When You Make A Choice, You Change The Future

And When You Choose To Stand Up For Yourself, Endless Opportunities Abound

That night, the young athlete went to bed prepared not to wake up.

At sixteen, she had spend more than half of her life perfecting her volleyball skills. Thousands and thousands of hours in the gym, foregoing fun outings with friends, sometimes too tired to even care. All in the name of one goal – making the National Team!

Communist Bulgaria didn’t offer many opportunities that rewarded one’s true efforts. It was all about who you knew and were you a member of the party. Already her Mom and Dad, both talented professionals and not members of the party, were coming home discouraged from the lack of opportunities to advance in their work.

“It’s different in sports,” – said the young athlete to herself many times. “It’s about how well I play and I can work harder and get better and get somewhere in my life.”

But on the faithful night, all that talk was gone. She could only feel the emptiness inside, the freezing chill moving through her hollow body. The words of her team captain falling heavy, like a giant tree in the woods: “Our new coach said you’re off the A team. You are to resume practice with the B team tomorrow morning.”

It wasn’t just about getting cut. No, this was about another reality. “A death sentence,” she felt. If she wasn’t on the A team, that pretty much assured that the national team coaches would not select her. Which meant her days in volleyball are numbered and a dead end job awaited her sometime in the near future. “I’d rather die,” she thought and went to bed.

Low and behold, the next morning she did wake up. Slowly she placed her feet down on the floor. “If I’m alive, there must be another reality.” The nightmare of day before seemed even more surreal.

A decision started to form at that moment. “If I’m alive, I must be a volleyball player. If I’m a volleyball player, I must go to MY team’s practice. MY team is the A team.” It wasn’t a decision to be rebellious, in the communist regime one never thought of disobeying authority. Coaches were highly regarded, next to military personnel. And the girl wasn’t particularly brave.

This was about survival. Survival of the spirit. Driven by a most fundamental human need. The need for autonomy. Of knowing that each one of us is here for a unique purpose. You count. You matter. You exist.

And so she did. She went to the A team practice, amidst the looks of pity from her teammates: “Why are you humiliating yourself like that,” their eyes asked.

Without saying a word to anyone, the athlete took her spot in the lineup. The coach started going from one player to the next and when she stepped in front of the girl, time stopped. A lot was communicated without a word being said. Finally, the coach moved on and started practice. Not getting kicked out, the girl knew she was given a second chance. A chance to own her life.

At that moment, I knew I had to give everything I have and more. I quadrupled my efforts in every single practice and by the end of the year, I was a starter on that team. That summer I made the National Team but what was more, I dared to dream even bigger. I earned a scholarship to an American university, graduated with a degree in Biology, and even dared to dream about playing in the Olympics. I did that too – twice – with my sister, playing in the Beach Volleyball competition.

The experience taught me to stand up for myself. If I hadn’t done that at sixteen, I certainly would not be writing this blog for you now. “When you make a choice, you change the future.” Deepak Chopra’s words couldn’t ring more true.

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