"Serena Williams' retirement announcement is so powerful - for any woman who has (or wants) a child"

·5 min read
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jaime Lee - Getty Images

The 'having it all' conundrum (or should that be myth?) is something we've dissected and debated for what feels like centuries now – and it seems that even superstar athletes like Serena Williams aren't immune to the pressures and restrictions it involves. The ones that see us, particularly as women, feeling burnt out after trying to excel in all aspects of life, all at the same time.

The tennis pro, who has won more titles than I've had hot dinners, just announced her retirement from the sport that has made her a household name – and was incredibly candid when explaining her reasons why. Which, in a nutshell, boil down to wanting to expand her family and focus in on her nurturing new investment company, Serena Ventures. Something she'll no doubt ace too.

And in an honest piece for Vogue, Serena explains that frankly the decision to 'evolve' out of tennis (she's not hot on the word 'retirement', she says) hasn't come easily. "Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family," she confesses. "I don’t think it's fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family."

Serena then continues on to speak truthfully about how her age, pregnancy and postpartum experience have impacted on her game, and of becoming ever-aware that her four-year-old, Olympia, is desperate to be a big sister. Along with how all of that has fed into her deciding to hang up her racket (at least in the professional sense) for good.

The mother-of-one also deep-dives into the tricky emotions she's encountered when talking about retiring - and sacrifice - in general, confessing that she doesn't fully feel ready to move on yet – which is where the heartbreak can really come into play. Whilst for some women putting their career on hold, be it temporarily or indefinitely, in order to raise a family might be the exact thing that makes their heart sing, for others, it's the choice between two great, great loves. Of choosing which bit(s) of your life to sacrifice so that another part may flourish. Which will always mean regrets of some kind.

Currently, I'm nowhere near ready to pause my career in order to try for a child, but it's something I'm already so conscious of. One day, if I choose to prioritise a baby, I'll have to say goodbye to at least some parts of my career (being able to travel at the drop of a hat, for instance, or working late nights when I find myself fully absorbed in a story). And this art of sacrificing and plate-spinning is already something I've had a taste of in other ways too; for instance when I signed a book deal whilst holding down a full-time job and helping care for a terminally ill relative, my relationship and friendships definitely took a hit. And it felt pretty savage at times, knowing that I couldn't be the best at all of those things.

"One thing I’m not going to do is sugarcoat this," Serena shares. "I know that a lot of people are excited about retiring and I really wish I felt that way [...] There is no happiness in this topic for me. It's the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what's next."

In her piece, Serena also recalls her incredible, innate desire to reach perfection, that was apparent even as a child (when she spent hours trying to master writing the alphabet and crying when she couldn't right away). So, for her to have to call time on her much-loved tennis career and admit a harsh truth, that so many women will relate to – that sometimes, it's just not possible to achieve all your work and family goals at the same time – must have been gutting.

And really, that's such a big part of what makes striving to 'have it all' a sucker-punch. As much as we may like to think we're superhuman and can excel in all areas simultaneously, if only we tried hard enough, it's probably, almost, definitely... impossible. You can't be a ten out of ten mother, boss, friend, wife, daughter, side hustler all at the same time. Priorities have to flex and shift, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis. And that's the case whether you've got a trophy cabinet in your enormous mansion or not.

In an era where she could've opted to announce her sporting step down with a mere tweet saying 'it's the right time' or something very surface level, Serena instead reminds us all that she's actually a champion in a whole other field too. One that sees her spearheading important cultural conversations about gender politics, particularly related to parenting while maintaining a career, relationships, personal passions and everything else that can make life beautiful. And for that, I thank her.

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