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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    December 09, 2021

    On Balance
    Naomi Osaka and the Power of No

    There's nothing wrong, and a lot right, with saying no to other people and yes to our own health and well-being.

    Julie Bonasso

    tennis ball

    In June 2021, Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old tennis phenom, shook up the sports world (and lots of other people) when she withdrew from the French Open to prioritize her well-being. She cited “long bouts of depression” and “huge waves of anxiety.”1

    She’s not alone.

    Recent statistics show that from “August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. And the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7%.”2

    And it’s not just anxiety with which the modern world is grappling. Research also suggests that there are many people who are languishing; they are neither thriving nor depressed.3 I know a lot of lawyers who fall into this category.

    Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, describes this condition powerfully: “you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”4 Grant points out that the “people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today.”5

    As the highest-paid female athlete in the world, one of the greatest athletes of her generation, and a public figure exposed to immense scrutiny, Osaka had a lot to lose with her decision to exit the tournament. But she stepped into courage and backed away from the expectation of others – the fans, the press, the media – and said, “no thanks.”

    Her audacity inspired me! Part of my role as a thought leader is showing up as a bold advocate for others and leading with compassion and empathy. My responsibility also includes normalizing the conversation around these topics.

    I’ve experienced anxiety for most of my life. The first memory I have of it is at age four. And I ignored it for decades. I thought, well, this isn’t really a thing. I just need to plow through it. There’s no need to discuss it. Get over it. Stop worrying. Sound familiar?

    The Generational Divide

    Like most lawyers in my generation and the baby boomers before me, many people are uneasy sharing their stories of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. Burnout, a topic we are hearing more about recently, is still considered a forbidden subject – especially if it’s your own. And there are scores of attorneys (and mere humans) who are feeling listless and empty.

    Julie Bonasso Julie Bonasso, Temple 1995, is a consultant and coach specializing in lawyer well-being. An experienced corporate lawyer and Master Certified Coach, she helps clients reinvent their practices to achieve more balance and more profit. She is the founder and COO of RYP Global LLC. Get to know the author: Check out Q&A below.

    Many of us are concerned we will appear weak, lose out on opportunities, or be judged as ineffective if we disclose our well-being concerns. I know I was; therefore, I did not speak up or speak out, fearing negative backlash. However, 20-somethings, such as Osaka and others, “are more willing to talk about and ask for help with emotional issues” regardless of the consequences.6

    As lawyers, we are trained and paid to say “yes,” irrespective of the costs to our productivity, work product, health, or relationships. And let’s face it, like athletes, we are in a hypercompetitive industry, starting with law school, continuing with jockeying to be the star attorney and making the cut for partnership or judgeship.

    We don’t know how to set healthy boundaries at work, which spills into our home life. Our striving for a dysfunctional level of perfectionism leads to the need to please everyone at all costs. We numb or ignore the sinking feeling that something is not quite right.

    While Brené Brown claims being open on such topics can have many benefits,7 when the rubber meets the road in sharing something that carries the weight of shame, suddenly it’s not so easy.

    But why not take a page from Osaka’s playbook? 

    Here are two ideas for how to do so.

    Discard Other People’s Tasks

    In the book The Courage to Be Disliked, authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga share the principles of Adlerian psychology through conversations between a young man and a philosopher. They discuss, among other things, what real freedom is: “In short, freedom is being disliked by other people.”8

    One of the many concepts the book distills is the Adlerian idea of the “separation of tasks.” Adler’s theory proposes that we should not take on someone else’s feelings as our own task. More specifically, it is not our responsibility to alleviate another person’s negative emotions that are directed at us. Their reactions are not something over which we have control (even if we think we do). Certainly, we can be sensitive to their concerns and even try to understand them. But, if we worry about how someone else feels about us, and take actions based on those feelings, then we are assuming the task of dealing with their emotions. This is ineffective for them and puts an undue burden on us.9

    Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open is a great example of “discarding other people’s tasks.” With her decision, she risked ticking off a lot of people – other players, the press, her fans. But she stood up for herself and did what she believed was right for her. She did not take on the tasks of the other constituencies who set expectations for her. She jeopardized sponsorships, money, and fame. And yet, she still had the courage to be disliked.

    Like Osaka, we can all choose the journey we think is best for us. If others pass judgment on our choices, then so be it. That is their task, not yours.

    Just Say No

    Initially, Osaka tried to limit her anxiety by not participating in the post-match interviews, indicating they could further harm her mental health. In response, she was fined $15,000 and received a threat of ejection from the event. After this callous reaction, she said no to the entire tournament.10

    While Osaka’s actions were gutsy, many of us find it difficult to say no in our daily work. Here’s a tool that my clients find incredibly effective in establishing boundaries around what’s important.11

    1. Write down every current business project and personal commitment.

    2. Create three columns on a sheet of paper and label them, left to right: hell no, maybe, and hell yes!

    3. Think about the following for each item on your list:
    • Does it drain you of energy or do you dread doing it? If the answer is yes, put it under the hell no column.

    • Consider which projects increase your energy. What feels effortless? What fills you with joy and excited anticipation? All of these are a hell yes!

    • Everything else is a maybe.

    Study your completed chart. Notice how many entries are in your hell no category and how many are in the hell yes! column. Review it once per month and consider which things you can remove from the hell no bucket. What can be delegated or eliminated?

    Get curious: What would happen if you removed all the items under hell no? What could evolve for you in your work? Your health? Your relationships?

    Do It for the Kids

    As we think about recruiting and retaining the next generation of lawyers, Osaka’s exit from the French Open should be viewed as an alarm bell for the legal profession.

    Osaka, and many in Generation Z, are reporting more anxiety than any other generation as they enter the labor market. “Some 54% of workers under 23 said they felt anxious or nervous due to stress in the preceding month, according to a 2018 American Psychological Association survey. Close behind are Millennials, with 40% reporting anxiety – surpassing the national average of 34%.”12

    “Anxiety causes employees to withdraw, turn negative and overreact to stress,” says Dan Schawbel, a workplace researcher. Schwabel suggests that
    “[i]n the next one to five years, employers will start to get serious about this, because the cost to employee engagement is really high if you don’t have programs in place.”13

    If we’re not willing to examine our own well-being for ourselves, let’s do it for the sustainability of our profession. If we don’t address it now, this next generation will say “no thanks” to us, and we will lose the best and brightest.

    Let’s not be left behind.

    Meet Our Contributors

    What inspires you?

    Julie BonassoCurrently, my biggest inspiration is my 90-year-old mother. She moved to Wisconsin last year to be closer to me. In late August 2020, she and I packed up the car and road tripped it from West Virginia. We took it slow (3 days slow!) and made great memories along the way, including our last night spent in Madison along the waterfront.

    For the first year, she lived with us in our tiny cabin on Lake DuBay. Needless to say, it was very cozy with grandma, husband, and puppy Izzy. Recently, my mother moved to an independent senior living apartment in Stevens Point. And she is thriving. She joined a new church. She’s made new friends. She still cooks and bakes (and I’m often the recipient of her yummy meals).

    From the moment she arrived, I have been in awe. Her bold move shows me that it is, in fact, never too late to try something new. After spending her entire 90 years in the same town where she was born, she was courageous, decisive and, dare I say, excited, about relocating to the (cold!) Midwest.

    If I had to pick one thing that I admire about her, it’s this: She is creating a life that gives her peace and joy on a daily basis.

    It has been incredible to witness her power of adaptability and its impact on the quality of her life.

    Julie Bonasso, RYP Global LLC.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.


    1 Sarah Jacoby, Naomi Osaka Reveals She’s “Suffered Long Bouts of Depression” Since 2018, SELF (June 1, 2021),

    2 Increases were largest among adults ages 18-29 years and those with less than a high school education. Anjel Vahratian et al.,  Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder and Use of Mental Health Care Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, August 2020-February 2021, Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 490-94 (April 2, 2021),

    3 Corey L.M. Keyes, The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life,J. Health & Social Behavior 207-22 (June 2002),

    4 Adam Grant, There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, N.Y. Times(April 19, 2021, updated Oct. 4, 2021),

    5 Id. See also Corey L.M. Keyes et al., Change in Level of Positive Mental Health as a Predictor of Future Risk of Mental Illness,Am. J. Pub. Health, 100(12), 2366-71 (2010),​.

    6 Giulio Bonasera, The Most Anxious Generation Goes to Work, Wall St. J.,

    7 See, e.g.., Erin Jensen, 5 Takeaways on Vulnerability from Brené Brown’s “The Call to Courage,” USA Today (April 19, 2019),

    8 Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga, The Courage to be Disliked 144 (New York, NY: [Atria Books] Simon & Schuster 2013).

    9 Id. at 111-51.

    10 Carla Edwards, Naomi Osaka Just Exposed the Most Taboo Health Issue in Sports, Medpage Today (June 10, 2021),

    11 Adapted from Rich Litvin’s Hell Yes, Hell No, Maybe Tool™.

    12 Bonasera, supra note 6.

    13 Id.

    » Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 53-55 (December 2021).

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