It was easily the biggest news last week: Ash Barty retiring from tennis.
The decision to retire at just 25 years of age, was totally unexpected. She retired ranked number one in the world, and with three Grand Slams to her name, the most recent being the 2022 Australian Open which she won earlier this year.
It’s an amazing story, too. Ash Barty became a professional tennis player at the age of 14. She then retired from tennis at 18, to pursue a dream of playing cricket, before returning to tennis in 2016 at the age of 20. She worked her way up to number one in the world, collecting three Grand Slam wins in four years.
The fact Ash is so universally respected and admired for her achievements on and off the tennis court, made her retirement a hard decision for Australians to understand and rationalise.
In explaining her decision, I feel she gave us a very important lesson and reminder.
Here’s what she said:
I just know, at the moment, for me in my heart and as a person, this is right.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Wimbledon changed a lot for me as an athlete. You work so hard for your whole life toward one goal. To be able to win Wimbledon – the one true dream I had in tennis – that really changed my perspective.
After that there was a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied or fulfilled.
I want to chase after some other dreams that I’ve always wanted.
Success for me is knowing I’ve given everything I have and am fulfilled and happy.
I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want, and everything else it takes to compete at the top level anymore. I’ve given everything I can to this sport of tennis and that’s success to me, and I’m really happy.
Ash Barty the person has so many dreams that she wants to chase that don’t necessarily involve travelling the world, being away from my family, being away from my home.
In Bulletproof Investing, I wrote about the importance of defining your ‘why’. In fact, it’s one of the more important bulletproof tips sprinkled throughout the book:
Define your ‘why’
Take the time to think about what will deeply motivate you to build wealth (or whatever goal it is you choose to pursue). It’s important that this wealth (or other goal as it may be) benefits others as well as you. This selflessness will generate a true and lasting sense of satisfaction. This is your ‘why’. Sit down with your partner, your loved ones and your mentor and engage them in your ‘why’.
Goals and dreams give us purpose and drive, propelling us through life with direction.
One of my goals when I was 20 years old was to never have to worry about money. It was a powerful goal – something that I could feel, see and taste. The happiness of never having to worry about money. Suddenly I couldn’t wake up early enough, with every day an opportunity for me to become one step closer to my emotionally charged ambition.
After setting that goal, I had to figure out what it was I’d have to do to achieve it. I’d have to commit myself to a savings plan, make investments, accumulate wealth, take on debt and manage risk.
That’s how goals and dreams work. The bigger and more audacious the goal is, the more there is to sacrifice and commit.
I didn’t for one moment consider those sacrifices and commitments weren’t worth going through to achieve my goal. Quite the opposite, each step I took to become closer to my goal and dream gave me joy and fulfilment.
Having said that, sometimes we set goals and – after we sit down and figure out what it’s going to take to achieve those goals – decide they’re not something we really want.
That’s something Ash Barty reminded us of this week.
Ash Barty loves tennis but the commitment and sacrifice it takes to compete at the top level, and win Grand Slams, were no longer justifiable. The reward didn’t outweigh the effort and commitment.
It’s a valuable reminder that with any goal, it’s important that you enjoy the journey toward that goal and that all the sacrifices required to achieve the goal are justifiable. That you feel happy and fulfilled by the steps you take on the way to achieving that goal.
Ash Barty still has bold and audacious goals. Her goal of competing at the top level of tennis, however, was hindering her pursuit of other goals that were important to her.
Sometimes dreams and goals have an impact on other dreams and goals that are important to us too. It’s important we find the right balance and priorities. It’s important the achievement of those goals gives us joy and fulfilment. It’s also important we have joy and fulfilment in the pursuit of our goals.
Thank you for the reminder, Ash.