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How A Volleyball Olympian Learned That Embracing Fear Would Help Her Succeed

From an early age Rachael Adams saw things differently. Where most people saw a brochure as three folds and some words, she saw a brilliant combination of ingredients resulting in a decadent entree of art and presentation.
08/03/2016 10:23am ET | Updated August 3, 2017
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When to Jump, an independent media partner of The Huffington Post, is a curated community featuring the ideas and stories of people who have made the decision to leave something comfortable and chase a passion.

"I remember I'd be on road trips with my teammates in high school and I would get fascinated by brochures," according to Rachael, that's how it all began.

"It's just a brochure, Rachael," they would say.

"But look at the fonts, and the colors and this photo and the lines and," - eventually she would give up.

From an early age Rachael Adams saw things differently. Where most people saw a brochure as three folds and some words, she saw a brilliant combination of ingredients resulting in a decadent entree of art and presentation. She couldn't quite label the skill growing up, referring to it as simply "creative," until a friend introduced her to graphic design. It was just the suggestion she needed.

This was around the time Rachael started looking at colleges and therefore added strong graphic design programs to her selection criteria. She didn't want to take the easy way out. She didn't want to fit any stereotypes about athletes taking easy courses. She wanted to be a complete student-athlete. But that wasn't always the case.

Her sophomore year in high school Rachael failed two classes making her ineligible for the state Final Four which she led her team to. She was right on the border in both classes and really believed she could talk her way into playing. When her teachers stood firm she was devastated.

"It sucked. I let my team down." The team's Final Four loss was a sprinkle of salt in Rachael's wounds. That was when she realized that counting on borderline grades and lenient teachers wasn't worth the stress and embarrassment of letting them down and she dedicated herself to finding ways to do better in school.

She started making things work for her, "I started carrying a notebook. I'm a visual person, I learned that about myself, so I just started writing everything down. Everywhere."

While being suspended for the Final Four was certainly not preferred, Rachael wouldn't be who she is if it hadn't happened, "I needed it to happen. It made me realize that I want to be in control of my life. I can't let my dreams rest in anyone else's hands. I responded. I'm most proud that I responded."

Not only did that setback benefit her on the court (she went on to win state titles the next two years) but it also sparked her interest in the classroom. By the time she graduated, she had made the Honor Roll.

I responded. I'm most proud that I responded.

She wound up at the University of Texas where she taught herself PhotoShop, InDesign, DreamWeaver, anything she could to improve her chances of getting into the Texas Creative Program. One of the top advertising programs in the country, the program "mold[s] students into fearless experimental thinkers" according to its website.

"We basically worked on campaigns," she goes on to explain how the program turns small groups of students into marketing teams with full creative liberty and honest, constructive, immediate feedback. "I'm so happy I went for something I wanted to do."

In the summer of 2012, Rachael was watching the London Olympics when she realized that she had played with or against seven girls on the Team USA women's volleyball team. International volleyball, let alone the Olympics, hadn't yet crossed her mind but once she saw herself compared with Olympians, she wanted to play for Team USA, "I can do it if they can."

Do what you have to do, so that you can do what you want to do."

She talked to some coaches, teammates and friends and within weeks she had secured a contract to play professional volleyball in Poland - the first step in the next leg of her journey.

When not on the hardwood, Rachael's creative juices were able to emerge. From her Instagram posts to the website that she started for professional athletes overseas called Athletes Abroad, she knew she was just tapping into her full potential. While Athletes Abroad was a growing community and a viable resource for professional athletes competing overseas, she still wanted to do something bigger.

When Rachael returned from Poland she tried out for, and made, Team USA. She spent the summer training in Southern California and traveling the world playing volleyball. That's been her life for the last three years: play the fall in Europe, return to the States in the spring and start training with Team USA through the summer.

Inspired by the thousands of fans she has encountered around the world, Rachael recently started her own motivational apparel company called JourneyStrength, "You never know what words will change someone's perspective. I make sure to compliment every little girl when I sign their autograph. You just never know what they'll hold on to." The company is a response to "the relentless pull inside calling her to use her platform to inspire, encourage, share and connect with young women and girls."

With a full schedule as a professional volleyball player, taking on the added responsibility of being an entrepreneur was a big jump. What if she was in over her head? What if late night JourneyStrength orders started effecting her recovery time and rest? What if nobody liked her designs? She didn't want to be the volleyball player turned failed business owner, although she wasn't afraid of it, "The fear is going to be there. You have to accept fear."

She went on to paraphrase a metaphor about how to deal with fear. She later sent me screenshots of the book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Imagine yourself and two others, fear and creativity, are preparing for a road trip. Fear is welcome to come, "I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably." However, only you and creativity are making decisions. "It seems to me the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back."

Of course she has fear -- it would be naive not to -- but she trusts in her preparation. The same way that spending time in the gym and weight room have put her in position to succeed on the volleyball court, the countless hours thumbing through fonts, manipulating images and learning how to get ideas out of her head have prepared Rachael to be a successful entrepreneur.

This week, Rachael landed in Brazil where she will be competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics. Although she has been apart of Team USA for several years, this will be her first Olympics games. While she's in Brazil, her mother and a friend will keep JourneyStrength afloat exploring new designs and filling orders in her absence. She will undoubtedly return to the States to face new challenges both on the court and in business but if she approaches those hurdles with the same fearlessness that she does when approaching the net, she has nothing to worry about. A gold medal might soften the blow too.

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