Tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open this week after refusing to participate in mandatory press conferences due to the toll on her mental health. She made the announcement after receiving a $15,000 fine, with harsher punishments on the horizon, for avoiding press. 

“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media … so I thought it better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences,” Osaka shared on Instagram, also revealing that she had “suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018.” 

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam tournament winner, may be an influence for many on the court. But her decision to forego the competition is inspiring to those of us who have damaged our mental health for the demands of our jobs , whether or not we’ve ever picked up a racquet. The pandemic exposed a lot of flaws in what we considered to be normal. The biggest exposure happened with jobs and careers and how much of ourselves we sacrifice to make ends meet and keep employers happy. 

That realization dawned on many of us who began working from home last year. Many corporations offered remote working options for their employees, providing them the chance to do their job from any comfortable setting they see fit. As the world begins to open back up, some employers are finding that their employees would rather quit than return to the office. 

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According to a Bloomberg survey, 49% of Millennial and Gen Z workers would consider quitting if asked to return to the office. 

Honestly, I’m part of the 49%. 

I have found that I am far more productive working from home than I have ever been inside an office. There has been a different level of peace and focus in the last year. I have been micromanaged far less and the lack of verbal interruption has allowed for problems to be solved much more effectively. 

Working from home may have had its upsides, but working through a pandemic was draining, with or without a commute. 

I work in supply chain, so my full-time job was considered essential. Not once did I get a break in the last year.

As I began to lose people close to my family because of COVID-19, I still worked. 

As I watched Minneapolis burn from the riots, I still worked. 

As I helped my fiancé with his daughter’s virtual learning, I still worked.

As I suffered the after effects of a chemical pregnancy at the start of the pandemic, I still worked. 

There were plenty of times I wanted to be Naomi Osaka, whose choice to quit is a move of luxury and privilege that not many people can afford to take. There were times where I wanted to just step back because I felt I didn’t have the mental headspace to take on much else. I still worked. 

Apparently Osaka and I aren’t alone. In a survey of 5,000 workers conducted by Mental Health America, 83% of them felt emotionally drained from work.

As the world begins to turn again, I am here for this vocalization of not being ok and for talking about the times when work takes too much of a toll on our lives. For so long, we have defaulted to “I’m fine” even when we really weren’t. While it’s unclear if Osaka’s decision will spark changes in what’s demanded of athletes, her example is a powerful one. I hope more of us will be able to follow her lead and normalize prioritizing our mental health, so that we can continue to be our best selves, on or off the clock.  

Credit: Peter Menzel/Flickr

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