Last month, after beating Dutch player Robin Haase 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals at the ABN AMRO World Tournament, Roger Federer became the oldest player, either male or female, to reach the top of the world tennis rankings. Federer, who is 36, surpassed former tennis great Andre Agassi, who held the men's record at 33 years of age.
Federer's impressive tennis résumé includes 20 Grand Slam singles titles, giving him the most in history for a male player.
Defying age and his critics, Federer just keeps winning at an age when his peers have long since moved on to playing senior tour events and celebrity exhibitions, broadcasting, or coaching.
In team sports, athletes can often play effectively long after their prime because they fill a role or niche on their team that makes them still relevant. However, tennis is an individual sport, where even the slightest decline in skills gets exposed.
Federer seems to have some sort of anti-aging potion that allows him to laugh in the face of ageism in a sport that not that long ago was dominated by brash young teenagers and early 20-somethings.
Fighting ageism is a real struggle for many people nearing the end of their career, and not everyone can make it look as easy as Federer.
However, you can learn from him and take a few plays from his playbook to not only remain relevant but to stay at the absolute top of your industry well into the twilight of your career.
Work smart, not hard.
We've heard this before, and I don't blame if you think it's a bit of a cliché. However, Federer is putting it into practice in a truly brilliant fashion. He has optimized his tournament schedule so that he is fresh for the majors. He is no longer playing such a grueling schedule of tournaments that causes so many other players to get burned out or become injured.
He now skips smaller events that he would have played earlier in his career. He passed on the Mexican Open, a smaller event, after winning the Rotterdam Open (the win that recaptured the No. 1 ranking). The move by Federer was indeed strategic, as playing in Mexico directly after winning in Rotterdam would have been taxing on his body. Instead, he chose to rest his body, so that he can be at his best for larger events in Indian Wells and Miami.
If you're at an advanced stage in your career like Federer, maybe you don't need to take on so many projects at work.
You too can optimize your workflow, so that you're at your best when it counts most.
Keep the thrill alive.
Federer holds just about every major record in tennis. He is, by most accounts, the greatest male tennis player ever. So, how does a guy like that stay motivated to not only keep playing but to continue to dominate the sport?
In a world where so many people late in their career are burned out at their job, Federer finds ways to keep the fun in his job. When you see him out there on the court, he is clearly enjoying himself immensely. His love for the game is never in question.
He is motivated by chasing history and rewriting what is possible in his sport. This is what made it possible for him to reach the No. 1 ranking again. He has already been there in the past, but this time was different because he knew he could become the oldest player ever to do it.
Now he has his eyes on hitting 100 career titles (he currently has 97).
Federer reminds us to always be setting new benchmarks for ourselves in our career, and then go after them with everything we've got.
Don't give up during a career slump; get better.
Many people have a slump in their career in business. It could be a failed business, a bad career move, or an untimely layoff. There are many reasons people have periods in their career where they are less successful than they've been in the past.
From late 2012 to the end of 2016, Federer didn't win a single major. It was the longest drought of his career and a time when his critics started to get louder and louder. Many experts were predicting his retirement and gave him virtually no chance at ever winning another major.
However, Federer never stopped believing in himself. He worked with his coaches and made changes in his game; most notably his topspin backhand. He also upgraded his tech by changing his racket to the newer model that was better suited for the changes he was making in his game.
"It's unbelievable to be number one again after all these years. This is one of the best weeks of my life," Federer said after winning in Rotterdam.
As people age, there is often a tendency to try to hang on to the technology they've used in the past to help make them successful. However, to stay at the top, you have to continue learning and be open to the idea of adopting new technologies that will enable you to keep growing.