My name is Emily Zhang, and I’m from Brookline, MA. I am currently a junior in high school, and some of my interests include running, public speaking & debate, and playing squash. I chose to write this piece because I think that it’s important to understand that sometimes empowerment can mean not just speaking more, but really using one’s voice to enunciate what their true thoughts, feelings, and opinions may be.
I was in 3rd grade when my gambling career began. I was 8, maybe 9 years old, on an airplane scrolling through all the games on the screen attached to the seat in front of me when I first stumbled upon Texas Hold-em poker. I customized my avatar and entered into my very first tournament, against a table of computer-generated competitors. Naturally, I, having not the slightest clue how poker works, go all in on my very first hand, a 2 and a 5. Ralph? Fold. Nina? Fold. One by one, my computer-generated competitors all fold. So I go all in again. Once more, every last one of my competitors fold, and it turns out the risk I don’t fully understand I’m taking yields great reward.
That same plane ride, my brothers invite me into their Texas Hold-em game. As with every game before that, I go all in on the very first hand. But unlike before, neither of them folds. Turns out, a ‘high card’ is not a good hand, and just like that, my screen goes black. My avatar turns gray, and the words “YOU LOSE” pop up on the screen in bright red.
My whole life, I’ve felt the constant need to go all in, every hand I’m ever dealt. And that’s taken to mean a lot of things. I’ve always felt the need to say “yes,” because if I didn’t, wouldn’t they think I’m rude? A quitter? An improper young woman even? And once I say “yes” to something, it means that I have to give it my all. Going all in all the time meant spreading myself too thin, but convincing myself that one day it would all be worth it because of the idea of the woman I wanted to one day become.
Come high school, I realized that maybe I can’t always do anything and everything. But more than that, I had to learn, and am continuing to grapple with, the fact that I simply don’t have to. Maybe I can join every club, play every sport, try every new thing. Maybe I can go to
school every day tired and maybe I can keep trying to convince myself that that was just the way it was supposed to be. But I didn’t have to.
For me, finding my voice was never about simply speaking more, but speaking up. Learning to use my voice to articulate my thoughts, what I did or did not want to do, and taking charge of my own time, commitments and life.
Today, I still don’t always know when to bow out. I don’t always voice my true opinions even when given the opportunity, and sometimes I still subconsciously think that saying “no” makes me less of a woman. I’m beginning to understand, however, that I shouldn’t always go all in. I’m beginning to understand that if I do, sooner or later, my luck will always run out.
Winning was always pretty cut and dry in poker, but I had to decide what it means in school, friendship, and life. For me, I’ve realized that unlike in poker, “winning at life” is not about winning everyone else’s money, or being the last one remaining, but getting to stay in the game for as long as I can and have a good time while I’m there. And I realized that in order to do that, sometimes, I do have to go all in, even if I’m not sure. But much more important, in poker and in life, is not being afraid to use my voice, and say “I fold.”