7 Career Success Lessons from Serena Williams


Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time. Her career resume includes:

  • 22 Grand Slam singles titles; joint-most by any player in the Open Era.
  • 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister Venus; they have never lost a Grand Slam doubles final.
  • 38 Grand Slam titles including singles, doubles, and mixed doubles; 4th on the all-time list and 2nd in the Open Era.
  • Held all 4 Major titles simultaneously; twice!
  • 10 Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades; the only tennis player in the history of the game to have done this.
  • 4 Olympic Tennis Golds; an all-time record shared with her sister, Venus.
  • Number 1 ranked tennis player for 186 consecutive weeks starting on February 18th 2013; that’s over three and a half years.

One could go on forever with her career stats and records, but in summary, Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time.

The seeds for success were sewn at an early age when she was put into tennis at the age of three, and then at the age of nine her family moved from California to Florida so she could attend Rick Macci’s Tennis Academy. Combined with her natural ability and her love for the game, she was able to become not just the greatest tennis player of all time, but one of the greatest athletes of all time.

But what other factors played a role in her rise to the top? How has she been able to be so successful in areas outside of tennis, such as fashion and with charity work? And how can we learn from Serena Williams’ success and apply those lessons to our lives and careers?

At the INBOUND 2016 in Boston she was interviewed by Good Morning America host and NFL legend, Michael Strahan, where she opened up on a variety of topics and shared insight on how she’s been able to achieve so much success in her career. Based on that discussion, here are seven career success lessons from Serena Williams.

Serena Williams Inbound 2016 1.jpeg


1. Surround Yourself With Champions

Serena was the youngest of five sisters. As anyone who is the baby of the family knows, that will always toughen you up a bit. And whether it was tennis or board games, Serena always had a challenge to beat her elder sisters.

And perhaps there was no greater challenge as a child than beating her elder sister Venus, an all-time tennis great in her own right; 7 Grand Slam singles, 14 Grand Slam doubles, 2 Grand Slam mixed doubles, 4 Olympic Golds to name but a few…

Together they have achieved almost everything there is to achieve in the sport of tennis, but they still motivate one another, they still practice next to one another, and they understand one another unlike anyone else.

“When I see Venus outside training, then I have to get out there and start working.”

Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once said that we are the average of the five people we spend most time with. If they are champions, like Venus Williams, then chances are we will be too.

Serena Summary

  • Challenge yourself against the best in your field
  • Set scarily high goals
  • Then seek out people around you who can help take your game to that level and spend time with them


2. Leverage Data Better Than Your Competitors

Serena started playing professional tennis in the late 90s, and in those 20 years, technology has changed drastically. Where once you had to go on a combination of gut feeling and observation to assess performance, tennis players and coaches now have access to huge amounts of data. This pool of big data allows you to analyse performance to truly understand your strengths and weaknesses. However, so can everyone else.

“Stats can show my opponents how they can beat me.”

So it’s about being able to take the data that is available and extract the maximum possible value from it. If data is showing a glaring weakness, then you know your opponents will aim to exploit it. This means Serena and her coaching team need to work hard on resolving that and turn it into a strength so that when opponents ultimately target it, it will actually work in your advantage.

Serena and her coaching team don’t only look at performance data of her shots, but also her movement. They can analyse how efficiently she is moving around the court and how much distance she is covering within a match. By understanding this, they can look at ways to make her movement more efficient and reduce the distance she is covering. This in turn will minimise the energy expended, allowing her to maintain a higher level of performance over a longer time period. So even if her opponents are able to take a match right down to the wire, you can be certain that Serena is still in strong condition.

Serena Summary

  • Collect data
  • Analyse yourself
  • Analyse your competition
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses
  • Convert your weaknesses into strengths
  • Exploit your competitions’ weaknesses


3. Train Your Body & Your Brain

“During the match you get more mentally exhausted than physically.”

This was the answer Serena gave when asked how she deals with exhaustion during games. Preparing for tennis is not just about physical training, but also mental. We know from the previous section that Serena can maintain her physical performance over long time periods, but the real challenge is the mental side of the game.

For Serena it is her lifelong dedication to the sport of tennis that allows her to deal with, and avoid, mental exhaustion. She is so focussed on winning and the amazing feeling that comes with it, that deep down she knows that she is mentally stronger than others.

I’m in the zone, Mom!

But being so mentally focussed on court has also brought its own set of challenges that Serena has needed to overcome; criticism. We, as spectators, only see her for the hour or two she is on court. We see the aggression and the stern expressions. We feel the anger and the intensity. And we hear the cursing and the grunting.

But that’s what happens when you work in a stressful environment and your work day is live streamed to millions of viewers around the globe. And winning 22 Grand Slams wouldn’t be possible with just a good tennis game; you need the mental strength and resilience to succeed too. For Serena that means dealing with people voicing their opinions based on only seeing a small part of who she is. Personally, it was so refreshing to see someone whom you’ve grown up watching open up in a new way and share their true personality. And when asked what her family think of her on-court persona and intensity, she replied with a shy smile, “I’m in the zone, Mom.”

Sitting is the new smoking

But chances are that if you work in an office, mental exhaustion might seem more apparent, but the opposite could be the real problem; staring at a bright screen whilst sitting in an un-ergonomic position is really bad for your health. Really bad! Health experts sight organ damage, an inflexible spine, muscle degeneration, and leg disorders as just some of the hazards of sitting for eight hours a day, every day. So get out and go running. Join a weekly gym class. Get off the train one stop early and walk home. Or better yet, go and play some tennis!

Serena Summary

  • Train your brain
    • Complete puzzles and mind games
    • Read
    • Build a strong mental resilience
  • Train your body
    • Be active during your work day
    • Be active in your free time
    • Play some tennis


4. Stop Looking At Your Trophies

Serena has won all 4 Grand Slam titles in a row on two separate occasions. There aren’t many people who can say they’ve held the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open titles at the same time. And there are even fewer who can say they’ve done it twice (for the record, the only other tennis players who have done this are Steffi Graf and Rod Laver). But when asked what it felt like to win the fourth and final trophy, Serena said it was special but she couldn’t really remember the exact moment or where it happened. She also doesn’t know where her trophies are – and she has almost 40 Major Titles to her name.

“I’m not a trophy person. I kinda don’t know where they are. You don’t want to lose the hunger, which is why I don’t put the trophies up.”

By wiping the slate clean after each victory, Serena gives herself the platform to go out there and do it again. She feeds herself the motivation to still want to do more. There is an insatiable desire to keep on going.

Serena Summary

  • Remember the feeling of success or victory and savour it
  • But put away your trophies and awards
  • Don’t lose focus by looking backwards too much
  • Look ahead and keep your eye on the next goal


5. Pursue Multiple Interests

No matter what your main profession is, make sure you open your mind to new possibilities, interests, and experiences. If you just focus on just one thing, then you become blind to the world around you. At the end of the day, tennis is just a job and there is more to life than hitting a yellow ball over a net. You need to find perspective from other ventures. For Serena Williams, that is fashion.

“My goal for fashion is to be more successful than in tennis.”

She’s been working on it for a number of years and it’s been a hard slog. She has her own clothing label, Aneres, and the Serena Williams Signature Collection, which can be found on HSN. And whilst Serena gets really nervous before each tennis match she plays, she gets more nervous when working in the fashion business since, unlike tennis, everything is no longer just in your hands. You need to think from the perspective of others, collaborate with a wide unit of people, and ultimately people might not like what you spend all those hours creating. But just like tennis, she’s seriously passionate about fashion, which she believes is crucial, otherwise you’re not able to be 100% fully behind it.

In addition to fashion, Serena is involved in a lot of charity work, has done a variety of work within film and television, is a minority owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team, and she loves karaoke.

Serena Summary

  • Explore other passions
  • List your dreams and start pursuing them
  • Don’t become blind by focussing on just one thing

Serena Williams Inbound 2016 career success and tennis.


6. Be Authentic. Be You.

 Serena’s career has coincided with the rise of social media, which has provided an opportunity to showcase the other side of her you don’t see when she’s on the court. But social platforms have also brought about their own challenges as athletes’ posts are heavily scrutinised. So much so, that many professionals and celebrities have a media-savvy PR team behind their social profiles.

Not Serena. While she does have support, she likes to be fully involved in her social accounts to ensure they are genuine, which is no mean feat considering she has 7.3 million Twitter followers, 4.7 million Instagram followers, and 5 million Facebook likes.

And being yourself also means never giving up on yourself. There were times when Serena felt like things might not work out or she may not succeed, but she never once stopped believing in herself.  Even during the times when others might’ve stopped believing in her, she never lost faith as the energy you give out will radiate to others. And when times are good, always stay humble.

Serena Summary

  • Never stop trying and never give up on yourself
  • When times get tough, dig deep to find that grit and deep burning motivation to prove others wrong
  • When times are good, stay humble and be kind


7. Make People Smile

When asked “Why do you keep doing what you?”, Serena’s reply was only five words, but it said everything; it’s about making people smile. If the work you do is making people smile, then that’s a surefire signal that you’re on the path to success.

Serena Summary

  • Smile and make others smile

Serena Williams Inbound 2016 career success and tennis.


For more info check out serenawilliams.com

Another post you might like: Leading: Sir Alex Ferguson Gives The Best Leadership Advice You’ll Hear Today

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