"You can’t always prepare for the triumph or the disaster in sports or in life. You can’t control it all. What you can control is how you handle the ups and the downs. No matter the outcome I always hold my head high and I leave everything I have on the court. I never look back in regret because no matter the odds I give it all. You don’t have to look back when you leave it all out there. Always look forward, the deepest dream you have could be..." - Venus Williams
Last year I had the honor of speaking to the graduating class at Vanderbilt University on Senior Day. As I looked out upon the expectant faces of the 4000 students in attendance, I hoped that sharing the lessons of my life would impact their lives.
I hoped that my words imparted to them that day might help ignite a catalyst that would inspire them on their paths.
I hoped that my words would help them through hard times or doubtful times, heighten them through thick and thin, when they were thriving or when they needed a boost when they were down on their luck.
That day is not the only day in which I endeavor to impart a message of motivation and inspiration. Eleven is my vehicle of providing that catalyst on a broader scale. My goal is to help all to be well, to live their life to their fullest potential and to chase and surpass their dreams. I want to share with all the joy and sense of wellness and satisfaction that sport, being active, and chasing my dreams has given me. EleVen stands for constant improvement and empowerment. Eleven is the story and the result of maximum effort, which takes you past where you ever dreamed you could go, past a 10, all the way to EleVen. Being an EleVen is a continual, iterative and daily process. Much like I shared my life rules with the graduating class at Vanderbilt, I want to share with you 11 (so fitting!) rules and principles that will hopefully be a constant spark to your journey to wellness.
1. Live your dream
The road to greatness can only begin when you know where you are going.
Once you’ve established your purpose and direction, it's time to progress to setting goals. Goal setting not only provides direction, but it provides a benchmark by which you can measure your results. Including milestones and goals in bite sizes is a must. You cannot skip this step! Skipping this step robs you of the opportunity to measure, re-evaluate and reset your goals to ensure that the path you take gets you to your end goal. Reaching your goals is going to involve a ton of hard work and if you’re afraid of that, I caution you, do not continue reading this article! For those of you willing to pay the price, I am going to let you in on a secret... it’s much easier to put in all the hard work if you are working at something you love. The work is rewarding, but it won't always come easy. It will be hard work to get up from the losses and failures that are inevitable parts of the road to success. Just remember, champions don’t land at the top of the mountain, they work their way up, step by step.
2. Challenge yourself
The idea of better, not best is a central idea of being an EleVen.
It might sound backwards at first, because best is well, the BEST...RIGHT? EleVen philosophy dares to differ and defines the best as just a moment. Better is eternal. We can always get better. It takes passion and dedication to reach your best everyday, to go on and be better. That’s why we recommend doing something you love (see rule one). It makes it easier to pay that price with a smile.
3. Cultivate self confidence
We aren’t born with confidence, it's something we earn.
From the moment we begin to learn to walk, ride a bike, or learn to read, we are developing confidence to gain that skill. Don’t just wait for confidence to land on you. The key to sustained and overflowing self-assurance is creating a strategy to obtain it.
First, determine the skillset you want to gain more confidence in. From there develop a strategy to earn it. Tactics could include practice, mentorship, gaining more skills and visualization techniques. Be sure to set time lines on reaching new levels of confidence and evaluate your progress as you go along. All of us want to feel good about what we are doing and you can't just hope that you will, just like anything else worth having, you've got to earn it.
Never, ever, give up. You can never lose, you can either win or learn.
A loss is only a loss when you don’t learn and continue to repeat your mistakes. Learning from losing allows you to develop the inner strength and mental toughness that you’ll need to maintain your success once you reach your goals. It’s a given that you will face challenges along the way to reaching your goals so don’t be afraid of the challenges you will face. What you should be more afraid of are the feelings of regrets that result from letting up and not persevering!
5. Embrace change
“Update, don’t be late.”
These are the words of my older sister Lyndrea. She was speaking about style at the time, but those four simple words left such an impression on me that I’ve used that motto in so many aspects in my life. These words couldn’t be more important in today's world in which everything is constantly changing at a breakneck pace. Advancing technology quickly makes jobs, skills and even entire sectors of business obsolete. Even memes are only hot for a day or two these days!
I love the process of improvement that comes with the evolution of change and push my team at EleVen to embrace growth and promote a culture of innovation that allows them to do so. Many people see change as something to fear or as a threat when they really should be viewing it as an opportunity. Embracing and actively seeking change and improvement will give you an advantage in life and in the workplace. If you are constantly updating your skills and approach in what you do, you will reach your goals faster and leave your competition in the dust.
This is going to get a bit dark. On my gravestone, I only want 3 words. “She never peaked.” I joke about this all the time. But I am dead serious, no pun intended! Personally I don’t want to be caught dead (ok I have got to stop!) with today's style 20 years from now. I want to be a hot grandma with a six pack sipping on the latest bottle of vodka that the hottest rapper of the day has released and turning it up at the club, I don’t want to be turned away at the door! This might be a slight exaggeration, but I just want to make sure you are getting my drift. Once we stop growing we become a relic. In order to stay relevant, embrace change and challenge yourself for continual growth. Remember, better, not best.
7. Health first
Put your health first on a daily basis.
Eating well and moving your body is only a portion of the overall picture of what we need for flourishing health. Mental health is crucial to our happiness and sustained success. Practicing techniques that help us relax and focus such as meditation or breathwork can calm and center us. Healthy relationships with our family, friends, loved ones and at work contribute greatly to our health and happiness. Above all, our relationship with ourselves is numero uno to health, happiness and success. It's perfectly normal to have aspects of ourselves we don’t feel great about and want to improve. It's absolutely unacceptable to allow our health and wellness to deteriorate due to not taking action to eliminate habits or thoughts that are destroying our peace of mind and wellbeing. We don’t have to overcome these challenges alone. Keep reading ;)
8. Build a team
The picture of individual success, winning a presidential campaign, or lifting the championship cup often overlooks the foundations of the team underneath.
No one ever gets there alone. My parents took center stage in being the coaches and mentors that guided me to achieving my goals. Many coaches, physios and trainers also helped me and lifted me up along the way. My team at EleVen works tirelessly daily to help me achieve my dreams. The world's most successful people build teams and have mentors that they can rely on to guide them through pivotal points in their life.
Having a powerful team doesn’t happen by chance nor does it have to be an expensive enterprise. All you have to do is start reaching out and you'll be surprised at how many people want to impart their knowledge. The one thing that inspires and delights me at this stage of my career is imparting my knowledge and experience to others. That’s the entire reason why I am writing these words to you now!
Consider joining associations, or broadening your network through social platforms like Linkedin. Networking takes time, so plan out times every month that will be dedicated to meeting new people and connecting with existing contacts. It's not surprising by now that I will advise you to go into this with a game plan. Set goals on the number of contacts you'd like to establish over a period of time as well as the skills and knowledge you would like to acquire. This will provide a roadmap on the types of people you will want to make contact with and set a timeline for you to acquire the desired skills.
Invest in yourself by investing in your team.
9. Empower others
Making your life matter involves leaving a legacy.
Leaving a legacy for many involves acquiring titles, accolades, hoopla and success. By EleVens’ definition, true success and a truly powerful legacy are triggered when you begin to give back to others and be of service to the community. When I was speaking to the Vanderbilt graduates , rule number one was to give back. Make your life bigger than you could ever imagine by leaving a legacy of inspiring and lifting up others. There are so many ways to give back such as philanthropic endeavors or being a mentor (hint, hint!) to someone aspiring to reach the level you have. Leave a legacy worth having, give back!
Make a positive outlook on your life a conscious choice.
Being positive doesn’t just extend to the good times because it's actually the challenging times that are most crucial that we maintain our poise and positive outlook. Positive thinking gives you the strength to face the situation, while remaining as unaffected and productive as possible while getting through.
Positivity defined is the practice of being or a tendency to be optimistic in attitude. Take a moment to focus on the words practice and tendency. Positivity is a practice, and it takes practice and repetition to keep our minds in a place that allows positivity in all situations until it becomes our default tendency.
How do we get there? Try writing in a gratitude journal everyday, working with a charity, or practicing a few minutes of daily meditation. Challenge yourself to find a more positive way to view things to rid yourself of any negative thinking patterns when facing a trying situation. Listen to music that helps put out vibes of how you want to feel. Ok, you might have to abandon the break up tracks on that next break up! I listen to positive music during a break up, BYE-BYE NOW, WHOEVER YOU WERE!
Above all, smile. It sounds overly simplistic, but a simple smile or a moment of laughter is often the first step to viewing a negative situation more optimistically.
11. Live joyfully
Life is about the joyful memories we create.
Last year at the start of the six week clay court tennis swing, I got sick and I stayed sick, I just couldn’t get better. I lost every match, it was disastrous and you would imagine it was a time of my life I would want to quickly forget and put behind me. But it was just the opposite, it was one of the best times of my life. I enjoyed the people I was with, the food we ate, and the general adventure of life. We missed clay court season this year due to COVID-19, but all my team can talk about is how much fun we had last year. This was all due to the choice we made to be positive even in a situation that was out of our control.
As hard as you work to set goals, overcome challenges, grow, learn and give, none of it matters if you are not enjoying it. In imparting these rules to live by, the real purpose is to help you, to push you, to be well. Being well involves joy, and we have to incorporate joy in everything we do. To be joyful daily, let your work be something you love, surround yourself with positive people and be a positive inspiring person! Laugh, give, grow and live all the way to EleVen, giving your all, and living a life with no regrets.