The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon

As a general Grinnellian attribute, we are the types of people that set high expectations for ourselves—we are intrinsically movers and shakers, risk-takers and rule-breakers, to the extent that we probably don’t even notice or appreciate ourselves anymore. We’re lucky to be surrounded by people like that, because it encourages us to keep thinking, to keep questioning. But it can also make “failure”—or what we might perceive as failure—that much more difficult. There are roadblocks all throughout life, but sometimes in college they can seem larger than life. Maybe it’s because of the “smallness” of this place, because we are still young and bullish, because these roadblocks seem to be popping up at every intersection. Whatever the case, we learn to be resilient.

What is resilience? The ability to “bounce back”. That you have “give,” vitality, energy, determination and are able to spring back into form after bending, stretching, being compressed, to withstand difficult conditions. It implies that you’ve had a setback, and you have to let go in order to let the spring recoil.

Nowhere have I learned this as much as on the volleyball court. I’m writing this in that awkward space immediately following the end of the season—suddenly I have 4-7 p.m. free! Suddenly I can go out and play on Friday nights! Suddenly I’m … a little bit lost. Finishing not only this past season, but finishing my four-year tenure on the volleyball team here at Grinnell, I know that I’m still too close to have some measure of deep, objective insight. And one thing does still linger in my mind, and in the minds of my teammates—just missing the cut for the Midwest Conference tournament. Even as that disappointment is still ringing in our ears a bit, I’m taking my own advice and trying to see the big picture, and there’s a lot of good to see.

We set our sights high after breaking through making it to the conference tournament for the first time last season. This year, we made it our team goal to win the regular season, and host the Midwest Conference tournament. Though we met many successes along the way, unfortunately at the end of it, the final outcome did not match the goal. By the nature of the sport we play, I think we as a team see only one choice—bouncing back, better than before. I’d argue that there aren’t many other sports where resilience counts as much as it does in volleyball. Point by point, game by game, match by match, the turnaround time is but a sliver. Even within a point, if you make a bad pass and it goes over the net, there’s no time to step aside and think about. You’ve got that 6’2” woman on the other side of the net, drooling over that big ole’ steak dinner she’s about to put right back down your throat. It’s a sport practically built on resilience, a sport that is won by those who can best build momentum, and run with it.

In my four years, this team has shown so much resilience, both on and off the court. Losing game points, losing matches, losing seasons, losing in the first round of last year’s conference tournament. But we’ve also learned to win, and it’s something that we work on doing better every day. We demonstrated resilience in many instances—breaking, in demonstrative fashion, St. Norbert College’s two-year undefeated reign of conference matches, the same night that many of our teammates celebrated the life of a close friend, Robert Yin ’12. We followed an 0-2 Friday night at the Macalester College tournament with a 2-0 record the next day—we played to the last extra point of a 5-game match versus Monmouth College, at the last game of our conference season. But the one that we didn’t get—the bid to the conference tournament—was a ringer. Resilience is a process, a series of setbacks that help make future obstacles seem a little less insurmountable. You learn that the work lies in not just setting your sights on something, but also deliberately taking all the little steps along the way to get there. And finally, you learn to come to terms with the realization that you can work really hard, be really talented, be really deserving and have really good guidance—and sometimes, you won’t get what you want.

I can’t think of a better group of women with whom to learn this lesson, if I have to learn it somewhere, sometime. The volleyball team amazes me. We set our eyes day one on somewhere we wanted to be, we sweat for it, we visualized it, we huddled tightly together even when it was hard and we wrapped our arms around each other to make a game plan for the next point. We learn this lesson in everyday life at Grinnell as well, and shouldn’t shy away from it. Learning to fail in college makes us bigger containers—drops in the bucket don’t make as big of a wake. We are lucky to learn resilience and the hard lessons now, in a place where we’re surrounded by a network of friends, teachers, coaches and administrators that want to help. They can bring us back to earth, and put us back on the upswing. Even if, as a post-college athlete, the upswing is accepting that I know have to learn to work out just for the sake of it. Here’s to a long life of riding the stationary bike …

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  • K

    Kathleen QuinnNov 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Your writing never ceases to amaze me. “There are roadblocks all throughout life, but sometimes in college they can seem larger than life. Maybe it’s because of the ‘smallness’ of this place, because we are still young and bullish” = beautifully said.

  • J

    JaneNov 6, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Amazing and thought provoking. Good argument presented for why free time allows for perspective. Maybe it is meant to sometimes live life first, then let the barn burn down to gain insight. This was beautiful to read and ponder. Well done —-will wait for more:)