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Venus Williams: Athlete, Entrepreneur, Role Model

Venus Williams: Athlete, Entrepreneur, Role Model

Ellevate Network and McGraw Hill Financial were honored to recently host professional tennis player, entrepreneur, author, and inspiration Venus Williams for a fireside chat with Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network. During the chat, Ellevate members learned first-hand about Venus’ accomplishments on and off the court, her ups and downs in the world of entrepreneurialism, and the importance of having a supportive network of women to help along the way.

On visualizing success

Considering her grace and footwork on the tennis court, would you believe that Venus struggled in dance class as a child? She admitted to our audience that when it came to Jazz and Hip Hop, it did not come easy for her… but it gave her a lesson she’d use in tennis later on.

I was so bad! But I would go home and if I couldn’t practice, I would visualize myself going through the routine. And then the next day in class my teacher would say, ‘You’re so much better!’ We have to go outside of what we actually do and remember to use those techniques that we forget or don’t pay attention to. It’s helped me in tennis because I visualize what I’m doing and I try to put myself in the situation before I hit the court.

On her relaxed approach to preparing in tennis (and in business)

Venus's composure on the court is legendary. Turns out, staying relaxed is all a part of her strategy.

I don’t really have routines; I’m pretty laid back. More than anything if you’re relaxed and confident, that’s when your best tennis – your best anything – comes out. When you’re tight and stressed out it’s very hard to get the best out of yourself.

On being a professional athlete and an entrepreneur

Having started training for professional tennis as a child, Venus, 35, considers herself to already be a professional woman with 30 years’ experience. And when it came time to become an entrepreneur, the process mirrored the dedication it took for her to become an elite athlete.

In tennis, when you’re playing, you can’t be thinking; you’re just doing. You’re correcting the mistakes as they happen. That takes a tremendous amount of work when you’re young, but it’s the same in the professional world, too. You go to school, and it takes a lot of time to become a professional. It’s all mental.

Venus knew from an early age that entrepreneurship would one day be a part of her life.

My dad taught us the mindset: Be independent, be entrepreneurial. [He] always said, ‘Work for yourself.’ So I always wanted to have my own business, it was just the culture that we grew up in.

On the importance of a strong network

As a member of Ellevate herself, Venus recognizes the power of having a support system of women in your corner.

I come from a world of sports where it’s quite independent. Now I’m at this point where I’m branching out, but at the same time I want to be able to share what I know. And what I’ve found more than anything is that the more successful someone is, the more they want to share, and the more they want to give back.

[Networking] is about who you know and those connections, but you also have to be looking at what you can give. Always look for that opportunity, ‘How can I give something to someone else?’ and it comes back to you, sometimes double fold. If you’re able to give, it does come back.

On being a role model

Being in the spotlight as a successful female athlete means becoming a role model for millions of girls around the world. But that doesn’t scare Venus.

Pressure is a privilege. I want to represent people around the world who have faced adversity or didn’t come from the right neighborhood, or just had to figure it out.

African American women have special challenges as well, so it’s something that’s close to me. But I never want to be pigeon holed. I think everybody needs a hand at some point, and I want to be able to represent that in all ways. As an African American woman I’m going to be able to be more inspirational to African American women because they see themselves.

Advice for women working their way up

As a professional on so many different levels, Venus gave us her advice for women working their way up in any career.

It’s super important to be diverse. Don’t just know your job; know your colleague’s job and your boss’s job. It’s important for job security but also for your enjoyment, and for that rainy day when you need it.

And of course, even the best athletes in the world have to learn how to cope with failure.

I’m a huge proponent of failure. I believe in it. You’ve got to fail. You’ve got to fall flat, it’s part of the process. It’s about handling it and coming out stronger, and bigger, and using it as a tool for motivation.

On getting past the naysayers to succeed

Acknowledging the crowd of entrepreneurs, executives, and groundbreaking professional women in the audience, Venus said:

What you all are doing is being the forerunners for the next generation, making it easier for them, so anytime you’re discouraged just remember that the next generation is going to really benefit from it. It’s all about being part of something bigger than you are alone. It’s so rewarding.


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