Grand Slam Journey

24. American Dream: A brief reflection on my path to becoming an American

February 21, 2023 Klara Jagosova Season 2
Grand Slam Journey
24. American Dream: A brief reflection on my path to becoming an American
Show Notes Transcript

This is one of the brief episodes reflecting on some of the past things that happened during the last month - me becoming American and sharing a bit about my personal journey - where I came from, my decision to play D1 college tennis, my naturalization experience, and some personal advice and lessons. 

  • You never know how life may turn out
  • Be open to opportunities - especially the ones that scare you
  • Trust yourself, the process, and effort and skill building
  • Don't be afraid of failures; take them as the best mechanism to learn more about yourself and iterate from

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My today's episode is one of the short formats that I've been experimenting with, and for today I wanted to share with you a little bit of my own journey and reflect on some of the changes in the past month. And so the big news, some of you may know, but most of you probably don't.

I've recently become an American citizen. And that made me reflect on my own personal journey to start with. I'm extremely grateful for the past 18 years I have spent in this country. And I know that many of you, especially some of my friends from the large populist countries, Have to wait much, much longer than I had.

I came to America to play tennis for the University of Texas Arlington on a tennis scholarship, and I have to say it was a very last-minute decision. At that point in time. I was playing in some tournaments in Portugal. There I was pursued by some coaches. Who told me that if I wanted to come to America and play for a university, I needed to find a place right after I finished high school; otherwise, I wouldn't be able to come and play for division one.

And so I remember coming back home from those tournaments and telling that to my mom. I also got some sort of flu, which made me stay home for about two or three weeks while trying to recover. And during that time, There was a decision that was made that I was going to try to play for a University in the US.

All that said, I believe it was the March timeframe. I had about three months or two and a half months to finish high school, finish my graduation, and get tested on all of the subjects in material that we had studied in school for the past three or four months because I was on the road traveling, so it was a quite busy time, and I had at that point no idea how to pick a college, how to rank universities.

And I'm actually surprised I even passed the SAT exam. I remember I registered for the very last one that was available. It was two weeks right after my high school graduation, which obviously was a priority because, if I would not graduate from high school, then there was no college to go to.

I had maybe a few days to prepare because I was so tired and worn out from studying for my high school exams. Anyway, I don't know how it turned out; obviously, it did, I passed and ended up coming to a university in Texas, and really it was more of an experiment. And the experiment was supposed to be - go there, try it for six months, and if you don't like it, you can always come. And so the beginnings were very hard. I felt I knew English, but I didn't really. Back when I was playing tournaments and traveling the world, I was actually one of the best on tour. My friends would always ask me to help them with stuff and help translate things, and I actually came to America twice, and I played a series of the 10ks and 25ks two years in a row.

And so I had some basics, and I felt quite confident. Coming to us and trying to learn in English and sitting in lectures and hearing them in English was tiring. And back in the day, we didn't have translators like Google translate, you can now translate with many different apps. You had the old dictionary; you had to look up every single word.

And so I remember still, like yesterday, coming back from the classes, trying to figure out the homework and translating words one at a time, looking up things in the dictionary and, uh, sitting in classes and many times just being lost because if you can understand only about 50% of what is being said, it makes it quite difficult to follow nonetheless.

The first six months went by quite quickly. Obviously, it was quite busy and hectic, mainly because of the language barrier. Studying up until midnight and then waking up for 6:00 AM workouts. It was quite intense. And then, after six months, things just got slightly better. You kind of hit the next level, and it got a little bit easier and a little bit easier.

This fits with most tennis players and, for that matter, probably any athlete that really takes that sport seriously. If we set our minds to something, we don't give up easily, so giving up was not an option for me. I ended up having great gear. I ended up being the only one who qualified for the nationals at Stanford at the end of the first year.

I remember like it was yesterday, the tournament and arriving at Stanford, and traveling with my coach to San Francisco. It was a dream. I could never even imagine that there would be someone, such as my university, paying for my ticket to go to a tournament like that. It was such a luxury for me, and so coming to Stanford, The courts were so beautiful. They were so fun to play on. I remember watching Isner, it was his last year playing college tennis. They were playing doubles, and I was just amazed by his serve and the ability to move somebody of his size, being able to be so agile. He has a beautiful game. I remember that was the very first thing I saw when I arrived at Stanford.

Anyways, I ended up competing at the tournament. I won my first round. I remember against Melania Gloria, who played for Fresno State University. I definitely wasn't the favorite. However, coming to the tournament and just having this joy to be there and excitement to play, I showed up, played my game, and ended up winning the match.

And then my second round was competing against Lindsay Nelson from USC, who ended up going all the way to the finals, where she lost against Babos. I was one set up and 4-1 up and serving, and then this thought came up; "if you win these next two points, it'll be five one, and you can actually win this match"

Those of you who have played a sport or tennis specifically know. You never want to project in a match. The key is staying in the moment and being present. And so this thought made me so tense. I started playing defensively, and I ended up losing the match in the third set. And it was devastating, and mainly for a reason because I knew I had the capability to win.

I just lost trust and belief in myself, got hesitant, gave the opportunity an opportunity to gain confidence to come back, and frankly, I couldn't hold my calmness and concentration together. And after the match, I was so angry. I left my back with my tennis coach, and I sprinted to the track and field stadium, and I think I ran like five or six or seven laps as fast as I could to just get the anger out of me.I was just beyond. Upset and frustrated, and I do pity my coach. It was just an awful trip back to Texas, and I think I couldn't talk for about two weeks after this tournament, and it so took me a lot of time to recover. Anyways. Long story short, my freshman year ended up being the best year of my tennis college career for a number of reasons, which I do not feel like going into today.

I just wanted to share a little bit of my college journey, and some of the beginnings, which I believe are never easy, but if we give ourselves a chance. Stay focused and work hard; we can overcome almost anything. And so, taking this into a larger perspective, I've been in this country now for 18 years.

I came here as I shared on a student visa, then did my OPT, then several years of work Visa, and four and a half years on a Green Card.  Becoming American wasn't always the goal I was aspiring for. And looking back, I never really truly cared about maintaining my visa status. I mean, yes, I cared, but I've never stressed over it as much as some of my other friends did.

I always felt that if things don't work out, the opportunity is not here, or the company cannot sponsor me, I'll just go back and figure things out back in Czech.  Life always turns out somehow, and so I felt like I never worried about it too much. . But at the same time, I do realize that it was something that was always in the back of my mind, and really the realization always came after the fact.

It's like when I received the Green Card and work authorization; I realized how much more freedom I was given to choose my own journey. I wasn't tied to just that specific company or position, but I now had more opportunities to choose what I want do and which company I want to work for. It gave me a little bit more flexibility, and so the same feeling, but perhaps even on a greater level, came when I received my citizenship a few weeks ago. I have seen many of my friends previously posting and celebrating about, naturalization and going through the process and how great of an achievement that was, and I didn't fully understand it until I received my certificate.  and there was even something greater when I received my Blue American passport.

I was staring at it for probably about 10 minutes, trying to figure out what it really meant to me. And so, going back to my naturalization day, it was Thursday. I was getting really stressed and tense, and I felt like I was running behind on time, which actually didn't. I was there right at 8:00 AM. , it wasn't really a big deal anyways cuz you actually arrive and just stand in the line full of cars in a parking lot.

And so I was sitting in my car. The lady came, and started asking me questions about my green card to get things ready for that ceremony. So I handed it over to her. I was listening to some relaxing playlists that I have saved for myself that I typically use when I'm driving to work. And I just started crying.I just felt overwhelmed, and all of these 18 years of life and work and effort and perseverance and good and hard times came rushing into my head so vividly. Without getting too emotional, I was finally invited to take the ceremony, which was very anti-climactic. I actually couldn't believe that after 18 years of living in this country, the ceremony was you get out of your car, you stand in a group like a  herd of sheep, 20 or 30 people. Somebody tells the speech, and you say, I affirm. And that's it. I almost couldn't believe that that was it. That one occasion that I worked so hard towards. And really, just reflecting back, maybe my journey wasn't even as hard as some of the other people's journeys. I can imagine there are many people in America that may have had a way harder path to becoming American and perhaps weren't able to the opportunities for themselves due to whatever circumstances they had. After the ceremony, they went to a coffee shop and had a coffee and a dessert, and sat there in silence by myself for about 30 minutes and then went to work. That's a shortcut to my 18 years in America, being now Czech American, which is still a feeling that I'm taking in.

And perhaps the moral of the story is you never know how life may turn out. I never aspired to come to America. I never aspired to play college tennis. I never imagined that I would be here for so long. I never imagined that I would be in the position I am in today. Having the life I've created and I've met so many amazing people; they were kind, warm, and openhearted, and that helped me in so many ways.

Coming from the little country and growing up in the little village,  mostly in the post-communist era, there weren't many opportunities, really. There was no internet back then. Being a kid, there was no way I could ever imagine having this journey of my life. And so wherever you whatever you're doing and whatever may be a hat, I want to invite you to be open to opportunities.

Try not to judge yourself for what you can and cannot do or talk yourself out of opportunities that may be too scary and too scary in a way that you believe you may not be able to achieve them. I truly believe if there's something that scares you, And scares you in the most positive way that it turns your stomach, and you feel uneasy, and you feel like it's something that you may not be able to do or achieve.

That means that there's a little bit of fear telling you to watch out. This is a large opportunity. You may not be able to be successful, and that's just one side of the brain trying to keep you safe, but growth is always outside of your comfort zone. And if there is something big and exciting that is being offered to you and people are opening doors for you, no matter how scared or terrified or hesitant you may be - you take it, accept it with your full heart and passion and talents, and enthusiasm, and put your full effort in. And if you fail, who cares. The reality is we as humans fail way more times and way more often than we succeed. Look at the most successful people. They've succeeded only because they failed faster and more times than perhaps any other people around them.

And the failures are what propelled them forward. I truly find that failure is the only way that helps us progress. We need to go through pain and reflection.  in order to iterate on what we wanna do next. And I believe, even from my own experience, that wins are great; they feel awesome, but the awesome feeling of winning doesn't last that long.

And it's really just a confirmation of all the work and losses you have endured along the way and what you have learned from them. And so if there is another piece of advice I can give you, Don't beat yourself up. It doesn't help. It doesn't work if you fail. Try to be as rational and accurate about it as possible.

Try to evaluate what happened in that situation, that moment. Was it skill? Was it others? Was timing, was it a lack of focus, or just the wrong opportunity?  and take it as a lesson to learn from and iterate so your next step can get you closer to who you wanna be and what you want to do. I will close right here with my contemplation about life's journey, opportunities, failures, and trusting yourself.

Trusting the skill and the effort and the process, and hopefully creating a journey of life that is exciting and fulfilling and brings you joy and success, however, you define success for yourself. So thank you for giving it a listen, and if you have a similar or different journey, I would love to hear it. Please feel free to reach out to me.

You can find all of the links on how to reach me in the show notes. I look forward to you hearing about your experience and how this resonated or didn't resonate with you. Thank you for listening.