder injury, Venus mentioned how difficult it was in fact to compete without her sibling by her side.
"I'm definitely sad Serena can't be here this week. I was looking forward to play with her in the doubles, that is something we enjoy so much during each tournament. We play well together, we challenge each other and we complete each other", she said with a smile, looking down.
Truth is, growing up with a sister as competition is certainly far from easy, but the Williams sisters showed the world how it’s done. Often finding themselves playing against each other on the court, and having their titles racked up against each other, both Venus and Serena made a point to overcome that family rivalry. "Support is key to anyone’s success", William says, "and often, people don't understand how close to home the pick up you need can be. Look to those around you to be both your support system and offer you the challenge you need, and a great line of success is likely to follow".
3) YOU CAN ALWAYS BOUNCE BACK
The greatest opponent Williams would face in life wasn't fellow tennis pro on the court, or even baby sister and current World No. 1 ranked Serena, but rather made its presence known in the summer of 2011, off-the-court, inside medical facilities. For months Venus had battled a frustrating mix of symptoms that included fatigue, muscle aches, shortness of breath, and an inability to recover during a set. Doctors were convinced it was adult-onset asthma, but nothing they prescribed brought any relief. It was finally discovered that she suffers from Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease in which immune cells attack saliva and tear glands.
Living with the disease has brought about major changes in Williams’ lifestyle. Like any other opponent, though, Williams has attacked it in her usual aggressive style. She has become an advocate of a vegan/raw foods diet, which helps minimize the inflammation brought on by the condition. No more of her favorite cherry pies, as sugar is strictly verboten. Her training is now tempered with one or more rest days per week. As she returns to competitive tennis she is still learning how her body reacts and recovers.
4) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE BEST
"When it comes to my women's athletic wear brand, EleVen, having people know who I am definitely is an advantage because it can help me get in the door", states Williams. "But once you're inside you have to prove you know what you're doing. One thing I've done is surround myself with people who are as good as me or better".
That alone speaks for itself!
"Now, when it comes to tennis, we have a great team. They know what I can do, and then know when I can do it. And they excel at their roles! Knowing each other's strengths and playing to those strengths has really been the key into being one of the bests".
Considering herself as a collaborator, a member of the team both on and off the court, Williams explained that she knows she doesn't know everything. And she doesn't want to know everything. She loves to have people around her that are better than her and she values the knowledge and input of everyone, and figures out how to make an idea better as a team. That is her strength!
5) ALWAYS BE YOUR NUMBER ONE SUPPORTER
With her words and her play at Rogers Cup, Venus shows why she's going strong at 36. Her hard-working temper and incredible work ethic still demonstrate to this day why she's one of the best tennis players out there. And she's not making any excuses for it.
"I'm used to winning. I've lost, too, but in the overall scheme of things, I'm used to winning, and I'm used to not just winning by chance, but putting in the work and getting prepared enough to know I can get the win. I'm not afraid of hard work. None of us were. That was how I saw it: whatever it takes."
Williams is a great, humble example of great self-belief as opposed to vanity. She knows her strengths and she knows her weaknesses. But according to her, learning how to embrace and be proud of your success is as important, if not more, than knowing about what's making you weak and learning how to compose with it. This plays a big role in the mind game tennis also happens to be. "To achieve it", she says, "you have to believe it".
6) NEVER FORGET WHERE YOU'RE COMING FROM
There’s a story that Richard Williams, their father and long-time coach, when asked what he would do if his daughters ever won a Grand Slam, said he would go back and try to help the Crips who sometimes looked out for the girls during their practice sessions. This was in Compton, the low-income, gang-afflicted hub city outside Los Angeles, an area made infamous by many a rap song.
Now that the Williams sisters have made it to the top and are living dream lives in their multi-million properties in California, Venus believes it is important, more than ever, to look back and remember where she's coming from, in order to figure out where she's going. Although they enjoyed about as stable an upbringing as you could have in Compton back then, its problems were no mere abstraction to the sisters: they supposedly knew to lie down on the court when gunshots rang out in the park, for instance. Knowing that not everything would come easy to her and her little sister made Venus realized that there is an effort to put in everything you undertake. "Even if you think it's in the bag", she says.
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