In case you need definitive proof that you can’t have it all — at least not all at once — Serena Williams has announced that she’s going to retire from tennis in order to try and expand her family, even though it’s a heartbreaking decision for her.
The all-time great tennis player and venture capitalist and mom sat down with Vogue to explain the reasoning behind her decision to “evolve” away from tennis and toward other goals, and her words were inspiring, painful, beautiful — and really, really relatable to working parents.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion writes. “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. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.”
“But I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give, she continues.
She goes on to reflect on her extraordinary career, in which she was often counted out or placed squarely in the shadow of her big sister Venus. Little did the world know that it was in that environment that she would thrive to become the number one ranked tennis player in the world, and very likely of all time.
Still, she explains, it’s aways been a balance and a push and pull to try and have a life and have tennis.
“The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams,” she says, reflecting back on her career. “I had my chances after coming back from giving birth. I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression. But I didn’t get there. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually it’s extraordinary. But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”
Williams then talks about being a mother to her five-year-old daughter Olympia, who she shares with partner Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian — and how much she has loved being a parent even though she had doubts about her ability.
She also talks about her business, Serena Ventures, which has successfully bankrolled companies like MasterClass, Tonal, Impossible Foods, and Noom over the last nine years.
“Seventy-eight percent of our portfolio happens to be companies started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are,” she says. “On the other hand, my husband is white, and it’s important to me to be inclusive of everyone. Serena Ventures has been an all-female business until recently, when we brought in our first guy—a diversity hire!”
In other words, now that she’s climbed the ladder, she’s ready to start pulling up others: people of color, women, and others who don’t have as much privilege.
“A few years ago, I was at a conference organized by JPMorgan Chase, where I watched a talk between Jamie Dimon and Caryn Seidman-Becker, the CEO of the security company Clear,” she recalls. “Caryn explained that less than 2 percent of all VC money went to women. I figured that she misspoke. I thought, There’s no way that 98 percent of that capital is going to men. I approached her afterward, and she confirmed it. I kind of understood then and there that someone who looks like me needs to start writing the big checks. Sometimes like attracts like. Men are writing those big checks to one another, and in order for us to change that, more people who look like me need to be in that position, giving money back to themselves.”
She closes by saying that she will play in the U.S. Open, but that then it’s time for her to move on. To evolve.
“I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst,” she concludes. “But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you.”
Thanks, Serena, for being a role model to both moms and girls and lots of other people in between. The world can’t wait to see what you do next.
You can read her full statement here, and it’s worth your time.