Simona Synkova is one of the most magnetic and surreptitiously intelligent people I know and her effortless approach to life will make you angry. Born in Bratislava, she has been playing tennis since childhood and now she is conquering the world of finance.I catch up on her “Life After” with her in Slovakia.
Knowing her for nearly fifteen years, Simona and I have a myriad of adventures that would serve as a good inspiration for another sequel of Hangover. During dark moments I just reach into my pocket of adventures with Simona and it immediately makes my heart warmer and my smile wider. She really is one of the few people who has the ability to positively impact my mood in a second. I visited her in her boyfriend’s apartment in Bratislava, where she moved after she left America.
Simona was introduced to sports in a very casual manner. Her parents, sports enthusiasts, thought that a broad choice of sporting activities would make things more entertaining for their daughter. Simona liked sports, de facto she liked all of them, although never longer than for a couple of weeks. Until her first encounter with a tennis racket. As life tends to be funny, Simona picked one of the most expensive sports out there. “My ultimate choice was tennis, so I just held onto it. First, my parents were happy but after they realized how much it costs, they were not happy at all.” Simona giggles for a moment but immediately cuts the comedy. “It was quite hard, tennis is a sport where money is a strong factor. They wanted me to stop at one point because it just got too expensive. I was 14 or 15 years old.“ Despite the financial strain, Simona did not quit just yet. As a matter of fact Simona was hungry for tournaments, she wanted to compete. “I felt an urge to try it. To try and see if I could be any good at this. Well I tried and it did not work out. So eventually I quit and thought to myself ‘You know maybe my life will be about something else.’ She adds with an ease.
“I quit and thought to myself ‘You know maybe my life will be about something else.”
Like many other athletes, Simona was not always sure of her sports path. “When I was between the age of 13 and 14 I wanted to quit. I wanted to quit because all of my friends were either going out, hanging out or enjoying their adolescent times when I would have to go from school to practices and then go back to do my homework at the end of the day. That was extremely tough.“ As she recalls. “It was too much sacrifice and quite frankly I did not understand why it was good. I just wanted to play and be a kid.” Simona believes that she could not have made it to the top but she could have played some WTA tournaments. When talking about her friendships Simona was never fond of the sports people. She admits that she never necessarily clicked well with athletes. She came to practice, played and never tried to bond with anyone. “My best friend was from Law School, and then only after I left for the US I found friends within my sports team.”
After the realization that tennis might not be her ultimate profession, she applied for Law School in Bratislava. She attended the program for one year but shortly it became obvious that law was not her primary passion. In the meanwhile she got an offer from the University of Wyoming to study and play for the tennis team. She took the chance and proceeded with the admission process. “My main motivation was to improve my English. So I took the offer and went to the US. Although I did not expect to stay any longer than one year.” She explains. “But after one year I thought: ‘’’what a great system ‘’. So hell yeah I was gonna stay a bit longer.” First, Simona started as an International Studies major because she just wasn’t quite sure what else she should focus on. It was not necessarily the lack of direction but she needed a little nudge. After taking an introductory class on finance, Simona switched to being a finance major, a rather male-dominated discipline. She graduated with a Bachelor in Finance with an emphasis on investments. So what made Simona fell in love with finance? “One of my professors who studied at Harvard Business school made a great impact on me. He thought me a lot about personal integrity and intellectual honesty not only in the world of investments. He made his trading class so interesting that I thought to myself that this was ‘’so far this is the best experience in a class I’ve actually had so why not to stick with it? Ever since then Simona sees herself in a field of asset management in the future. Simona was definitely influenced by very inspirational people like her tutor during her college years. “He made me believe that finance might be good thing for me. He was supporting me in the way that I believed that I could do anything I want and showed me a completely different way of how to study and still like it. I also think that each and every person has something good in them, some great characteristics that we can learn from. I’m just trying to absorb good things from others.”
Does Simona sometimes grab a racket and hit it on the court? “I don’t like to play tennis anymore. I know it might sound a bit harsh but I only like the competition part, to be honest. Of course there is a good side to it, which is being able to play with other people, building up new relationships, and other perks, but I don’t enjoy tennis as much as I used to. I found my passions in other sports like golf for example.” When speaking about her experience as a student athlete in America, Simona says it was one of the best decisions she has ever made. “Maybe it was tough but it still paid for my school.”
Simona knows that tennis has opened multiple doors for her. Some of the doors have led to more apparent opportunities like teaching summer camps in the Hamptons and traveling with the team across the US to places such as Hawaii. However, one of the doors that opened contained a job offer. “It’s weird but the job that I currently have happened because I knew a girl that played for the same club. One time I called her to play some tennis with me and then during the hitting session, she just started to talk about an open position at her company and all of sudden I got a job interview. “
So what would Simona have done differently if she could? “I would put more emphasis on school and less on tennis. I think it’s much more important to be educated, or at least that’s what I would do with my kids, make sure that they are doing well in school and then next to school they could play tennis. I honestly think that I could have gotten a scholarship in US even if I had not put so much emphasis on tennis. Don’t spend too much time on this. Focus on different activities. Go beyond sports. Take some IT classes, programming, for example. Because right now at the moment I don’t benefit from tennis at all. I did in the past but not now, not directly.This is definitely not the only thing you can do. It can help you a lot in your life, but you should not just think about being the number one tennis player. There is A SUCH A SMALL LIKEHOOD of you becoming the tennis star you want to become. The first top 100 of tennis players in the world can make actual money that’s really sad. There is just too many players.” While all of this might be true she also admits that tennis taught her how to deal with stress much better.
“Focus on different activities. Go beyond sports.”
When asked what is her next dream. She immediately responds :“To have kids and get married.” We both burst out laughter because we both know that while it’s a nice idea to have kids eventually, it’s definitely not in her agenda for now. “To be honest, I don’t know I just want to be successful in whatever I am doing. I am learning every day. If I’ll dedicate myself to something, I think I could master it.”
Simona does not need the adrenaline nor the stress that tennis once gave her. She finds her boyfriend and friends to be the root of her happiness. “I think that having friends and having somebody who you like is very important, I never really thought of this before but I think that those are the things in life that makes you happy. Sometimes it is not about what you are doing, or what your work is, but it’s more about those things you can’t buy. I was raised with the idea that it’s all about the money and things like that. I just don’t believe it’s about that. I am happy right now. Recently I came to the realization that it’s very important to recognize when it is the right time to quit. Sports teach you to never quit, but I think in real life it’s important to know when to quit. This helped me with the transition from being athlete to get back to real life. One of my favourite books I have read was the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and I took this advice to my heart.”
Her transition from the tennis court to working was not easy but it taught Simona a lesson. “During my college years I still had to earn some pocket money, so I worked as the maintenance girl and I had to clean hallways or such. Realizing that you actually have to clean a hallway when you were once a tennis player is tough. But on the other hand it teaches you humbleness and that you might not actually do what you always like. I now also appreciate the people who have these sort of occupations more. While she is very positive about the city she lives in she has a sober opinion. “I really mind the economic situation in Slovakia, the fact that just behind the borders of Slovakia, let’s say in Austria, you can earn double of your income drives me crazy.
Let’s see where the she-wolf will end up and whether finance will be her last stop to success. All we know is that Simona has come a long way in her in this journey and it made her ready for the next one.