BY MARTA MENEGATTI
In partnership with The Owl Post
This long and unprecedented quarantine has strengthened in me the idea that to do something, anything, I always need a plan.
A precise, detailed plan, where everything has already been determined and organized.
It can be for a day or a year; it doesn't matter, but I need it.
Because it's the uncertainty that destabilizes me.
I need a plan, then, to be able to perfectly focus on the finish line, and to search for perfection.
I grew up with the belief that everything must aim to perfection, that if it is not perfect then it is not enough.
But reality and popular wisdom teach that perfection does not exist as such, it is only a crystallized ideal, towards which one should stretch their ear to build a better present than this.
Like a utopia, tailor-made for each of us.
It could never exist, but we never stop looking in that direction for inspiration anyway.
When you have finally worked out your plan and decided what perfection you're trying to achieve, that's when a gap forms between the two, right in the middle.
It is an empty space, which can be a black hole or a window illuminated by the sun, and it is right there that expectations are born.
The main problem with expectation is that it comes equipped with an uncontrollable and powerful imagination.
Whether your world view is optimistic or not, the expectations that are its daughters always bring everything to the limits of extreme consequences.
Positive thinking suddenly becomes an evocative Pindaric flight that flirts with the impossible.
The negative one, on the other hand, becomes an unrealistic and alarming descent into hell.
Then, when you really get to the end of your plan, you also unveil expectation's second flaw: she's picky, nothing is ever enough for her, because, basically, she didn't know exactly what she was looking for.
The great thing about having a plan, however, is that when you start getting tired of following all the rules, you can crumple up the lead sheet and, at last, start improvising, composing a new song.
After all, it is not by reading a music staff that the best tunes have been created.
I grew up in a small country village and when I was a child I couldn't see anything but its limits.
I could never have reached the top by staying there, I said to myself.
Like many, like everyone perhaps, I decided to move searching for my perfect symphony, and I went to Ravenna to play volleyball.
One hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, but it already felt like a chaotic metropolis to me.
My first major obstacle was understanding how the bus route map worked. They went at any hour and to any destination, while at home, home with a capital H, there was just one, which first came and then went.
When I was asked to switch from volleyball to beach volleyball, it took me some time before I accepted.
It wasn't part of my plan; it wasn't what I had left home for.
Even my unconscious seemed to be sailing in the opposite direction, as always.
My parents say that I started walking very early; at 10, 11 months I was already walking around with a brisk pace throughout the house.
But the first time I put my little foot on the sand, I was so shocked that I sat on the ground, with my legs and arms crossed, because I did not trust that unstable ground.
I needed solid surfaces, predictable and fully controllable realities.
A few years, and a few centimeters later, an observer saw me playing on the beach with my friends and asked me to play a different sport.
He was a regional recruiter, and I clearly saw the belief in his eyes, but I was still the one of the plan, the expectations to be respected and perfection as the sole purpose.
I began to appreciate sand with its strange rules; I grew up until I got to the doors of the national team. Finally, I ended up falling in love with the dream they were drawing for me because it was an Olympic dream that I could hardly ever have achieved with volleyball.
The London Olympics were still quite far away and so we started a new journey. The most difficult thing for me hasn't been adjusting my goals, but learning how in beach volleyball you can never, and I mean never, plan anything.
It is a team sport, but it is packed with individual responsibility.
The couple must function in complete harmony, and this can only arise from the free expression of one's own self.
But there are two of us doing it and, for this, you are not allowed to control everything. The only way is to accept it and live with it, even when you would like to look to the ground and see a safe route that has already been traced on paper.
I brought my perfectionist attitude into a sport in which plain improvisation plays a giant role.
Of London 2012, for example, I keep bittersweet memories.
We placed fifth, losing to Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, who then won the gold medal, adding yet another piece to the mosaic of an extraordinary career.
I was young, promising, and that experience should have opened for me the doors to a bright future.
Yet, I only remember my insecurity, my nervousness, and the feeling of how everything around me was much bigger than me, impossible to match up with the expectations that I had created.
There is no better teacher than time and luckily I wasn't short on that. From London onwards, I learned to appreciate the wild beauty of my sport and its absolute unpredictability.
I also learned to compromise with things that are not under my direct control, because these only are only capable of draining my energies.
Four years later, with Rio 2016 around the corner, I was such a different person that I managed to enjoy a magnificent experience even amid all the difficulties we had to face.
A few days before the beginning of the Games, everything was turned upside down due to force majeure. Laura and I faced the competition reinventing completely our volleyball and playing both out of our role.
But my spirit was light and my mind clean, because I was enjoying the present as I had never done before.
A part of me will always remain deeply tied to the visceral and totalizing way I have of living expectations and of suffering for my failure to achieve them.
But beach volleyball has taught me that not everything follows a straight line, that sometimes beauty is hiding behind the unexpected, and that my plan sometimes needs improvisation to share with others the full force its notes are capable of.