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What Naomi Osaka Taught Me About Burnout

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Earlier this year, Naomi Osaka took the media by storm, and not because of her skills in tennis. Her media breaking decision to step back from sports shocked not only every media outlet, but resonated with many sports figures, celebrities, bloggers and other media figures. Her announcement more than likely made a huge wave because it was also on the heels of a much anticipated but postponed worldwide Olympic Games.

Of course, Osaka’s announcement was received with praise and with criticism. Osaka is ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association and is the first Asian tennis player to hold the top ranking in singles. Because of her quick rise to fame and her unique accolades, her decision to take a break at a critical time shocked many. Osaka stepped away from tennis stating she needed time to tend to her mental health. This drew tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts from many! Some praising her break and some criticizing her break. But Osaka stuck her guns, saying that she needed this critical time. She commented, “My journey took an unexpected path, but one that has taught me so much and helped me grow.”

Even though this was a positive move for her, something she so needed to get her life back on track, why were people so critical of her? Why was it a huge deal?

There are many answers to these questions and, well frankly, some are simple, and some are not. It is very simple to be hypercritical of a worldwide superstar and pressure them to consistently perform day in and day out. However, it isn’t that easy. Famous stars and athletes are human too, and they deserve — no, they need — time to recover from the stressors of life just like we do. And the fact there were others who understood that made her decision even more dope and more acceptable.

But, why is it so taboo to focus on mental health? Why does this cause so much of a commotion? I will tell you why: Naomi Osaka is a minority. In Asian and Black and Hispanic and Latinx households, talking about mental health is often a very taboo subject, and to many, it makes us seem weak. Talking about our mental health struggles is not easy at all and it causes all sorts of problems and pushback in our community. And don’t be someone famous or successful in your community, then you are expected to continuously perform and take “no days off.”

However, this mentality is literally killing our families. The continuous work mentality and not having safe places and spaces to discuss what truly troubles us. For if we had that, we truly could work better, more efficiently and effectively and enjoy the work we do.

Furthermore, Naomi also taught us it is OK to take pause from things we enjoy. We sometimes have to press pause on things we have been programmed to do because our spirit and our soul just aren’t in it any longer. And those very things we are programmed to do, might be harming us as well. They can become detrimental to our everyday functioning. Recently, I realized many things I had found joy in actually started to drain me and hurt me. I found myself running from those things, and even from certain people associated with those things. I had to have a real conversation with myself and realized I needed to stop doing those things for a while, stop associating with certain people and begin to heal myself. My physical and mental health became and still is my main focus as I move forward.

As I listen to headlines about Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Simone Biles and Sha’Carri Richardson, it begs us to wonder how many have been pushed to their limits, past a point of enjoying their craft, all because they are not nurtured. We have to do better. We need to make a better and safe place for people, especially people of color, to be nurtured mentally. Once we do this, I truly feel we can grow and then maybe we won’t reach burnout.

Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published: September 14, 2021
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