Naomi Osaka is Redefining High Performance at Work: Here’s How You Can Follow Her Lead - Women's Health

Naomi Osaka is Redefining High Performance at Work: Here’s How You Can Follow Her Lead

The real power move is the one you least expect.

by | Jul 6, 2021

Naomi for Tag Heuer

Let’s hear it for Naomi Osaka. Not only is the tennis champ taking the lead to put mental health first with her recent headline-hitting decisions, the world No. 2 is also masterfully smashing the tired notion of winning at all costs.

Osaka’s recent decision to withdraw from Wimbledon to spend time with friends and family in the lead-up to the Olympics signals a major wake-up call for anyone who’s chasing serious career goals. Why? Because by stepping back, she’s made it clear that acing your game at work – whether that’s in an office or a grand slam arena – is no longer about hustling around the clock until you inevitably burn out. Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success.

By challenging the organisers of the French Open and then bowing out of the next tournament altogether, Osaka has bravely disrupted an unspoken workplace contract, one in which employers expect to ‘own’ their employees’ time, decisions and emotions. She’s set a clear boundary around what’s important for her wellbeing so she can continue to perform at her best on the court. The result? She’s making work culture better for everyone.

Let’s be real: Wimbledon is one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar. Osaka is the world No. 2. The pressure for her to show up and perform is immense. Yet, she chose to take a strategic breather so she could come back with her A-game for the event that matters most to her this year: the Tokyo Games. 

Her game-changing moves have already had a ripple effect in the tennis world – not long after Osaka took a stand to protect her wellbeing at the French Open, Rafael Nadal announced he was skipping Wimbledon and the Olympics in order to give his body time to rest so he can keep playing the game he loves at a high level for longer. 

Slowly, the world is realising that we need to honour the humans behind the work, not just their output. Sustainable success is the new high-performance culture to celebrate.

Changing pace

As a performance coach who helps women find a sustainable pace at work, I found Osaka’s disruptor move an inspiring signal that workplaces are changing. 

As much as some managers might not like to admit it, we bring our whole selves to work – who you’re being affects what you’re doing, 100 per cent of the time. Osaka knew she needed time to get who she was being back on track to compete at and feel her best, so she made a courageous call. 

Too often, I see women teetering on the brink of burnout and putting their wellbeing on hold while they struggle through an avalanche of tasks, tied to the idea that the harder you work, the further you’ll go.

But – thankfully – work culture is changing, and Osaka’s power move opens up an opportunity for us to redefine what modern high performance looks like. She’s shown that it’s not about the hustle, but finding a sustainable success rhythm so you can continue to make a real impact over time, rather than crashing out a few strides from the finish line. 

A sustainable success rhythm is one that energises you to do your best work, has recharging rituals built in, and empowers you to put your priorities – not someone else’s – at the top of your to-do list.

Think of it as an ultra-marathon, not a sprint.

Your serve

So, how do you know if you need to pull a Naomi Osaka power play and set some clear boundaries at work? 

  • You might feel like you don’t have time for the wellness habits you know will do you good, like daily exercise or mindfulness routines.
  • Even though you’re putting in long hours, you have a sneaking suspicion you’re not doing your best work. 
  • You’ve lost sight of your goals because you’re drowning in never-ending to-do lists.
  • You’re so exhausted by the end of the week you cancel all plans with friends so you can collapse on the couch with a bucket of wine.

Sound familiar? It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, take a long holiday and start over (unless you want to!). It could be a sign, however, that you need to hit pause and create a new rhythm for being and doing your best.

Start small – you could begin with committing to a daily workout routine that energises you to do your best work.

It might be as much as politely informing your boss and colleagues that you’re no longer available to answer emails or take calls at any hour. 

Or, it could mean flexing your ‘no’ muscle the next time a colleague asks you to contribute to yet another project when your desk is overflowing.

The return volley

While many of us around the world applauded Osaka’s bold moves, she also faced a lot of criticism (and some hefty fines from the French Open organisers).

Here’s the thing: when you challenge the status quo and set a boundary, it can make people feel really uncomfortable – and that includes you, too! 

Whenever you change a pattern, things are going to look and feel different – messy, even – while you readjust. For example, your boss might ‘forget’ your new rule and send a few ‘urgent’ emails after 8pm, requiring you to choose whether or not to respond. Your colleagues might complain that you’re not pulling your weight if you push back on requests for your time, making you want to give in and help, or overcompensate in other areas. 

Or, you might find the resistance comes from within, as you struggle against creating new healthy routines and habits – the call of the ‘snooze’ button is hard to resist! 

Watch out that you don’t label that messy, transitional feeling as ‘wrong’ – it’s just change. Stay firm in your boundaries and remember, if Naomi Osaka can face the heat and come out the other side stronger, you can too. 

Game, set, match. 

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