Watching Serena Williams play tennis in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday night, August 29, was like watching an unstoppable force of nature. The 40-year-old Williams defeated a 27-year-old opponent, not easily but convincingly. Yet earlier in August, in Vogue magazine, Williams shocked the sports world by announcing her retirement from tennis.
Normally, when you hear the word "retirement," you think of the traditional meaning: older generations ending their work lives to move on to something else. But in the case of Serena Williams, she was making a different kind of life choice, announcing to the world that she wanted to grow her family rather than remain in the sport as arguably the best tennis player in the world. Here is the way she expressed it:
"I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me. A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family."
I think her use of the word "evolution" as a label for what Williams is feeling is very appropriate. In fact, it strikes me that the concept of evolution just as easily applies to Boomers on the brink of "retirement." Like Williams, I have never liked the word "retirement." For several years, I have used the word "rewirement" to describe a new way of looking at retirement (after all, "rewired" is in the header of my blog).
I think the concept of rewiring is still relevant, but I also think evolving is an apt description for the collective advancement of Boomers into the next phase of our lives. The reality is that we go through phases that are not hard and fast with defined beginnings and ends; rather we evolve. Recognizing that evolutionary process may make it easier to understand and accept the phases of life that have passed and are still to come.
So thank you, Serena, for redefining retirement. You are showing the world that you can be the best you can be in your career and love what you do -- but still acknowledge that there are indeed other things in life that may be of greater importance. That's something Boomers would do well to acknowledge. Life's challenges and choices are not always easy, but we continue to evolve.
Whether or not she wins the U.S. Open, Serena Williams is teaching all of us a lesson about competing at the highest level -- in both sports and in life.
Photo by cottonbro at pixels.com