To imagine the Self in contrast to the expectations of Others is always a challenging balancing act. For instance, when a parent doesn’t support your passing hobbies, you can overlook it. But what happens when passions and dreams are involved? Stef had little interest playing tea with other girls when she was 8, despite her mother’s best efforts. She didn’t like dolls; she didn’t want to dress up. She just wanted to play soccer with the rough and tumble boys. Numerous playdates later, Stef’s desire didn’t waver.
Even at that age, Stef had a simple but audacious goal – to be flat out good. She never wanted to be told that she was “good for a girl.” Maybe it was because Stef never thought of her gender as being a limiting factor. She always believed she could outwork and out-hustle any boy, even if they might be bigger and stronger. She just wanted to play with others who took the game as seriously as she did. The boys in her elementary school, though young, played with a fierceness that Stef respected. They put themselves on the line with each play, each game.
Within a few years, despite having very little support from friends and family, she started to achieve startling success, eventually earning a spot on Venezuela’s National Team. This despite her struggles – she was isolated by her classmates, the boys and the girls. She lacked support from those she loved. She was isolated and she was labeled different and crazy. But at the end of the day, you can’t control any of that. The only thing within your control is the effort you put into something. For Stef, that effort and work was never in question.
Now imagine living this life for the better part of a decade. Imagine dreaming of playing Division I soccer in the U.S. on a full scholarship one day and using that as a possible stepping stone to the Olympics. When you are in that deep, your entire identity becomes enmeshed in that passion, the dream. Can you picture yourself in her shoes? If so, ask yourself this question – could you quit if you needed to? What would it take? And once you made that difficult decision, how would you regroup and start all over again?
Sometimes, we just need a sign, a symbol or thing to point the way. For Stef, it was a simple bar – 15kg, 2.1m long, and 25mm thick. During her graduate school years, she tried and quit many things. But she clung to her Eleiko competition bar, carried it everywhere on campus. Several floors above her classroom was a gym. Though it was a fortuitous opportunity, it lacked an Olympic bar. What makes Stef’s Olympic bar different from a standard one? Whip, spin, durability, and dimensions. That’s why she carried this specific bar – the gym in the Physical Therapy building didn’t have one.
In the big picture, was it a great hardship? Probably not, but I’m sure it was an inconvenience at bare minimum. Maybe the worst thing was standing out – not just on the street, or on campus, but in the classroom. Many of her fellow PhD students didn’t understand, snickered behind your back. Even some of her professors had concerns. So only 15kg, not a great burden. The burden was everywhere else, all around her. Yet she never lost sight of that bar, never let it go. Could we do the same?
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Signing off until next time,
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