Serena Williams says it’s ‘lonely at the top,’ reveals she struggled to be in a relationship: ‘I am so used to being alone’

Serena Williams opens up about the isolating realities of being a professional athlete. (Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Serena Williams opens up about the isolating realities of being a professional athlete. (Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Serena Williams opened up about her approach to anxiety and the isolating nature of tennis superstardom in a recent interview for Wondermind's new Business of Feelings podcast. During the episode, the recently retired tennis star explained that her "intense" personality, which helped her become one of the greatest professional athletes of all time, comes with its own set of anxiety-related drawbacks.

"I'm a high-strung individual in what I do," she shared. "You can see when I'm at my job and I'm playing tennis I'm like, [yells], you know? I'm really super-intense but that's my passion and that's kind of how I wear it.

"I do have a tendency to become anxious," the tennis champ admitted, adding that "prayer works a lot." Changing her perspective is also useful.

"Just realizing the bigger picture has really helped with my anxiety," she added. "I'm just like, 'You know what? At the end of the day, in 10 years, in five years, in three months, is this going to be super-important?' And then I kind of work backwards from there."

As far as maintaining her mental fitness, Williams is steadfast in asserting boundaries and often "shuts down" in order to reset.

"I did this years ago, before mental health was a topic on everyone's mind. It was just like, 'Alright, I'm shutting myself down today.' Just subconsciously it was something I've always done. And so now that I know that it is so important to put yourself first — especially mentally — I always have shutdown moments. I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries," she said.

While she has mastered the art of knowing when she needs a break, she does admit that she struggles to put Serena first at times.

"It's so bad 'cause I really don't do anything for me. I'm terrible at that! I've said it time and time again. I'm working on it! But, more or less, at least prioritizing what I need to do, and then when I'm turned off, I'm turned off," she said.

Motherhood and her ever-expanding roster of side ventures, including Serena Ventures, have also made it quite difficult for Williams to fit in any "me time."

"It's not easy," she said. "That's why I said I can do better because I do all this stuff. I do my work and then VC [venture capital] stuff and then I do Olympia stuff, my daughter, but I don't do Serena stuff. And I'm still trying to figure out the balance of how to prioritize myself. But it's hard. As a mom, Olympia wants to do this and she wants to do that and I'm like, 'OK, I can do that and I can do this,' and there is no time for me. So I'm still trying to figure that out."

Williams also opened up about the isolating nature of competing at such a high level, explaining that she became almost too comfortable being on her own.

"It definitely can be lonely at the top. In particular, tennis. People don't realize how many hours you spend by yourself, so much so that it was hard for me in a relationship because I am so used to being alone every single minute and day of my life that it's like, 'Well, I can't even be around people.' And a lot of people don't realize that," said Williams, who is now married to Alexis Ohanian.

Success can come at a cost, she noted.

"You get this celebration and it's like, 'great!'" she said. "But behind closed doors, the life is different because you also have to live your life, whether going outside becomes a problem because there is no privacy. But all that stuff is great because if there is no privacy that means you're successful, and that's kind of what you want, but it comes at a cost, right? And it's worth the cost if you think it is. But there is always a tradeoff."

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