Lily Zhang On Embracing Change

Change can be scary. Daunting. Intimidating. I have often struggled with the fear of changing and dealing with the consequences of choosing the “wrong” path. After the 2016 Rio Olympics, I was very determined and set on doing the traditional thing – finishing my degree, getting a stable job in San Francisco, basically, taking the safe and easy route that had been laid out for me from the very beginning. Yet, during my last semester at UC Berkeley, something just didn’t feel quite right. I realized I was so averse to pursuing a professional career in table tennis because of the extensive change it would bring, as well as the looming prospect of failure. There is an immense amount of risk involved; in fact, it’s virtually unheard of to go pro in table tennis in America.

Then, I remembered something my professor had said in my emerging adulthood developmental psychology class. Emerging adulthood is a time of identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling-in-between, and possibilities/optimism. As an emerging adult myself, I felt like I could relate to every single one of these features. Luckily, my professor was able to provide some insight into how to deal with such ambiguity. She urged us to live meaningfully and mindfully. After all, it’s easy to brush past seemingly trivial things in our day to day life, but when it comes to deciding what we want to do for the rest of our lives, how are we qualified to make such an important decision without the necessary experience? Thus, she told us to pay attention and collect data. Pay attention to what makes you feel alive, what sparks joy in you, and collect data on it. For me, that was table tennis. The excitement, the pressure, the nervousness, the pure thrill of adrenaline – I couldn’t find that in anything else in my life.

And just like that, the start of 2019 began with some pretty significant changes for me. I graduated from UC Berkeley, started my transition into a full time professional athlete, and changed sponsorships to JOOLA. I must admit, changing sponsors was a big deal to me. I had grown quite comfortable with my previous sponsor and once again, I was hesitant about switching paths. To kick the new year off, JOOLA hosted a PR media and training camp during the beginning of January in Karlsruhe, Germany and I was scheduled to attend. I had just completed our U.S. National Team Physical Training Camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and left straight from Colorado Springs to Germany. There were more than a few hiccups during the journey – missed flights, several wrong and delayed trains, and just overall travel stress/panic. Exhausted and anxious, I finally arrived to Karlsruhe after more than 28 hours of traveling. My head was racing with thoughts. Was this already a sign that things wouldn’t work out? Would I fit in with the JOOLA team? It was a rocky start, but I soon discovered that my doubts and anxieties were unfounded.

First of all, the JOOLA staff was an absolute delight to work with during the camp. I was lucky enough to already know and have interacted with much of the staff from various tournaments in the U.S., so I felt comfortable from the get-go. We had a fantastic time shooting promotional videos, taking photos, conducting the interviews, and bouncing ideas off of each other. I got to see what went into operating a PR camp and was able to learn new skills and techniques from the staff. Any second thoughts I had faded away with each passing day and even though I had only been there for such a short time, it already began to feel like home.

Furthermore, it was incredibly cool and humbling to be part of the same team as some of the best players in the world, including Georgina Pota, Petrissa Solja, Thiago Monteiro, Daniel Habesohn, my very own teammate, Wu Yue, and many more. I can’t even tell you how many Olympics, European Championship medals, Pan American Championship medals, and other prestigious awards are collectively shared between all of them. But beyond the accomplishments, everyone was super welcoming, warm, and easy to get along with. Additionally, I had the opportunity to interview every athlete and I noticed a common theme amongst their answers. When I asked why they chose JOOLA, they all, in their own words, affirmed that JOOLA is more than just a sponsor. JOOLA is like a family. This company’s support is unparalleled – not only do they care about their athletes’ performances on the table, but arguably more importantly, they genuinely care about their athletes’ health and well-being off the table. Such strong consensus can only mean that JOOLA is a company that stands behind their athletes every step of the way. While I am still uncertain of many things in this emerging adulthood stage, I am now more motivated than ever and confident that JOOLA will be a fantastic fit for me.

So yes, change is still terrifying to me. But change can also be wonderful. I feel ready to embark on this new chapter in my life and embrace the change that comes with it.

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