By Alyssa Michalke
“Why?” A short, simple question that often calls for a long, involved answer. When someone has accomplished something significant or made a life-changing decision, people aren’t just interested in what or how. They want to know why it happened. What was the person’s mindset while pursuing this goal? What inspired or motivated? Why?
The answer, carefully crafted, can leave the reader in awe of the person’s drive, determination, intelligence, wisdom, maturity, perseverance, and/or work ethic – believing that he or she was blessed with these attributes to such an extent that others could find it difficult to achieve this level.
This past two years, I have been asked numerous “why” questions. Why did I choose to come to Texas A&M? Why did I major in engineering? Why did I join the Corps of Cadets and then, apply to be the Corps Commander? Why did I try out for the Texas A&M women’s basketball team? I gave the answers the reporters wanted to hear. A&M provides a quality education both inside and outside the classroom. An engineering major leads to a challenging career that impacts the world in a positive way. The Corps strives to grow and develop students into better individuals and more effective leaders. The Corps Commander leads an organization I had come to love and works alongside exceptional student leaders on a daily basis. The women’s basketball team loves the sport and the privilege to represent Texas A&M as student-athletes.
While those last two answers are completely true, there’s actually a much simpler, and shorter, answer, one that better explains my mindset when applying to lead the Corps and try out for the basketball team. It’s two simple words: “Why not?”
“Why not?” is much more than a question or even the answer to a question. It’s a mindset, one that I embraced in my sophomore year in the Corps with the help of an incredible mentor. I was planning to apply for a leadership position, but was content with staying within my Corps unit instead of applying for the Corps Sergeant Major position. I mentioned that to one of my upperclassman mentors whom I had come to respect, and he asked me why I was content to stay with the unit instead of applying for the top junior-level spot in the Corps? I told him that I was unsure if I was capable of filling the position and I didn’t want to take a job that I couldn’t do. He told me that the selection committee wouldn’t put me in a leadership position if they weren’t confident I could perform the job’s duties.
“Why not?” he said. “What’s the worst they could tell you? ‘No, you didn’t get the position’? If they do, you just work even harder next year and prove they made the wrong decision.”
As I walked away from that conversation, I had a new outlook on life and the goals I had set for myself. Using that mentality, I applied for the Corps Sergeant Major position and underwent multiple mock interviews with my peers and upperclassmen to prepare for the real interview coming up in a few weeks. Even though I kept having doubts about my qualifications for the position, I continued to prepare for the interview. Why not? Was I really that afraid of the word “no” that I wouldn’t apply for the position?
Although the interview was more difficult than I had imagined, I received word a few days later that I would be serving as the Corps Sergeant Major for the 2014-2015 school year. I would work directly with the Corps Commander, Deputy Corps Commander, and Corps Chief of Staff. My primary goal would be to develop and review training plans that would help cadets accomplish the vision and goals set forth by the senior leadership of the Corps. I knew the year would be difficult, as I would be juggling challenging engineering classes and my responsibilities in the Corps. However, my parents did an exceptional job of instilling a blue-collar work ethic in me, and I used that to my advantage throughout the year. There were a few moments when a challenge made me pause and evaluate my ability to overcome it, but my newfound “Why not?” mindset took over, and I overcame those obstacles more often than not.
In January of my junior year, the time came again to apply for leadership positions within the Corps. The option to apply for Corps Commander was there, but I hesitated to check the application box. I had seen how well the current Corps Commander had led the Corps, developed a great vision for the Corps, implemented policies to help accomplish those goals, and worked with cadets across the Corps to improve our organization. I was doubtful of my ability to perform all of those duties as well as he had. However, a small voice in the back of my mind kept whispering “Why not?”, so I decided to check the box, prepare for the interview, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
A week after the interview, I was informed that I would have the privilege to serve as the Corps Commander for the 2015-2016 school year. I was honored, but also anxious. I knew I had quite a bit of work ahead of me, and I placed pressure on myself to be the best Corps Commander I could possibly be.
Thankfully, I was blessed to work with incredible leaders on a daily basis, all of whom shared my love for the Corps and the cadets within it. We worked tirelessly to improve the organization, trying new training styles and plans that differed from the previous years. There was often some skepticism before trying something new, but I did my best to inspire my peers with my “Why not?” attitude. I often reminded them that the worst thing that could happen would be a dressing-down from one of our military advisors, after which we would explain what we had intended to happen and improve the process in the future. I wish I could say that every new operation we attempted went smoothly, but that wasn’t the case. However, we learned substantially more than expected from those faulty training sessions, and were able to better improve future training which benefited cadets substantially more.
My “Why not?” attitude carried over when I decided to try out for the women’s basketball team. I attended multiple home games throughout my senior year, and really enjoyed the energy, passion, enthusiasm, and love for basketball that I saw in all the Aggie players and coaches. I knew the team had hosted walk-on tryouts in the past, and also knew that I would have a substantial amount of free time over the summer to train for the tryouts. I remember mentioning this to my parents, and while they were both extremely supportive of my decision, they both asked why I was planning to tryout.
My answer: Why not?
I applied that same workmanlike attitude to my workouts over the summer. I was in the weight room and gym six days a week, working on getting stronger, faster, and becoming a better basketball player. I watched WNBA games on my laptop, trying to improve my knowledge of the game. After watching those games, I often shook my head in disbelief. Was I crazy for wanting to try out for a well-known, highly-respected Division I program headed by a Hall of Fame coach? How could I possibly compete with these amazing athletes and highly-talented basketball players? Was I sure about this decision? These questions continued to bombard me after every training session. Eventually, I grew tired of the self-doubt, so I bought a roll of duct tape and a sharpie. I wrote “Why not?” on numerous pieces of tape and placed them above my bathroom mirror, the doors into and out of my apartment and bedroom, and the steering wheel of my truck. I also changed the background of my phone, and wrote “Why not?” on the sides of my shoes and my wrists during training sessions. It served as a constant reminder to pursue this goal, no matter how difficult it became.
Once I came back to Texas A&M and started school again, I had less free time than I had over the summer, but still made it a point to get into the gym and weight room on a consistent basis. Weeks passed with no mention of walk-on tryouts from the basketball team. Every morning when I woke up and every evening before I went to bed, I poured over all of the basketball team’s social media accounts and official web page in hopes of an announcement. I grew a little frustrated as time went by, but tried to maintain a positive attitude. On September 23, I finally saw what I had been hoping and praying for — an announcement regarding walk-on tryouts. Although tryouts wouldn’t be held for another week and a half, I grew extremely nervous and anxious. All of my hard work over the past few months would come down to a 45-minute tryout. Over those next few days leading up to the tryouts, I spent even more time in the gym than before, going both in the morning and evening to lift weights, run, and play basketball.
The tryout day was upon me, and I honestly felt extremely underprepared. I was anxious in class throughout the day, and my focus continuously drifted from the professor’s lecture to the upcoming tryout. I had the time to drive home for a quick bite to eat before the tryout, and as my hand gripped the steering wheel, I felt the adhesive still stuck to the wheel from the numerous strips of duct tape I had utilized over the summer to keep me motivated during difficult training sessions. I reminded myself of the reason why I had chosen to try out for the team: Why not?
Although the tryout itself didn’t go as well as I had hoped, I was blessed to receive a text message a few days later informing me that I would be placed on the practice squad for a few weeks so the coaching staff could further evaluate my skills and ability to play on the team. After a week or two of practice, Coach Blair called me into his office and offered to place me on the team’s roster as a walk-on. He asked me to stay for the entire season, not just the fall semester, even though I was scheduled to graduate in December and start my career in January. “Why not?” I replied with a huge grin on my face.
These past few months with the team have blessed me with a wealth of incredible experiences and memories with an amazing group of people. My teammates have been nothing but supportive and encouraging, and I’ve done my best to return the favor in practice and during our games. Our coaching staff is one of the most experienced and intelligent staffs in the college game, and they have taught us an incredible amount about the game throughout the season, all while pushing us and demanding our best every single day. We’re also blessed with a great group of trainers and managers who sacrifice their time to assist with practice and during road trips.
Even though there have been plenty of tough practices and conditioning sessions throughout the season, ones that left me completely exhausted and made my summer workouts look easy, I constantly remind myself of the incredible privilege I have to be a member of this basketball program at an amazing university. I wholeheartedly believe that it was my “Why not?” mentality, coupled with a great work ethic and character instilled in me by my parents, that allowed me to accomplish these feats. I know life will continue to throw challenges and obstacles in my path, but I look forward to meeting those with the right mindset, a strong work ethic, and a solid foundation in my faith and myself. I will continue to set lofty, challenging goals for myself in both my personal and professional life, and I’m excited to see where the pursuit and accomplishment of those goals will take me. If anybody ever questions why I continue to challenge and push myself to be the best I can be, I know exactly what my response will be…