Serena Williams Gets Vulnerable About What’s NextA candid conversation about success, boundaries, and prioritizing what’s most important.
For our August cover interview, Serena Williams sat down with two of Wondermind’s co-founders, Selena Gomez and Daniella Pierson, to discuss how she’s really feeling about life after tennis, bouncing back from disappointment, and finding the formula to success in everything she does.
[This interview originally appeared in an August 2022 edition of the Wondermind Newsletter. Sign up here to never miss these candid conversations.]
Selena Gomez: So, how’s everything?
Serena Williams: Everything is good. It’s never really great, you know what I mean? It’s always something that I think you deal with, whether it’s physical—like my back right now—or whether it’s mental. But it’s really about managing and how you’re able to do it and how you’re able to kind of just manage your emotions and your feelings and everything and still be able to perform. And I’m not talking about performing on a big stage or anything, just like performing in general—performing as a mom, for me, or just performing in day-to-day life. Those are kind of my emotions now. But it’s good because I always think about, What are the most important things to me? and prioritize those.
SG: What does mental fitness look like for you?
SW: Mental fitness for me is just really learning to shut down. You know, I did this years ago, before mental health was a topic on everyone’s mind. It was just like: Alright, I’m shutting myself down today. Just subconsciously it was something I’ve always done. And so now that I know that it is so important to put yourself first—especially mentally—I always have shut down moments. I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries with my time. And it’s so bad ’cause I really don’t do anything for me. I’m terrible at that! I’ve said it time and time again: I’m working on it! But, more or less, at least prioritizing what I need to do, and then when I’m turned off, I’m turned off.
SG: That’s so nice. About four years ago now I got rid of the apps from my phone for a while, and that was my way of shutting down. It was so helpful. I know that I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, and as someone who may have felt that before, is there any moment that made you think, OK I need to talk to someone?
SW: Yeah, I mean I’ve been through a lot of things in my life. Just a lot. So there are some times when I’m like, I need to stop talking to people. But I think it is important to talk to people. I’m a high-strung individual in what I do. You can see when I’m at my job and I’m playing tennis I’m like, [yells], you know? I’m really super intense but that’s my passion and that’s kind of how I wear it. And even with VC [venture capital] and everything that I do there, I’m really incredibly tense—intense, not tense. Intense is a better word.
So I do have a tendency to become anxious, but I’ve really learned that, first of all, for me, prayer works a lot. And also just realizing the bigger picture has really helped with my anxiety. I’m just like, You know what? At the end of the day, in ten years, in five years, in three months, is this going to be super important? And then I kind of work backwards from there.
SG: That’s so good, I don’t know how to take care of myself at all. It’s really hard!
SW: It’s hard! It’s not easy. That’s why I said I can do better because I do all this stuff: I do my work and then VC stuff and then I do Olympia stuff, my daughter, but I don’t do Serena stuff. And I’m still trying to figure out the balance of how to prioritize myself.
SG: Speaking of trying to get help, how do you translate the discipline you have in tennis into your regular life as well?
SW: I’m super disciplined in tennis. And, without trying to pontificate, I know what it takes to be successful and to be the best at something. And so it’s really interesting how to transfer that to other aspects of my life. With VC, I know I need a really good team. I need to work X amount of hours to do these deals. I need to just kind of understand, like, what is the formula, you know? Does the formula that I’ve done in tennis work with what I do here? And typically it does.
You know, one thing I heard a lot about when we were raising money is that once you understand what success looks like you can pretty much do whatever you want. Obviously, you have to be focused on it, but you can really understand how to re-do that equation in something else. So, yeah, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of dedication—as you know! You know more than anyone. Your career has been your whole life, so you understand. It really takes a lot of work.
SG: You obviously just played Wimbledon, but you’ve been a professional tennis player for nearly your whole life. How does the thought of leaving the tennis world make you feel?
SW: You know, physically, I won’t be able to perform forever. And when you love something so much it’s like, OK, well dang, at some point this has to end. So it is weird when you think: my whole life that I can remember I’ve been getting up and training or training mentally for a goal. So I think that day will be weird, but I also will be extremely excited. I am sure you can relate, Selena, it’s like, OK, my whole life I’ve woken up and had to train for a goal or something and this is the first day I won’t even have to think about it ever. It’s something that I’m actually super excited about, but, at the same time, it's mixed emotions. I’m a Disney lover, and you know that Rapunzel song “When Will My Life Begin?” That’s like my anthem.
SG: I love that. You’ve said before that losing a match or a tournament is like a stepping stone for you, which is really impressive personally, for me. How do you cope though when you do face a major disappointment—inside or outside of tennis?
SW: In both situations, in particular tennis, I get really disappointed. I think it’s really important to get out of this conversation that, people like you and me, we’re literally like everyone else. I get upset, like don’t talk to me for a week. I don’t want to use the word “depressed” loosely, but I definitely get really down. I get negative and then I get discouraged sometimes. Especially if I feel like I’ve played well. But then I remember that discouragement is never good, and that’s when a lot of bad things can happen if you’re feeling discouraged. So I remember that and pick myself back up.
Then I just start to think, Alright well, what can I learn from this? And this is also in business, if something goes wrong I think, What did I do wrong? What can I learn from it? And how do I not make the same mistakes? One of my favorite books is so simple, it’s called, Who Moved My Cheese? It’s an easy read, and it’s just great. It talks about staying in the moment and staying in the present: Don’t make the same mistakes in the past, live in the present, and make sure you’re planning for the future. I really am motivated by that.
So whenever something happens like a loss or if we lose a deal that I really wanted … it’s like: What can I learn from that? How can I improve? And sometimes losing is actually better, as much as I hate it in the moment, as much as I’m so angry, it helps me a month later realize that I really needed that. Either I needed to eat a humble piece of pie and learn more or I needed the experience to be a better investor or to be a better player. Every single time it makes me better. Now, I don’t like to lose too much because I don’t want to get that much better! [laughs] So I try to keep them at a minimum, but I do rely on that.
SG: That’s so awesome.
Daniella Pierson: You’ve been in the public eye for decades. You’ve probably been successful longer than you haven’t been successful. Does it ever feel lonely at times, even though the world is celebrating you and watching you? How do you deal with the fact that so much of your life is picked apart and monitored?
SW: Yeah I think definitely, in sport, it can be lonely at the top. In particular, tennis. People don’t realize how many hours you spend by yourself. So much so that it was hard for me in a relationship because I am so used to being alone every single minute and day of my life that it’s like, Well, I can’t even be around people. And a lot of people don’t realize that. So you get this celebration and it’s like, great, but behind closed doors, the life is different because you also have to live your life, whether going outside becomes a problem because there is no privacy. … But all that stuff is great because if there is no privacy that means you’re successful, and that’s kind of what you want, but it comes at a cost, right? And it’s worth the cost if you think it is. But there is always a tradeoff.
I just feel like people love when you’re vulnerable, and, Selena, you spoke to that well: being authentic and just saying, “Yeah I’m feeling bad about myself.” People like that because they can relate to that every day of their lives. The more we can just react and just let people know we’re literally no better than you, we just are really the same. I think people respect that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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