You may have heard that Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon Women’s Singles title on Saturday. I am not much into watching or playing tennis but living in London, Wimbledon is unavoidable. It is one of the biggest sporting events and there is a sense of celebration before and during the tournament. Big screens are installed in various places – parks, outdoor auditoriums, etc and people come along to sit and enjoy the match (and some sunshine … if it’s a good day). I often stop by one of these screens on my way back from work.

I stumbled upon the women’s final match on TV Saturday afternoon by chance, while having my lunch. Serena was playing against German Angelique Kerber to win her 22nd Grand Slam title, which is a great achievement. Once the match finished, some female tennis players from yester-years were discussing the match, its highlights and both the players.

They praised Serena – said she is in very good form given she has been playing for 17 years and is now 34 years of age. They talked about her ambition, determination, work she has put in, etc. They then went on to discuss how Serena had struggled during her career with injuries, controversies and that few years ago, Serena wasn’t in a state to play.

Curious as ever, I looked up Serena’s career timeline and read that she had gone through difficulties at various points in her career and had to take a break from tennis at various points. Most of these breaks were because of injury or illness, but there were also some articles that talked about stress, depression, etc.

It was really interesting listening about Serena especially as she was being presented as a human, they discussed her strengths, but also her weaknesses, how she had worked hard to become the oldest woman to win the ladies’ singles champion of all grand slams.

The channel then showed a video of Serena reciting her favourite poem – ‘ Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou. The video was very moving and I was really touched by it. I looked for the poem and it was a beautiful read. I have noted below extracts of the poem that I connected with the most:

“You may write me down in history; With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt; But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. 

Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries?

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise. 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear … I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise …. I rise …. I rise “

I was really touched by the whole experience of listening to the discussion and then this poem. My reason for telling you all this is that when we see successful people, especially at the stage Serena is at today, we sometimes forget that they are just like you and I.

They are ordinary humans at the end of the day, going through things just like we do. When I was growing up and saw or met successful people, I thought they were really special. I was in awe of them and when I saw very senior people at work, or my friends’ parents who were at senior positions, or when I saw interviews of successful people on TV, I always wanted to be like one of them, I watched how they behaved, how they spoke and tried to learn from them.  I have spent many years trying to be successful like others but have now learnt that we define our own success.

I found the poem very inspiring – it is as relevant to all of us as it is to Serena. I connected with it as it talks about personal strength and determination, about not being concerned by the pressures and expectations the world places on us. We all work very hard to achieve our defined success and from time to time also experience set backs. While Serena’s setbacks are published in newspapers, our personal setbacks are sometimes not even known to those around us. However, that doesn’t stop us from continuing to persevere down the path we have chosen.

As we continue down our chosen path and deal with its difficulties, it is also good to be mindful of those around us. Being aware that they may also be going through their own personal setbacks and supporting them as we go along; just as we would expect them to help us if we needed.