Serena Williams celebrated her 20th year in professional tennis with 53 victories, $10.5 million in winnings, three Grand Slam titles and countless rounds of applause from adoring fans. Fierce dominance made Serena’s 2015 one for the ages—number one by a mile in the WTA ranking and highest on-court earner among women tennis pros. While Williams’ 2015 on-court successes have furthered her stature as one of the best tennis players of all time, her off-court victories prove her keen business savvy.
Serena Williams’ interests and successes away from the court are about much more than being a brand spokeswoman. Does she bank millions in endorsement deals? According to Forbes, she earned $13 million in endorsements alone last year, which helped her place #47 on Forbes 2015 highest paid athletes list. JPMorgan Chase, Nike, Wilson Sporting Goods, Pepsi, Delta Air Lines, Beats by Dre among others pay her well to associate their brands with her greatness. What makes Serena unique is that her off-court life stretches well beyond that.
As most of us know from Serena’s bold on-court attire, fashion is one of her many passions. An investment in Mayveen, a startup that helps beauticians sell products, along with her own designer apparel line, named Aneres (her name spelled backwards), fuels that fervor. A clothing and shoe collection with the Home Shopping Network helps keep it burning. And, along with her sister Venus, Serena owns a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins. These investments, and her hands on dealings with most of them, is why Serena is such a force in the business world.
Be bold and tireless. To make an impact—on the court, in the newsroom or in the boardroom—effort and enthusiasm pay off in spades. You can build yourself a career that is comfortable, secure and somewhere on the scale of average to above average with brains, careful steps and eased progress or you can take chances, run hard and become a leader. Serena Williams isn’t afraid to standout; she is known for her bold sense of style on the court. Away from the court she acknowledges that you can’t ease your way into a successful career: “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.” Once you find your passion become the guy or gal that outworks your peers to become the expert. And don’t shy away from speaking up to show off what you’ve learned. That boldness will get you ahead and make your company shine.
Color outside the lines. Your career is what you do but it isn’t all you do. If you’re a marketing manager feel free to volunteer at a homeless shelter. If you’re a sports journalist take a photography or art class. And believe that coaches and scouts can learn valuable lessons by spending free time teaching kids work ethic, sportsmanship and teamwork. Everyone has a little free time—expand your horizons beyond the work you do in your office, on the road or on the sidelines. Serena Williams speaks French, Spanish and Italian in addition to English, her native tongue. She devotes real time to her fashion lines and business investments. She runs a remarkable charitable foundation. And she does a whole lot more. Serena gets it: “There’s more to life than hitting a ball.” Unique endeavors and uncomfortable situations make you a well-rounded person, providing different perspectives on life and giving you experiences that will inevitably make you better at your craft.
Learn from others but do it your way. There is no blueprint to greatness—wikiHow articles and For Dummies books can’t tell you how to become the best at what you do. Reading books and articles from industry professionals and world leaders will force you to think about goals and plans while imparting some knowledge that might otherwise take years to gain on your own. Mentors, parents, colleagues and friends can positively impact your career when you need advice but you’re the only one who will define your career. Serena’s father, Richard Williams, groomed Serena and her sister, Venus, to become tennis stars from an incredibly young age. That intense coaching gave her the tools to be great but her own demands for an exceptional life made the difference. The day-to-day grind of daily life makes it easy to lose sight of the big picture. You have to make time to consider where you want to get and how you want to get there. You’ll be surprised where you end up if you consider the journey along with the destination.