What are your boundaries worth to you? And how much would you be willing to give up to protect your mental well-being?
Are your boundaries worth a thousand dollars? A hundred thousand?
What about 1.7 million dollars?
Naomi Osaka — ranked #2 in the world in women’s tennis, of Haitian and Japanese heritage — withdrew from this year’s French Open, one of the most important international tennis tournaments, leaving a whopping 1.7 million dollar first place cash prize on the table.
Her reason for pulling out of the competition? To take care of herself and protect her mental health.
Over the last four years, Naomi has been traumatized by the tennis world.
In 2018, when she was just 20 years old, she beat Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open. And the spectators were not happy.
They booed and jeered her in one of the most important moments of her career. This was her first major win on the world stage, and the fans ruined that experience for her. This U.S. Open win also marked the beginning of her struggle with depression.
On top of that, the post-match press conferences she has to do every competition don’t help her nerves. She has always been naturally introverted and shy, but she has pushed herself to participate in these press conferences for as long as she’s been in the public eye…
During this year’s French Open, she decided that she was going to prioritize her mental health by not participating in those press conferences.
In return, the competition’s organizers slapped her with a $15,000 fine and even threatened to ban her from future Grand Slam tournaments.
But that didn’t matter. Despite being a woman of color in a sport that has a long history of white elitism and sexism, she didn’t allow the predominantly white, men organizers to bully her into compromising the boundaries she set to protect herself, in a community where nobody else was protecting her.
Instead of setting herself up to continue receiving fines for her no-shows, she made the brave decision to pull out from the tournament entirely.
As women, Black people, people of color, queer folks, and members of any other marginalized groups, there are three very important lessons I want us to learn from Naomi’s decision.
Let’s start with lesson #1.
1. Put yourself first.
Inequality and double standards are everywhere — in the workplace, in society, and even on the tennis court.
In the world of sports, white men players get away with a lot more than women players. I’m talking about being aggressive and using abusive language with officials during matches, hitting or kicking balls in the direction of umpires, and throwing tantrums in the middle of games.
I wish I were making this up, but white men tennis players have actually done these things — with little to no consequences in many instances.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams has been fined $82,500 — one of the biggest fines in women’s tennis history — for arguing with a linesperson during a match (a violation which a white man counterpart has received NO penalty for in the past).
Her sister, Venus Williams, was penalized by a match official when a strand of beads in her hair accidentally slipped out during play, stating that she was causing a “disturbance.”
And now, Naomi Osaka is being fined and threatened for making a decision that many men players have made before her without having to deal with such harsh consequences.
What’s so ironic is that Gilles Moretton, President of the French Tennis Federation (and, you guessed it, a white man) did a press conference to discuss the Federation’s stance on Naomi’s withdrawal, and walked out as soon as he finished reading his statement, refusing to take questions from the journalists there.
Funny how he was able to so easily do the exact same thing that the Federation punished Naomi for.
Once we realize that white men are held to a different standard than everyone else, we understand just how important it is to put ourselves first, no matter what’s at stake.
And that’s what Naomi did when she withdrew from the French Open. She put herself first, regardless of the outcome.
Now it’s your turn. How can you start putting yourself first at home, at work, and in everything you do?
Grab a piece of paper and write down your answer to that question. Hold nothing back.
Could you stop making dinner on weeknights? Could you ask your boss for a more flexible schedule? Could you take a vacation all by yourself, and use that time to think and heal?
If you were absolutely fearless, what would you do to put yourself first?
Now, I know you’re probably not 100% fearless. But I also know that, like Naomi, you can feel your fear, lean into it, and still do what you need to do to protect, respect, and uplift yourself in all aspects of your life.
This brings me to lesson #2.
2. Set and enforce Million Dollar Boundaries.
Million Dollar Boundaries are a declaration to yourself and others of what you will or won’t do in a given situation.
The purpose of setting a Million Dollar Boundary is to set reasonable limits, protect your energy and sanity, and therefore feel more joyful, more powerful, and more money-full.
But it’s one thing to set a Million Dollar Boundary, and another thing to actually enforce it.
For Naomi, setting and enforcing a Million Dollar Boundary looked like not only saying she wasn’t going to participate in press conferences, but also taking active steps to follow through with what she said.
She could have easily let the backlash from the press get to her, backpedalled on her decision, and chosen to just “suck it up” and continue on with the press conferences.
But she was firm in her decision and had plans to support herself. She didn’t let her fear of the potential consequences allow her to back down and compromise her boundaries.
She even went one step further and withdrew from another upcoming competition, the German Open, to reaffirm her decision, respect her own feelings, and take the time she needed to rest.
All of us can follow her lead, and that includes you. How can you set andenforce your own Million Dollar Boundaries in your own life? Turn back to that piece of paper, and get to brainstorming.
You might have to let your work colleagues know that you won’t be taking calls after 5pm, and actually start ignoring those calls regularly, instead of mentioning it casually to one person and ignoring those late calls for a week, but then falling back into your old habit of working over time.
You might have to decide to part ways with friends who are weighing you down, rather than biting your tongue and continuing to hang out with them even though you know they’re not helping you reach your goals.
You might have to disappoint someone by saying “no” when they ask you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, instead of being so damn accommodating all the time.
Setting and enforcing boundaries doesn’t only have a positive impact on your own life — just like Naomi, you can be the example of a self-protecting, boundary-setting, mental-health-prioritizing badass that other people can look up to.
Which brings me to the third lesson Naomi has gifted us with her decision.
3. When you take a stand, people pay attention.
When Naomi made the controversial decision to withdraw from the French Open, many people responded with hate — but so many others responded with positivity and encouragement.
Fellow athletes and celebrities tweeted their support of her decision.
Her sponsors — Mastercard, Nissin Foods, Sweetgreen, Nike, and other industry giants — made public statements backing her choice to take a break from competition.
Mental health organizations also took a stand with Naomi and called for sports organizers and associations to place more importance on mental health and wellness among athletes.
One amazing response came from the makers of the Calm meditation app, who pledged to pay the fine of any tennis player who decides to opt out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances due to their mental health.
They also donated $15,000 to French youth sports charity, Laureus.
Taking a stand in your own life might not motivate people to pay thousands of dollars to support a worthy cause (I mean, it could!), but you can still positively impact your family, your workplace, and your community by standing up for yourself and what you believe in.
You might encourage someone to leave a bad relationship after they see you break up fabulously with your partner of too many years who treated you horribly.
You could show your children what it means to run a business with integrity, discipline, and a healthy work/life balance, and motivate them to start a business of their own one day.
You might speak out against racism, LGBTQIA+ discrimination, or any other important societal issue, and your speech could go viral, sparking an international movement.
You never know what could happen when you speak up.
Naomi Osaka has taught us all that, although we may face inequality, criticism, and unfair treatment, we can still protect ourselves, be successful, and have a positive impact on the people around us.
Here’s my challenge to you this week, [First Name].
Define the steps you can take to put yourself first and set some Million Dollar Boundaries.
Take a look at everything you just scribbled on that little piece of paper.
Choose a bad habit you have at work or at home that’s stealing your time, joy, energy, money, or all the above.
Now, find a way to reclaim your power by setting a boundary that allows you to break that habit and get back that time, joy, energy, and money you deserve.
And, most importantly, enforce that boundary with everything in you — no matter how uncomfortable or awkward or “out of character” it might seem to you or the people around you.
You’ll thank yourself later — and Naomi would be proud of you. I would be, too.
P.S. I dedicated a whole chapter to Million Dollar Boundaries in my book We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman’s Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth, and Gaining Economic Power.
Wait, you don’t have the book yet? Go get it on Amazon (it’s trending top 5 in Women and Business!) or at Target, Barnes & Noble, or any independent Black-owned bookstore.
And if you’ve already bought the book for yourself, consider giving a copy to your mom, your auntie, your best friend, a neighbor you like… or anyone you know who could use some help setting Naomi-level boundaries.