At the age of twenty-six, I think I finally realized that I won’t become a professional tennis player. Finally, that was it. Puff. The dream was gone. I played tennis for nearly 20 years of my life and my highest WTA ranking was #575. Not too shabby but not that great either. But to top that when I was 18 years old I was around number 50 in the world and there has been a couple of National Champions titles. Anyway, I was decent but not Sharapova decent. So when I was 19, my ranking and funds were falling down, I was offered a full ride scholarship to play for a D1 University in California. That was the first time I realized that I am not going to be a professional athlete. This 180 degrees twist in my life was not easy ill tell ya. From a relatively easy life where I was living with my family, had a boyfriend, and did not have to go to school at all, to a pretty stressful 4 years that would teach me some of the biggest life lessons.
COLLEGE EXPERIENCE WAS NOT ALL RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS
Right from the start, I had problems with NCAA, who did not accept me as an amateur and I was not eligible to play at any American University. So not only I could not compete but also practice or travel with the team. That was great. Not. Getting my eligibility back was a year-long process, accompanied by a lot of tears, anger, uncertainty, my coaches determination, and luck? In total, I had to sit on a bench for a year and a half and pay back a couple of thousands of euros. Long story short, in my second year after 10 consecutive wins on the court, I tore my ACL. Out for another 10 months again. Had to undergo a reconstruction of my knee, and get back as soon as possible since my scholarship was in danger. Got back pretty quickly, and somehow got thru my second year. My third year was the strongest and finally, I got to play some cool matches. So overall my college experience was not all rainbows and unicorns but I still think that they were my best four years in my life.
So I graduated and had to think about what’s next. Should I try to stay in the US or go back to Slovakia? The last year of school was so hectic that I did not even have time to think about this. I was happy that I passed all of my exams and got a bachelor’s degree. So going back was a reasonable option, given that I did not even look for a job in the US. Also, I missed Europe, so I got back. First of all, the cultural shock hit me hard. In the beginning, I was the happiest person to be back, everything seemed so great and I enjoyed it. But then my pink glasses started to fade and I started to see the reality. Jobs were shitty and I was not ready for settling down. Thus I researched some Master’s degrees programs around Europe and Amsterdam sounded like a viable option. I would rather go to Spain but 20 K tuition vs. 2 K tuition had its answer.
So here I was in Amsterdam, studying Information and Knowledge Management, cool stuff. This was another breaking point when I realized that I really don’t play tennis anymore and nobody really cares that I spent 20 years on the court. I got accepted and I came to Amsterdam with couple of hundreds of euros so I had to find a job immediately. Otherwise, I would not have money for rent. Did you know they speak Dutch in Amsterdam? Nice huh? Good luck with finding a decent job in Amsterdam if you don’t speak Nederlandse. So I found a job. No not in Red Light District. A waitress in an Italian restaurant with an Egyptian owner who called himself Giorgio. Self-explanatory. He was a jerk and the ex-athlete crisis hit me by a thunderstorm. I was serving food to people who had no idea. They had no idea what I was doing couple of years ago or who I was. The internal monologues like “Imagine where would you be if only…” or “How did this happen?” or “Why me?” were on daily basis. I had to find another job. Immediately. And I found one. In Zara, the clothing retail store. In the beginning, I thought it would be great. At least I’m surrounded by clothes, and folding won’t be too hard right? Wrong. I have never been treated this way. By managers, but worse, my colleagues. But I think working in Zara will be a separate article.
Anyways, the school was great, the job was shit, here I am trying to find an internship that would actually be something I am interested in. I got call back from Nike inc. whose headquarters is in Hilversum, an hour away from Amsterdam and G-Star RAW whos HQ is in Amsterdam. Nike – web analyst or G-Star – commercial intern. I chose G-Star because I wanted to move from sports to something completely different. I felt that I need to put that sporty mindset away. To get out of regrets and living in past. I just had to break through. So I worked as a sales manager for G-star for almost one year and a half. That was my very first corporate job experience. Then some stuff happened, did not get the position I wanted and at the same time, I realized I don’t want to live in Amsterdam anymore. The weather was shit and I needed a change. That autumn I took a trip to Spain and Italy to check the situation there, but the conditions were just not right. Specifically, I went to check Barcelona, Valencia and Rome. To be honest, I just did not feel it. Barcelona too crowded. Valencia too quite. Rome too poor. I was confused as hell. Then out of nowhere, I got an offer for a strategic position in a Media Agency in Bratislava. Done deal. I took it. So there I was back in Bratislava.
In 2019 I work as a branding manager for an international company. I am also a branding strategist or a consultant if you wish so branding is one of my passions now. My friend and I also did a company for current and former athletes who need help or a little nudge in their transitions from sports to real life. I will always want to help other athletes in their transitions since mine was so shitty. Last year we organized events and workshops and plan to continue. You can follow us on www.balinclub.com
Let me know if you want to share your transition story with me 🙂