Three Lessons a GOAT Shows Us on How to Serve Up a Big Change

I have a confession to make.  Tennis has never been my game.  I’m more of a badminton gal.  (After all, my best friend in high school, Sherry, and I were the badminton champions of our high school gym class!)  Tennis is hard hitting, intense and fast paced.  To be great at it, you have to not just love it.  You have to be committed to it.  To be the greatest of all time (GOAT), such as Serena Williams, you merge yourself and the game into one.  You own it, and it owns you.

Serena served up the news this past week that she was drawing a close to her tennis career.  In some regards, her plan to retire from tennis is not entirely shocking.  She has spent her life on the court.  At age 40, she’s a 23-time Grand Slam champion, ten of which have been won in the last decade.  All GOATs have to move on at some point, right?

As I read the news, I was impressed with how she shared what she was going through preparing for this momentous shift:

“I feel a great deal of pain. It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads,” she wrote. “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.”

This is the essence of preparing for all great transitions in our life, such as leaving the family business and turning the reins (or in Serena’s case, the reign) on to someone else.

There are several lessons we mortals can take into our own transitions, particularly when exiting our business or career.  GOATS aren’t the only ones walking among us that blur the lines between owning our job and the job owning us, becoming our identity.  Three key lessons stick out for me, including:

Eyes Forward:  To move forward, you must look forward.  Eyes ahead to see where the next ball is coming from so you can connect with it and make your next play. 

Too often, people kick the can down the road.  We daydream about the day when we don’t have to do “this” anymore.  Yet we don’t have a plan for what replaces it.  In the void, we look in the rear-view mirror or the ball that just flew by.  We stagnate.

Not the GOAT.  She is moving forward.

Serena has dedicated time and energy to see her life outside of her core passion and business of tennis.  She has her family and wishes to add another child to it.  She has launched and developed other business interests. 

We can do the work to ensure we’re looking toward where we’re going too.  Watch the for the next ball served up to you.  Take your shot.

Authentic Expectations:  Being the GOAT is much like being a business owner or leader.  People expect that you have the answers, are solid as a rock, and are able to kick tail and name names, Serena-style.  In short, it’s a lonely place to be.  You’re viewed as the leader and champion, not the human. 

Serena, in admitting the pain of preparing for this transition, shares her feelings as well as her authentic, true expectations.  It’s going to be hard.  Goodbyes are hard.  For everyone.

The more authentically we share this reality – that the time is coming and it’s going to be hard - with those around us, the more normal it becomes.  The transition comes to feel more natural and in control.  The process and emotions are more human than transactional. 

The raw honesty of the situation offers genuine connection.  When under a spotlight, whether a GOAT, owner, or leader, everyone knows your approximate age and stage.  As the leader ages, questions and uncertainty creep into people’s minds.  What happens if….?  Uncertainty left unchecked leads to team members making decisions based upon their own scary monsters.  By sharing her thoughts and plans for the future, the mind calms, even though it means change.  There’s time to plan, prepare, and talk through how to stage a smoother transition.

There’s a more satisfying outcome for everyone.

There’s a Plan: Ms. Williams has a plan.  She undoubtedly knows what she wants to accomplish before she walks off her last court as a professional player.  She likely knows which tournament may be her last.  She’s thought through her contingencies.  And the day after the last game, she knows what goal she is going to tackle next.  She has her retirement and exit plan mapped out.

This plan came together because she did the work to:

  • Clarify and reaffirm what is important to her in her life. She’s updated her goals, recognizing that closing the door on tennis opens new doors to accomplish other things important to her in her life.  She’s prepared to exit stage right.
  • Understand the value of her assets and which ones will bring her the greatest return (financial as well as intangible and personal) for the energy
  • Is willing to let go of her biggest asset when it no longer meets her goals
  • Collaborate with her advisor team to execute a personal financial plan that supports the goals she has for her family and other interests
  • Build the bridges to her post-tennis endeavors in well in advance of her actual retirement from the game
  • Have a documented plan to share with those she cares about 

This approach allows you to prepare and be better able to exit on your own terms.  Chances are Ms. Williams put her plans in place a while ago, which provided her a safety net should injuries or other unforeseen circumstances forced her into retirement before she was ready.   She rallied – making her future plans and protecting her game. 

As any GOAT would do. 

Whether your game is tennis or badminton, business owner or career, we all face transitions in our lives.  What are you doing today to prepare for your next adventure and move on like a GOAT?


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