The difficult career lesson we can all learn from Serena Williams’ reaction to losing

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Hollie Richardson
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Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Serena Williams’ reaction to losing against Naomi Osaka is actually refreshingly honest in a world where we’re still expected to hide our real feelings in the workplace.

Naomi Osaka just beat Serena Williams in the Australian Open semi-final. This means that Osaka has reached the final (if she wins it will be her fourth Grand Slam title), while Williams’ quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title has come to an end. 

Of course, it’s so exciting to see a talent like Osaka continue to set the court on fire, but there is also a lot of speculation over Williams’ future in tennis. And the champion’s reaction to losing the match illustrates a career difficulty that most of us understand. 

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Commenting on how Williams put her hand on her heart after the match, a journalist at the post-game press conference asked Williams if she was “saying farewell” to the game. She replied: “I don’t know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone [smiles]. So…”

When the journalist pushed her, Williams became visibly emotional and started to cry, adding: “I don’t know. I’m done.” She then stood up and quickly ended the conference.

Later, the tennis star shared a post on Instagram, explaining how she felt. 

“Today was not ideal outcome or performance but it happens…” she wrote. “I am so honoured to be able to play in front of you all. Your support, your cheers, I only wish I could have done better for you today. I am forever in debt and grateful to each and everyone single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you.”

As you can imagine, there is now a lot of speculation around the question of Williams’ retirement from the game. And while it’s only the end when she herself confirms it, the fact that she allowed herself to show and share her honest emotions are admirable.

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We all reach milestones in our career when we can feel sad, angry and frustrated. These include being passed over for a promotion, realising it’s time to move on from a job that you’ve worked in for five years, and understanding that some fellow colleagues have specific strengths in areas you perhaps will never be equally adept in. 

But it often feels like we’re not allowed to feel this way, for fear of coming across as jealous, weak or a bad team player. We’ve been conditioned to hold back the tears and not cry at work, rather than valuing how a good cry can actually improve mental health

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But here’s the thing: you can still respect and like our colleagues, while also feeling frustrated that they beat you to that promotion (it’s called healthy competition). And it’s OK to show your disappointment to your boss over a failed project. You’re also totally allowed to be a little bit envious of a peer’s ability to dazzle a client, while knowing that you have your own strengths to offer in different ways. 

Williams is clearly upset over her performance and the fact that her career in tennis is now being questioned. It’s a crossroads that most of us will reach in our own careers at one point. And with that in mind, it’s refreshing to see that even the world’s biggest female sports star is only human when it comes to getting upset over her job.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…