10 Ways I Learn From Serena Williams

10 Ways I Learn From Serena Williams

I think I love Serena Williams. I mean, she hasn’t returned any of my emails or countless phone calls but I feel there is a connection. I see her on TV and I feel like there’s a spark.

Maybe I just want to be her for a day. What if we could do that?

Just agree to switch places with people all day long. And we can never return to the same body twice. I think I just solved war and poverty with that idea. I hope someone invents this.

If there is anything I’ve consistently studied in life, it’s what it takes to master any field.

One thing I know for sure: talent helps, but it can also hurt.

20 years ago I knew an 11 year old kid who, at that time, was probably one of the best chess players in the world.

I never saw someone so talented. He could destroy grandmasters at blitz chess. At age 12. I was really jealous of him. I was a 27 year old failure and he was at the beginning of magic.

In every other way he was a little kid but when he was analyzing chess games it was like speaking to the most mature adult I’ll ever speak to.

Then…he disappeared. He stopped playing.

I asked around why. He couldn’t handle losing at all. His talent convinced him he should always be better than everyone else. One loss and his view of himself was crushed. Talent destroyed him.

Talent is the tiniest of sparks. A spark lights the fire. But you have to feed the fire more fuel to keep it going. Else it dies out.

How many of us have had that spark. And then years of being beaten down have put out the fire?


Being beaten down and asking, “why is this happening AGAIN!?”

Serena Williams is the perfect example of someone who had talent, but definitely worked for 30 years at honing that talent into a skill.

If she had never worked at that talent, she would be a mediocre tennis player at best.

When Serena was three years old her dad gave her her first tennis racket.

He home-schooled her. He moved to Florida where they could practice tennis year-round. He coached her every day in tennis and had her playing in the junior circuit before she was ten years old.

She’s 33 now. She just won Wimbledon. She’s won every major tennis tournament this year. She’s the best female tennis player of all-time.

When you get a chance to view someone who is the best out of seven billion people at something, you get a tiny glimpse at the potential of the human species.

The top 1% means you are in the top 70 million people. That seems doable.

That’s why I like to listen to what Serena Williams has to say. What has she seen. What has she felt? What does she know?

Because now I want to know. A glimpse of the world using her eyes.

Here’s some quotes from Serena that I’ve learned from:

A) LUCK? “Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.”

We often daydream, and think, and plan.

But the only thing that gets results is action. Not a single ounce of greatness in history ended with thoughts. It happened with hands. With actions.

B) SATISFACTION? “I can’t become satisfied, because if I get satisfied, I’ll be like, “Oh, I’ve won Wimbledon, I’ve won the U.S. Open. Now can I relax.” But now people are really going to be fighting to beat me.”

When I sold my first business I automatically assumed I was this amazing genius.

So I started throwing my money at everything. How could I lose? I invested in businesses, I started new businesses, I bought apartments,

I lived large but it turned out I was very small and didn’t know it. I had no real meaning in my life.

I had given up on the task of learning how to be a better human. I thought the game was finished and I had won.

It’s only when I lost everything when my real learning began.

C) WHAT’S IMPORTANT: “Tennis is just a game, family is forever.”

In every area I’ve studied I’ve noticed something: when some people stop performing at their peak levels, they kill themselves.

I study writing a lot. At one point I realized that almost all of my favorite writers killed themselves. This scared me.

Another time I mapped the rate of suicides versus the stock market. There was almost a perfect correlation.

I wanted to talk about this on a radio show. But they said “no”. They said, “talking about suicide leads to suicide”. I asked, “But how do you stop suicides then?” They never asked me back to the show.

When people associate the worth of their lives with any one activity, it’s deadly.

We have to celebrate what we’re good at. But also celebrate other things in life The love of another person. Our friends. Something funny.

I always have to tell myself, “diversify my celebrations.” Celebrate the small. Not always the big.

“Meaning” is not just a victory. Meaning is a way of life.

A shortcut to meaning is to just every day ask before you go to sleep, “Who did I help today?”

D) GROWTH: “I’m feeling OK. I’m still not where I want to be at, but I’m definitely feeling better than I was.”

Many studies have shown that when you compliment children on “growth” versus specific accomplishments, they perform better in the long run.

I used to think too much about my accomplishments. “What’s my rank?”

Accomplishments disappear so fast. And then the people that latched onto you when you made those accomplishments also disappear. And you feel like a lonely failure.

Not a single person I was friends with in 1998, when I sold my first business, I’m friends with now. They all left me. Or I left them. Hard to say.

Someone asked me yesterday where I expect to be in five years.

I never think about it. Not once. I only try every day to improve 1% my physical emotional mental and spiritual health. The results will take care of themselves.

This is the ONLY way today to plan for a successful tomorrow.

My spark maybe lit the fire. But only that 1% growth every day is the fuel to keep the fire going. Else, I burn out.

E) LOVE: “I think you have to love yourself before you fall in love. I’m still learning to love myself.”

Me too.

It’s a practice. Not a thing.

F) IDEA SEX: “I don’t want to end my career and then start something. I’d like to do something while my career is still hot and I’ve always enjoyed designing.”

Try it. Do two things at once.

Serena wants to be a fashion designer.

Serena would have been noticed on the tennis court no matter what. But she’s also known for her colorful outfits on the tennis court. Who knows? Maybe she will become one of the great fashion designers.

But it also underlines the importance that there is never “one thing” that we were all put on this Earth to do.

We were put here to try. Nobody will grade us.

G) HATERS: “Honestly, I don’t read the press. I don’t know what they’re saying.”

Nobody escapes the HATERS. Why?

Because they hate themselves. There’s no other answer.

Everyone wants to be a critic. There are critics and then there are the people who do the exact things the critics want to do.

H) “There’s always something you have to give up for success. Everything comes at a cost. Just what are you willing to pay for it?”

This is the talent versus skill question. Talent lasts for five seconds. Skill requires a price. Serena now has spent 30 straight years practicing tennis.

Just because you pay a price doesn’t mean the price was too expensive. It’s what she wanted to pay. But nothing is free.

I) ACTION!: “Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream. Our Dad used to say that.”

Dreams are in the head. But action creates growth, creates skill, creates excellence.

Edison didn’t dream about a lightbulb. He tried 10,000 experiments before one worked.

Henry Ford didn’t just dream about making a car. He started three car companies and made the assembly line before he finally had success.

Steve Jobs didn’t dream about the ipod. He bought one of the first Sony Walkmans and took it apart and figured out how to do it better.

Thinking keeps the adventures of life bottled in your head. Action makes you a hero.

J) SMALL IMPROVEMENTS: “I’m feeling OK. I’m still not where I want to be at, but I’m definitely feeling better than I was.”

She’s best in the world but “still not where I want to be at”.

That’s funny.

You can’t congratulate yourself on your wins. Just like you can’t despair over your losses.

Success is not one event. Too many one-hit wonders realized this too late.

When two people meet they fall in love. They are very excited. They get married.

Then the work begins of deepening love. It’s only when it hurts, real growth begins.

I wish I could be as good at any one thing as Serena Williams is at tennis.

But I can learn from her and appreciate from a distance. I love watching her play. She moves like a god.

If I spend my life aiming for that 1% improvement every day then I may never be the best in the world at anything. But I know I will be the best James at everything.

10 Quotes From Serena Williams

  • MiKO

    Thank you.

  • Peter Connor

    My admiration is limited by the fact that Serena will be a great player only as long as her body can tolerate all those steroids….

    • chacha1

      what a pointlessly bitchy thing to say.

      • Peter Connor

        See below. There is plenty of point to it.

    • abiyk

      You know for sure she is taken steroids? Pathetic – weak sore looser…

      • Peter Connor

        Dimwit, she has hidden to avoid steroid tests….but don’t let me stop you from admiring sports cheaters, you probably said the same about Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa…

        • What in the world does this have to do with the spirit of the article? Troll much?

        • abiyk

          Peter take your glasses off or judge everyone equally – hate is like a poison kills you very slowly.

  • VernoninMatsumoto

    According to the USADA Serena has been tested twice in 2015 and her sister three times and both are clean…

  • Josephine

    I think I love you! You crack me up and make my grey raining Copenhagen days full of joy wit!
    Cheers! You Don’t Reply To My comments :-)

  • santosh choudhary

    thanks james, for extracting out the good material which would be used by the seekers like me. actually i am new here in web world.
    and it happened after i choose my self after exploring your book, “choose yourself”, which pushed me to go ahead to show my self.
    here you enlightened the point over success of serena williums. by reading this some people criticized her instead of being learnt.
    i love people most who criticizing me.
    he let me watch the wrong steps of mine, helps to built a better one. thanks criticizer.
    and james i would like if you come on my blog which i created yesterday and written a story which was in me from a long time. and please comment too if you like. here is my blog santoshchoudhary.com , i created my blog after reading your “choose yourself.” i am waiting……..

  • On “Growth”, accomplishments are the instant gratification, whereas daily growth produces long-term success. You’ve mentioned that “money is just a byproduct of your effort,” which is a great analogy for “success is a byproduct of your growth.” When I decided that one day I would run an effortless 5K, I focused on getting fit, day by day. I didn’t even focus on running but rather building the right biological system through incremental change to handle whatever I threw at it. I made sure to break a sweat regularly, whether through lifting, running, or just playing with my daughters. Then, when the race finally came, so did the results (an effortless 5K).

  • One of my favorite quote from her; “I thank Jehovah for taking me this far.”

  • Casey Abbott Payne

    Some friends and I were working on a vision statement of sorts for our project and I came up with “To create a world where passion, creativity and meaning is a way of life.” I was curious about who else may have used “meaning is a way of life” and yours is one of two pages that shows up. I thought that was pretty interesting. :)