This week tennis superstar Serena Williams announced a major shift in her life — moving beyond the sport that has defined her thus far. Let’s face it; Serena has achieved and accomplished everything she could ever have hoped to in that arena (and more!) as the highest-earning female athlete of all time, and has shattered all kinds of records. Now she’s ready to pivot to focus more on her family and other interests like running her own investment firm, among other things.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” she wrote for Vogue. “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.”
Serena is placing more emphasis on those facets of her life now and is effectively re-inventing herself in this next phase of her life. She’s certainly earned the right, and in so doing she’s practicing the fine art of prioritizing what really matters.
This is a great example of the fork in the road we all come to in our life (sometimes we come to these forks multiple times!), where we’re at an important inflection point — by choice or circumstance. Our lives can be so complex, and much of what we’d really like to be doing and focusing on gets swallowed up by day-to-day pressures (sometimes for years) — until it’s no longer in our field of view and is left by the side of the road.
But to get back on track and in alignment with ourselves, we need only consider where our thoughts will be as we take our last breath on this earth. Odds are, the disagreements and disappointments, annoyances, bills, taxes and frustrations we struggle with will no longer seem as significant as they once did. Instead, thoughts of those we love and the impact we made in the world will be front and center instead. Whatever we imagine ourselves musing upon during our last breath will virtually always be indicative of what truly matters the most to us.
This simple visioning exercise allows us to reflect and shift our thinking. While our attention is momentarily drawn to the end of life, our contemplations serve to illustrate that we indeed own our own perspectives, our choices and actions, and as a result, our very own existence.
There is nothing stopping us from slowing down and shifting our focus right now as we imagine we will in our final moments. We can choose to spend more of our time and energy on what truly gives meaning to our lives and makes us feel happy and fulfilled. We can spend more time with loved ones and do more of what we enjoy that makes us feel more fully alive and vital. Doing so may not always be easy, and there will certainly be times when circumstances get in the way of our best intentions, but we don’t have to regard this as an indication that our priorities are not aligned with who we really are. And beyond any speed bumps and detours that arise, we can choose again and get back on track with what matters. Rinse and repeat.
Sometimes the only way we can embrace the beauty of our lives is to remind ourselves that life is finite and that time is fleeting. Living our legacy and living life more fully today is not about pushing ourselves harder, shouldering more burdens, or putting off our happiness for “someday” — but instead in experiencing all the richness life has to offer us in the here and now. We can choose to prioritize what matters most, and to surround ourselves with kindred spirits and loved ones; and that can make all the difference in a life well lived.
“What will I think of me the day that I die? Saltwater wells in my eyes” — from the hauntingly beautiful song “Saltwater” by Julian Lennon; one of my favorites. If you listen to this song with your eyes closed, which I encourage you to do, and you don’t get goosebumps check your pulse (!).