In case, you live off the grid and only just got internet this exact minute, Ash Barty announced today that she’s retiring from tennis. Yep, the Ash Barty. It feels like just a few weeks ago that we were having a Barty Party for her Australian Open win. Because it literally was just weeks ago.
So yeah, the news has come as a shock to plenty of Barty fans. Here is a woman who is at the top of her game, just 25 years old, opting out of her career. Thankfully all the Barty fans are being massively supportive (she really is Australia’s People’s Princess) but you’d be lying if you said the news wasn’t a bit confronting.
We don’t expect people who are kicking major career goals to just be like “yep, I’m done”. Maybe if they’re like, 70 years old, but definitely not in their twenties. Unless the person has suffered an injury or been vocal about mental health struggles, we just assume that someone at the top wants to remain at the top for as long as possible, particularly if they only recently got there.
What Ash Barty has done is turn that whole idea on its head. She’s at the top – the number one women’s tennis player in the world (a title she’s held for 120 weeks all up), has three Grand Slams under her belt, just dominated Wimbledon and the Australian Open, the list goes on. And instead of entering another year of gruelling training and hustle to maintain that numero uno status, she announces her retirement.
“I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself. I’ve said it to my team multiple times, I just don’t have that in me anymore,” she said in a candid Instagram announcement. “I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level anymore.”
How fucking refreshing to see someone reject hustle culture, huh. We know it too well – the messaging that if you want it, you have to really want it. You have to keep pushing. Tired? Sleep when you’re dead. Drained? Have another five coffees. Emotionally exhausted? Suck it up! You! Weak! Bitch!
It’s the kind of culture that encourages people to skip sick leave and just work with a chest infection, that sees us slog it out in unpaid internship after unpaid internship for “the experience”. It’s the energy behind “your payment will be exposure!” Hustle culture is about dehumanising humans – we’re expected to work like dogs (often for free) to climb the ranks, then continue to work like dogs to ensure we don’t lose our status – if it takes a toll on our mental, physical and/or emotional health, we’re expected to push through because hey, that’s the price of success.
The rejection of this toxic way of living isn’t new – we see it all over TikTok as we realise that, you know what, we don’t have to run ourselves into the ground just to say we got that killer job or made bank. There is more to life than ticking off goals.
But there’s still plenty of crap being delivered to our feeds and ears about hustling. I mean, Kim Kardashian JUST fed into it again with her whole “no one wants to woooork anymore, lol” statement. You know what? I DON’T WANT TO WORK. Not if it involves grinding through ten-hour days and never switching off. Not if I eat, sleep and breathe my job. I’m happy to work at stuff, but is the pay-off even worth it if it costs you everything else in your life?
Ash isn’t a stranger to working hard. She point-blank says in the video that she gave “absolutely everything” she could to tennis. She just feels she’s reached the point where she has nothing left to give. Instead of running on fumes and subsequently running herself into the dirt, she’s just going to stop.
Ash Barty is making another announcement tomorrow, and she may very well be throwing all her energy into a new project. But even if she is, the way she explained her decision was so empowering for anyone who is pushing against this toxic idea that success is about working your ass off until you’re totally spent, and then pushing even more.
That ain’t it anymore. And it’s just so good to see the tide turning on hustle culture.
Melissa is a freelance writer. You can find her on Instagram.