It’s one thing to quit when things just get hard. It’s another to surrender when things become cruel and abusive. Through Arwen’s experience playing Division 1 volleyball, she realized firsthand that surrendering is different than quitting. It’s about self-respect. It’s about having people treat one the way that one truly ought to be treated.
Arwen gave up her scholarships to follow a boy who was playing baseball at the University of Washington, where she watched her teammates’ bodies collapse under severe stress and strain due to intense, hours-long workouts. When she was given misguided advice from a head trainer to tell her coach what was happening, their relationship changed for the worse, as he seemed to get sick joy from making her life miserable.
Ultimately, Arwen had to walk away at the pinnacle of her career to avoid further mental and emotional abuse by someone who was supposed to appreciate her. Today’s story is about when enough is enough, how to escape places of deep pain, and how to get help as you work to turn a toxic situation into something better.
Overcomer Playlist Recommendation
Pearls of Wisdom
- Why validation and worth cannot come from another human being, but only from God.
- Why you have to be so careful about the advice you get.
- The difference between quitting and surrendering.
Tweetables“You absolutely do not create winning teams through verbal abuse, belittling, sarcasm. But people will move heaven and earth when somebody encourages them, praises them, when there's camaraderie.” – @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “Let me remind you, you are well able. You are highly capable. You are more than enough. You deserve to be treated well, with kindness, with respect.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “There are people that need you, that need what you have.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet
- Episode 002: It’s Okay To Want To Quit, Just Don’t
- How To Win Friends and Influence People
- She Handled It, So Can You!: An Inspiring and Empowering Financial Guide for Women
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Connect with Arwen Becker
Arwen Becker: So, if you've been listening to any of these podcasts, you recognize that I now have been giving out songs to add to your overcomer playlist. That's what I call it, the list that you really ought to have at your fingertips on your phone whenever you need some encouragement, songs that really do either get you up and going, make you feel powerful, make you feel like you can overcome anything that you can cry to, but also be reminded that you're worthy, and you're wonderful, and you're great, and you are deserving, all of those things. So, I just found a song a couple of days ago, I'd heard it a couple of times, but I just added it to my playlist and it's called Warrior, who doesn't love that, by Hannah Kerr. And I'm not even going to attempt to sing it. Some are just completely out of my range. But I love these words. This is kind of the start of the song:
Staring down the face of fear
Gotta keep breathing
When the negative is all you hear
Gotta keep believing
'Cause in the dark there is a light
Your truth it keeps on burning bright
Brave enough to fight the fight
And shout the battle cry
You'll never stop me, I'm a warrior
When I fall down, I get stronger
Yeah! Come on now. Yes! That's what we want to be. That is what we want to be. So, download that song. It's an awesome song, add that to your playlist, and feel powerful because that's what we should all be doing is feeling our awesome, powerful self.
Arwen Becker: You know, it's one thing to quit when things just get hard. It's another to surrender when things get abusive. That is not quitting. It's about self-respect. It's about having people treat you the way that you truly ought to be treated. I will never forget the day that two of my teammates told me that they had come to my defense and went up and said, “Hey, coach, can we talk to you?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure. What's up?” “Coach, why do you treat Arwen that way?” This conversation followed nearly six months of verbal and mental abuse, which should have been such a joyous season at the pinnacle of my athletic career.
I grew up I played every sport known to man, started competitively swimming when I was seven, and continued with that until I was practicing six days a week. And if you can imagine, totally burnt out by the time I was in sixth grade. And by then I'd already tried gymnastics, which I was taller than my instructor. So, that was kind of like, yeah, that might not be the sport for me, basketball, slow-pitch softball. And then I eventually transitioned out of swimming in sixth grade into junior high sports, where I got the joy of playing volleyball and running track. And it was just like, I was like this, oh my gosh, this kid who just couldn't get enough of whatever I had the options to do at school.
I just continued on in high schools like every sport I could play, basketball, track, fastpitch softball, and certainly volleyball. And it would take me decades later to determine that this real insatiable need that I had to play sports was to hear my coach tell me I was good, to tell me, “Arwen, you're special,” tell me I was valuable, tell me that I was worth something to the people around me because that was lacking at home. I didn't have a dad who was telling me those things. And so, I found that kind of feedback and validation from sports, from teachers, from boys, anybody who would make me feel important.
And what I brought on to the field or the court, or the gym, whatever it might be was I felt it was something I could control. I could control how people thought about me. I thought that, honestly, if I worked hard enough, if I worked long enough that eventually, people would just be like, “Oh, I'm just so impressed by you,” and that would fill a need in me that I was important. And I did that for so much of my life and it worked actually. I wasn't like downtrodden most of my life. I got plenty of feedback. I was the kid in class who got called out to do special projects or I was the captain of the team because I was reliable. I always showed up on time, I stayed late, I didn't complain, you know, all of these things. And so, for much of my life, it really did work until it didn't. And one of the most short-sighted decisions that I've ever made in my entire life was the decision to give up my full-ride scholarship to play volleyball. I had offers to play University of South Florida, which would have been a great place to get a zoology degree, and Colorado State, and instead, I followed a boy that I had dated throughout high school because he got offered to play baseball at the University of Washington.
And so, I made the choice to give up my scholarships which also was the safe thing to do because I didn't have to endure what it was like to detach from my boyfriend and move halfway across the country, all the way across the country to Florida. And so, I made the decision to try out for the University of Washington. And University of Washington is division one volleyball. There ain't no crap here. This is hard stuff. Hard stuff I had no idea how hard it would be.
So, I ended up getting accepted to be a walk-on at the University of Washington. Certainly, I had to have skills to be accepted but they didn't have to pay me. So, it's kind of like getting a really kickass intern that you can basically utilize for free. And so, as I was thinking about that time period I got accepted, I don't know, probably sometime late winter of my senior year in high school and then the panic began to sit in, absolute terror, when I was thinking about starting with all of these scholarships to athletes. So, here I was. We were going to have to start practicing in August and I was the second shortest out of 18 girls. I'm 5’8. I had never been called short in my life, although I do have really big feet. I don't have friends I could share shoes with because being 5’8, you probably would, I don't know, those of you who are 5’8 out there might have a size 8.5 foot, maybe a 9 or something. I got a 10.5, alright? So, thanks to my dad who has a 14A or a double A or something, just narrow skis, and my son Easton is the same way, I got some long feet. They give me some really good balance.
And it's kind of funny because in volleyball, my coach in eventually my 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, but my 9th-grade year when I played club ball, my coach, my select coach actually was the University of Washington coach at the time. She was a woman. Amazing. Debbie Buse was her name. And the way in which she identified where to put players at that time was by looking at the size of their feet because a lot of girls haven't finished growing necessarily in 9th grade or 8th grade as we were getting into 9th grade. And so, she looked at my feet and figured I would be much taller. I should have been groomed to be a setter. That would have been the best place for me but I had these big feet and so I was groomed to be an outside hitter. So, I digress. Anyway, so here I was. Now, the coach that replaced her, this man is at the University of Washington. So, here I am, I'm walking on as second shortest out of 18 girls. And so, that meant we had 12 girls who had full-ride scholarships and six of us did not. It was all or nothing, okay? And as I thought about in preparation for going there, I was absolutely convinced that these girls were going to be bigger, they were going to be better, they were going to be stronger, they were going to be more prepared. And I was terrified.
And so, I took it to task that summer. So, I called up my coach and I asked him, “Well, what are the workouts that I can do this summer to get me prepared?” And he directed me to the head trainer for the football track, and of course, the volleyball team. And so, the head trainer sent me this workout and I printed it off on my printer and it was literally an inch thick. I'm not kidding. This thing was so thick. So, there were all these different lifts in there that I really had no idea what they meant but I just started plowing through the workout. I did the things that I knew what they were. I knew what a bench press was. I knew what squats were. I knew what deadlifts were, things of that nature. And so, I just started going through this workout. So, by the time I graduated high school in early June, and then I had to report to the University of Washington for practice was about one-and-a-half months and there was no way, no way I was going to be ready but I had to try, right? I didn't have any other options, I was going to the U.
So, I woke up six days a week, I ran for about 30 minutes in the morning. And then at some point during the day, I would hop on my bike and I would ride the mile-and-a-half to my high school because they still let me go there to be able to work out in the gym. And so, the workouts in this manual took me about, I don't know, about an hour-and-a-half, sometimes two hours at a time. They were exhausting but I was driven out of this fear and this fear was out of failure. I didn't want to fail but it was also this fear for the future pain that I might feel. And then also just I could see this video that I was creating and playing in my mind that these women were going to be taller, they were going to be faster, they were going to be able to jump higher, and they were going to get their school paid for which kind of made me feel like a schmuck too. In comparison, they were somehow better than me.
So, I'll never forget the first day that I arrived. I came on campus and two of the scholarship freshmen had just arrived at the same time that I did. I had seen them both play at a year in a select tournament in California. They were both from Southern California. And so, of course, I had convinced myself that all these things about them that, of course, didn't end up being true. They were very nice people. But I remember they said, "Hey, why don't you come out with us and have some lunch before we go and check-in?” and so I was like, “Okay. This is great.” So, I remember sitting in this restaurant across the table from the two of them and I said, "So, did you guys work out this summer?” And one of the girls said, “Yeah, you know, I ran a little bit and played some volleyball.” And the other girl said, “Yeah, pretty much I just played quite a bit of beach volleyball this summer and that's about it.” And so, I responded with, yeah, with something that most girls don't say to other girls. I said, "So, how much can you bench press?” which still makes me laugh that I even said that. But, yeah, I did say that. And both of them just kind of like looked at me a little bit puzzled and they're like, “I don't know.”
And so, we ended up leaving there. We checked in with the team. And, of course, we had things that we needed to do. We got all of our gear from the equipment guy and then we had to report the next day with the head trainer and certainly with our coaches. And so, the next day, we headed into the gym to meet with the head trainer and that was the same guy that I had received this inch thick workout from. And I found out pretty quickly that most of the other girls weren't prepared. So, by the time that I had entered the U, I could bench press 145 pounds. To give you context, if that's not something you do, that's the traditional 55-pound bar you would see somebody bench press with, with the largest 45-pound plates, sorry, those of you who are Canadian listening to this, well, pretty much everywhere else in the world, kilos would be way easier to do. And actually, we had to work out talking about kilos. That was what we had our workouts in. It wasn't in pounds so it's ridiculous. Anyway, metric’s way better. Anyway, so here we go. So, the 55-pound bar with two 45 the biggest plates on each side. So, that's what 145 pounds is.
So, here, there were these high-level division one, scholarship athletes that couldn't bench the bar, 55 pounds. And I was dumbfounded. I was completely floored. And I have to admit little, no, probably a lot proud and pretty puffed up at that moment. And so, this started the absolute slaughter that we were doing now because we got shipped somewhere. This was something they did. They didn't tell you where you were going. You got shipped for a week somewhere and you got to figure out and understand what a three-a-day feels like. So, we went to [Camper Kayleb – 17:51] and we started doing these three-a-day workouts and people were laid out. It was awful. And the part of many high-level teams, actually, many teams in general, really good coaches, and I think even to this day, it's a useful coaching style but if one person fails, the entire team starts over. That's how you build this understanding of how we come together as a team. One person, we're as good as our weakest link, right? So, oftentimes, Bill Gillespie, I love this man. He could squat nearly 1,000, actually, I think maybe even over 1,000 pounds. It was the craziest thing I've ever seen.
But he would say, "If you need to throw up, there's a can over there,” and he would point to the big black garbage can that there were many of them stationed around the big workout facility at the University of Washington. And it happens. I've never been pushed physically to that space that I was my freshman year. So, we continued these three-day workouts. And as we were approaching our first preseason trip, my coach told me which I had kind of expected that I was going to redshirt, which means that you practice and you do everything with everyone else but you don't play any of the games that season. It's very common. It's very common a lot of times for even scholarship freshmen. Well, fast forward a little bit in the story. I did end up playing every game that year.
So, I went ahead, I said, “Yeah, I’ll redshirt. That's fine.” And so just took his lead and continued on. And so, the 13 athletes went to this trip, this preseason trip, and they returned from this trip and many of them had significant injuries. And I remember Bill Gillespie took us into the gym and we got a massive beat down when they returned. It was awful. I remember doing lunges, walking lunges with the 55-pound bar raised over my head for I don't even know how long we had to go. Yeah, and then when somebody failed to complete it, then we started over. And we did it again and people threw up and it was awful. And here we were, here I was getting beat down for the performance of my team when I wasn't even on that trip. That's part of being in a team, right?
So, they returned from this trip, and a couple of days later, I was in the gym for just these typical workout routines that we had to do on our own, and the head trainer for the gymnast and the baseball players, she pulled me into her office. And we started talking and she was a really nice gal and she was like, “Man, what is going on with your team? It seems like there's a ton of people who've gotten injured. What's the deal with that?” And I just answered authentically. That's the thing. I'm just going to give you the facts as I see them. I'm not going to make something up. Sometimes I wish I was better at that but that's just not my style. So, I just told her the truth. I was like, "They didn't work out during the summer.” And of course, I knew that because I was on a team with them. I talked to them. We had to live in dorms together. We had to be on these trips. We had to go to hotels and live in these little cabins while we were doing these three days and getting all beat together, right? And eating hotdogs and horrible camp food and, you know, it was just terrible.
And so, I just told her the story and yet, of course, when the coach was asking, they were telling a different story. It's pretty easy to lie about fitness until you get into the frickin gym, right? Until your body is now being put under such severe stress and strain due to these extreme workouts that we had and being pounded hour by hour. I mean, three days meant we had three hours in the morning, we had three hours in the afternoon, and we had two hours at night. We did that for seven days. You can't fake fitness at that point, right? And these are the words that would alter the trajectory of my life at that point forever. She said, "You know what you need to do? You need to tell your coach that.” So, those were the words that I was being given by one of the head trainers to tell my brand new division one volleyball coach that he hadn't prepared his athletes over the summer or I guess that's certainly probably how he would have heard it. I honestly don't recall how I delivered that message but I do recall the fallout that came the months after.
From that moment, my relationship with him completely changed. Every time I would come to practice, I remember at one point, I had a chemistry class that it was the only time I could take that class so I had to get clearance from them that it was going to cause me to be like 10 minutes late to practice. So, I would come in and I would run up to him and I'd say, "Okay, coach, where should I go?” And he would look at me just with this look on his face and say something really snarky like, “Where do you think you should go?” Or when the ball would hit the floor, okay, because in volleyball the ball is not supposed to hit the floor on your side, right? So, we would get punished if that happens. If somebody was supposed to go for a ball and they didn't attempt to go for the ball and they just looked at it because maybe they expected somebody else or they hesitated or whatever and they didn't put a significant effort to go for the ball, what would happen is he would say, "Gather the balls,” and, I mean, it's like all the air in the room would be sucked out. Everybody would be like, “Oh, shit.”
And that meant all 18 of us had to go shag every single ball. It was there, put them all in the bins, wheel them up to the coach. And then that one person who he felt even if three people sit around, he would often pick the one person he felt should have got it. And then he would, I guess I would call it, punish them. And that meant taking that section of balls and continually hitting them at the person, throwing them as far across the gym as you could possibly go, and you had to go for it. It wasn't like you could pretend, no, you had to go for it. And then he would just drop one in front of them and he would do this thing until you were exhausted and everybody had to watch it. Well, for me, when that would happen, he would punish me for an extended period of time. Yet there were girls on my team who were, I don't know, didn't try very hard, I'll just say it that way, who were able to get by on their height and just their natural talent, not actual effort. He wouldn't do that to them. And he would do it to me and you could just tell he got this sick joy out of punishing me.
And yet he would stand there. When we would talk, he would talk to the rest of my teammates with respect, give them encouragement until he locked eyes with mine, and you could just see he loathed me. And it got so bad one time, I can recall coming to practice and telling the assistant coach I needed to go to the bathroom or I just went in there and I just cried. And I literally made myself physically sick so I could be dismissed from practice so I could go back to my dorms. I hated the way that I felt and I hated what he was doing to my confidence. I was wishing for an injury that never came. I begged God, "Please give me an injury so I wouldn't have to feel like I quit.” Finally, my teammates, I can remember the day that one of my teammates, Dana, came to me and she told me that she had talked to my coach. And she and another girl, you know, she was bold and she was outspoken and just a real strong personality, didn't care as much as I do about what other people thought and just a really strong, bold personality. And she was a freshman too and she pulled him aside and said, “Why do you treat Arwen like that? You don't talk to anybody else like that.”
And he made some excuse, you know, thought I had a big mouth, didn't know my place. And it was because of one piece of advice that I was given from a trainer, somebody who should have known better to not tell me to deliver that to my coach. Here I was at the absolute top, I was at the tip, the pinnacle, the echelon of my athletic career and it turned into something so ugly and painful. And I just had to finally know when to surrender but I didn't quit.
I knew that I was no longer going to be physically, mentally, and emotionally beat down into the f*cking ground by somebody who was supposed to appreciate me and be kind to me. And it took me so many years to get over that verbal abuse. And I learned a very valuable lesson that day that it took me nearly a decade to really understand and that was my validation and my worth cannot come from another human being. Only God provides me that. And that's a risk and the risk that I ran was that I was invincible, and I was capable only when people commended me and celebrated me and loved me, and yet became incapable, lacking in confidence, and worth and importance and value when somebody didn't feel I deserved it.
Next, I realize you have to be very careful about the advice that you're given. You know, as I look back, I recognize full well that I was not in any position, gosh, as a freshman, especially as a walk-on freshman, oh my gosh, I was in no position with this new relationship to be giving any direction to my coach no matter how accurate it was. You know what I'm saying? That that trainer, she should have pulled him aside and said, "Hey, I've talked to some of your athletes but not me.” And then third, there's a difference between quitting and surrendering. I felt so much shame that I didn't talk to my teammates that I didn't feel that I warranted being engaged in what was going on with the University of Washington Volleyball because I felt that I had quit. And I recognize now and my second podcast, It's Okay To Want To Quit, Just Don't is what it's called, I definitely recommend you go back and listen to it. But quitting is when things get tough and you're tired and you're weak but you know deep down inside that you still have what it takes to overcome and you're not being mistreated where you're just questioning whether or not you have the staying power. That was what quitting was for me, okay?
Surrendering is when you recognize the situation has become toxic and detrimental and is not good for your overall health. You know, even after he was confronted by this continual verbal abuse of me on a very regular basis, he didn't change his behavior. He doesn’t give a flying s**t about me. I was expendable in his opinion and it's no surprise that he was fired years later for poor performance. You absolutely do not create winning teams through verbal abuse, belittling, sarcasm. Athletes, kids, spouses, employees, they don't respond to that. Not long-term. People will in the short term. They don't want to get there out of fear. They'll comply but not long-term. But people will move heaven and earth when somebody encourages them, praises them, when there's camaraderie. When they want to quit, they know it's hard but they know that they're being backed up by the team that's beside them, behind them, around them. Be that person. Be that person that lifts other people up. As for beautiful you, let me remind you, you are well able. You are highly capable. You are more than enough. You deserve to be treated well, with kindness, with respect.
There are people that need you, that need what you have. Those are the people you need to go find and surround yourself with. But if your situation has turned toxic and abusive, it's absolutely okay to move on and to surrender into something better. But please, please, please, please remember, I am not a therapist. I have sought professional therapy for more than half of my life. So, seek help from a professional if you're in a place of deep pain and difficulty. A trained outside perspective can really help you determine if the strain and the difficulty that you need to work through is just that, it's just difficult, and hard and you just need to be encouraged or if it's abuse that you need to be removed from, that you need to remove yourself from. So, please, please, that is what trained professionals or pastors are there to do.
Arwen Becker: All right. So, finally, a piece of financial wisdom, have at least three months of expenses saved. A lot of different people will talk about upwards of 12, maybe even 18 months. That's a pretty big stretch, right? But at the very least, I think a lot of us have seen that and going through COVID having at least three months of expenses saved up. So, if you did lose a job, if something, some sort of health crisis came about that you would have money to pay your rent, or pay your mortgage, be able to make sure that you can pay childcare and any of the things you need. So, having three months of expenses saved. One of the great ways to do that, for most of you out there is even at your employer, when you signed up to get a paycheck usually there is a place on that form where they gave you the option to split it between multiple bank accounts, having 100% go in your checking account or maybe 10% going into a savings account. I would absolutely recommend if you don't have that set up having that done at the company level. Talk, go in, and see whoever your payroll person is and update your paycheck. So, at least a small percentage, you know, maybe that's 5% is going into an outside account, maybe even outside of your bank so you don't see it when you log on to see how much is in your checking account. Really, really important to be able to have that emergency money set aside for crazy things that happen. This is not vacation money. This is when something outside of your control occurs, a car breaks down, again, loss of a job, things of that nature. It just provides you some peace of mind.
A book, gosh, you know, when I followed this boy to college and then eventually found myself divorced at 24, he had all the friends so I didn't have any friends at that point. I had to start over. So, there was a book that really I've read a couple of times. I haven't read in a lot of years, but How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I don't even know how old this book is but it is such a timeless classic and I think back to two pieces that I remember from it. One is a chapter called Smile. Okay. That's pretty simple. Just smile, right? You can tell I'm smiling right now, right? And that just goes such a long way. Of course, it's hard because a lot of us are wearing masks these days but smile at people. It does wonders for them. And then the other piece that I remember from it is you don't correct people at a dinner party unless the factoid that they're giving might actually hurt people. Because all you do is now hurt the ego of the person who's talking and it kind of makes you look like a jackass. So, I just remember those two things and I haven't read those books probably in 20 years. So, I probably ought to. Those are really great books.
And then a final quote, “Just because you can doesn't mean you ought to.” Okay, I'm going to repeat that. This has just been such a powerful quote for me for decades, “Arwen, just because you can doesn't mean you ought to.” Now you get to say your own name. Ready? Go. “Just because you can doesn't mean you ought to.”
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