Five powerful life lessons on self-care for Black women we learned from Serena Williams 

OPINION: She is that rare soul who was born for greatness. She walks it, she lives it, and she shines a light on what is possible for the rest of us.

Serena Williams of the United States walks off the court after having played her final career match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia in the third round on Day 5 of the US Open Tennis Championships at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 02, 2022 in New York City (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Serena Williams is indeed the GOAT. She is a champion. She is a winner. She is, to many around the globe, a trailblazing inspiration. But to me and millions of African-American women at midlife, she is so much more. She has modeled something that money cannot buy: the power of peace. The power of self-care. The power of choice. And the power of shifting into our next best season. I was struck by her words in her September Vogue magazine cover interview: “I have never liked the word retirement,” said Williams. “It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me.” She added. 

Call it retirement or call it a life transition. Williams ended her storied tennis career last week at the U.S. Open the same way she came in as a young girl—as a star. ESPN estimates that Serena’s last performance at Flushing Meadows was the most watched tennis match in its 43-year history with just under 5 million viewers.

Although she is just 40 years of age (she turns 41 on Sept. 26), Serena has achieved more than most people who live to be 100. She is that rare soul who was born for greatness. She walks it, she lives it, and she shines a light on what is possible for the rest of us.

Like many, I remember 2002 when Serena and her sister, Venus, made history. It happened after the French Open, when they were ranked world No. 1 and No. 2 in singles, marking the first time in history that sisters occupied the top two positions. And we all know about their father, Richard Williams, and his relentless focus, drive and commitment to developing his daughter’s talent as chronicled in the Academy Award-nominated film, King Richard

The truth is, our lives are lived in chapters and in seasons. They often play out like a movie script. And we have had the great privilege of watching Serena’s life play out. But even though she is now retired or “evolving” to her next chapters as a mom, wife and whatever else she wants to be, Serena’s greatest legacy will be the story she narrated for us all through her living.  

I think we have all learned something from her, particularly those of us who are Black girls, Black teens and Black women. I reflected on her life as she was making her closing remarks after her loss at the US Open last week. She summed up her amazing athletic run this way: 

“I thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side, for so many years, decades…These are happy tears, I guess. I don’t know. And I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you, Venus. She’s the only reason Serena Williams ever existed…It’s been a fun ride. It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on.”

I would like to offer five life lessons that we can all learn from the amazing Serena Williams. She is a 40-year-old athlete, mother and wife, who hails from the hardcore neighborhood of Compton, Calif. Her journey was not only improbable, but to many at that time in the 1990s, it seemed pretty impossible.  

  1. Lesson No. 1: Serena said it best when she said, “I have nothing to prove and nothing to lose.” That is the best advice any of us could take to heart. The only person you have to be good enough for is yourself. Serena has modeled that time and time again. She has clearly lived life on her own terms, and she did it her way on the court each and every time. We need to give ourselves permission to do just that. 
  2. Lesson No. 2: Be gracious. Say thank you to those who helped you on your life’s journey of success. “Thank you, daddy, I know you’re watching. Thanks, mom,” Serena said before choking up on the court as she closed out her historic final tennis match. 
  3. Lesson No. 3: Have fun. Serena has given many victory speeches and interviews throughout her career and the word “fun” comes up often. Yes, she was a master at her craft. But she knew how to laugh at herself. Case in point: She mentioned a bathroom break mishap at the U.S. Open.
  4. Lesson No. 4: Serena has modeled for young women of a new generation that you can have it all, just not all at once. She talked at length in the aforementioned Vogue article about wanting another baby, but at almost 41, she realized she would likely have to give up tennis. She lamented that men do not have to make such choices, but that it is indeed a choice she had made, fair or otherwise. 
  5. Lesson No. 5: Be open to support from a community of cheerleaders, friends and family. Serena made it clear to not just acknowledge her father, mother and sisters, but the people who followed her career from the beginning to the end. She taught us and reminded us that none of us gets through this life alone. We need people to clap when we win, to cheer when we succeed and to be there when we make that pivotal turn into a new chapter of our lives.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

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