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Serena Williams

It’s Personal…
The Great Ones hate to lose more than they love to win

Serena Williams was a perfectionist long before she was a serious competitor on the tennis court.

“When I was 5 years old and in kindergarten, we had a project due and I was up late working on it, so late that my mom had to force me to go to bed,” she told me in an interview for SUCCESS magazine. “But I kept getting back up because I wanted to re-do the project until it was 100 percent perfect. Eventually, I fell asleep and didn’t get it done because I wanted it to be perfect more than I wanted to just get it done.”

Her work ethic and attention to detail have always been points of personal pride, traits that are reflected in her impressive career. She’s been the top-ranked player according to the Women’s Tennis Association on five separate occasions, and has won a remarkable 13 Grand Slams, including Wimbledon this weekend. She is the only woman playing today who has at least one win at all four Grand Slam tournaments: one win at the French Open, three at the US Open, four at Wimbledon, and five at the Australian Open.

Many people have credited Serena’s physical fitness for her dominance. She will tell you straight up: “Mental fitness is much more important to my game. To be at this level, everyone has great physical tools. What separates winners is the mental game.”

serena2The fact that she hates to lose so much can cause her to lose her cool at times — as she did embarrasingly in last year’s US Open — but she said she’s constantly working to improve that aspect of her life. In fact, at her mother’s urging, she has focused on channeling that personal disappointment and frustration into a much more constructive outlet. “I don’t like losing, and what I do is go home and practice harder,” Serena said. “I work harder. I train harder. When I step on that practice court in the days after a loss, I have an anger in me. It is subconscious. I don’t mean to be that way. But now I use that anger to make me better. And I always make sure I don’t blame someone else for my failure.”

But she hasn’t just invested herself in her game; she also takes her own clothing line very seriously. Unlike many celebrities who serve in more ceremonial roles of products that bear their names, Serena gives more than a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the designs her company produces. She actually enrolled in the design program at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale — and took online classes while playing world class tennis — and now not only sketches, but also sews design prototypes, for Aneres. If her name is, very literally, going to be on an outfit (Aneres is “Serena” spelled backwards), it’s going to be exactly right. She told me: “I want people to feel confident that if they are buying an item from Nike or a product that I designed or represent, it’s a good product because you associate it with me.”

She wants badly to dominate her competition both on the court and in the store, and she never wants to disappoint either herself or her fans. For Serena, her name, talent, and reputation all matter — and the work that she does reflects that personal commitment to Greatness.

Tips from the Great Ones

Serena has a personal stake in all aspects of her success or failure. She doesn’t just shrug off a loss or rubber stamp a design that will bear her name. She feels a personal connection and responsibility to everything with which she is connected. The Great Ones have a sense of pride in whatever they pursue and feel great pain when they’re not successful.

Of course, everyone wants to succeed and no one wants to fail, but how much pride do you take in your work? Does it show? If you fail, do you explain it away, coming up with an excuse?

serena3Think about how you feel when you walk into a well-run, well-maintained restaurant. What is the service like? Does the manager walk around the floor periodically to inspect how the diners are doing? From a five-star, fine-dining establishment to a fast-food joint, the restaurants that encourage all their employees to have a sense of pride in their work and service are, without exception, the most enjoyable places to visit.

Now think about your office. Do you and your co-workers give off that same vibe of personal investment in your work? Your work, whatever it is, should demonstrate a level of pride that would rival any Grand Slam champion!

Just like Serena Williams, pour yourself into whatever your line of work may be. Take pride in what it stands for — what you stand for — and take that message personally. The pursuit of Greatness is an inherently personal one; do you care enough to make it your own?

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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