What Can We Learn from Tennis Superstar Naomi Osaka’s Mental Health Break?

When Naomi Osaka, the World’s No. 2 female tennis player, pulled out of this year’s French Open on the grounds of mental health, the response wasn’t entirely sympathetic.

Osaka admits she has suffered with anxiety and depression since the 2018 US Open. She withdrew from the French Open after the organisers fined her $15,000 for boycotting a press conference on the grounds of protecting her mental health. Although she finds them stressful, Osaka is legally contracted to attend press conferences, and they do help to promote a sport that has earned her $60 million in the last 12 months.

(We know sports’ press conferences matter. Just ask Coca-Cola, who recently had $4bn wiped off their market value when Cristiano Ronaldo dissed their product during a Euro 2020 press conference.)

You might not be a world-famous sports star, but when it comes to doing things you don’t want to in your job, there are valuable lessons to be taken from the
Osaka situation.

Know what the job entails before agreeing to do it

Ask for details of the job at the interview stage. Ask politely, instead of interrogatively, and you’ll come across as curious and enthusiastic.

Know that you are allowed to change your mind!

Even if you thought you could handle a particular aspect of the job and it turns out that you can’t, you can always leave. However, there is a more empowered response…

Deal with the issue, once and for all

We all have our own issues, that tend to recur and consistently hold us back. The most powerful way to manage your career is to overcome these issues, rather than just avoid them. So get help. For example, if public speaking terrifies you, try taking an online course, reading a book, or hiring a coach.

Be honest

If you’re experiencing mental health difficulties it can be very hard to tell your boss, yet suffering in silence will just make you feel worse and stop you from accessing the help you need. It’s also likely that you’re underperforming at work, and your employer will be more sympathetic if they know the reason why.

Play the long game

Osaka has just announced her withdrawal from this year’s Wimbledon, alongside Rafael Nadal who is pulling out on the grounds of physical health. Both stars are doing this to look after themselves and ultimately prolong their careers. Similarly, if you find yourself in a work situation that you feel will cause you long-term damage, then take a break or walk away. Even if you’re being paid a lot of money to do a job (the Wimbledon Champion will walk away with £1.7 million this year), you don’t have to do anything you feel uncomfortable with.

Consider your timing

Osaka herself has admitted that her timing could have been better than walking out in the middle of such a huge tournament. If you need to take a career break, try not to leave your employers in the lurch, and satisfactorily complete as much of your work as you can. Saying that, if you urgently need to leave, then do. Your employers will get over it and so will you. You’re in the job market for the next 40 or 50 years; your career has plenty of time to bounce back.

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