“Believe in Yourself” and other advice from Venus Williams

This interview was taken on October 18th 2010. Reposting it on the blog for some inspiration.

Venus Williams, is currently ranked number four on the WTA tour, has 22 Grand Slam titles, is an author, fashion designer, student, philanthropist and icon, but sitting there on her living room chair with her hair pulled back wearing no make up and a plain white t-shirt, you would never know.  She was recently named one of the World’s Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine, a list she claims is “always inflated.”

Having already met her a few times, during my time playing on the WTA tour, I was eager to hear her speak as I was now on the other side of the lens.  Off the court, Venus had always been a delightfully friendly person, humorous and giggly. She was like an old soul that is comfortable anywhere and in any situation.

Venus was at home and out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury and agreed to do an interview with 15 Princeton University students via skype. I started the questions by asking her if she remembered me. She giggled, nodded her head and said “yes, your hair is so long”. The response was diplomatic and at the same time honest; a trend that carried on for the whole interview. At 29 years old and in the later stages of her career, her responses tended to be more introspective and uncontroversial giving insight in to her perspectives, lessons of life, her goals and future aspirations. When asked about how she imagined her life in ten years, she responded with “that always changes…I love design, I’ll definitely being doing that because I love it just the same way I love tennis…and of course I’m giving back to tennis in some way…I’ll probably be fairly quiet”.  One could tell, Venus is still figuring it all out.

Listening to her responses to questions about gender equality in sports, being an ambassador to the US and philanthropic work, one could tell Venus is very aware of the power and responsibility bestowed on her because of her athletic achievements. “For me, its great to be in women’s tennis at the premier level…really giving an example to women and…all people around the world…trying to be leaders and trying to give back…” It was refreshing to hear an athlete taking initiative and using her fame and wealth constructively “being a role model is even more rewarding than winning a tournament” she concluded. Furthermore she was very aware of the fact that many athletes abuse this power given to them “you have to stay true to yourself and be responsible and not every athlete is and that’s definitely a shame…”

Venus has done thousands of interviews that have probably covered many of the same questions we asked her but she never gave us stock answers, they seemed genuine, Through her giggles and big smiles she offered nuances and humor about her imperfections and insecurities such as her love for junk food,  going off tangent in interviews, her inability to correctly spell women vs. woman and forgetting lessons she has learned through life. One would expect her to be a lot more boastful but she was the complete opposite and almost self deprecating.

Although she was fun, relaxed and welcoming Venus definitely kept a lot of private information from us. She is a very “low key” person in contrast to her sister, Serena and did not divulge information about her personal life. However she did share her strong views on how her religion and family has helped her reach such great heights stating that “I think that’s [faith] been the main difference between Serena and I and our contemporaries and the reason why we are still here…having a good family I think [also] helps a ton.”

Venus has accomplished so many amazing things in her life; becoming the first African-American to be ranked world number 1, win 3 Olympic Gold medals, start a charitable foundation, create her own clothing line, model, author a book and recently, become a part owner of the Miami Dolphins. When asked how she finds inspiration and creativity to manage it all she quoted her sister, “[Serena] said if you take your opportunities, more will come. Just by us… trying to be positive, trying to be good people, trying to be role models, trying to be innovative…more opportunities came.”

She is a superstar that doesn’t require superfluous accessories. Her self confidence and stately demeanor were apparent even in the simplest of settings; sitting at home with a knee injury babysitting her dogs. The best piece of advice she gave us was “believe in yourself”.

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Neha Uberoi Khangoora

Neha Uberoi Khangoora is a former professional tennis player, social entrepreneur and health and wellness advocate. She is the co-founder of South Asians in Sports (sainsports.com), a network of South Asian professionals who work in the sports industry.