Whatever Will Be, Will Be
By Zoe Burns
It was never just about the game. It was about the struggle, the relentless push against the unyielding boundaries of expectation and circumstance. In the intersection of my dad’s passion for sports, and mom’s love for art which breathed life into our everyday, I found myself giving my best performances on the soccer field.
I remember the distinct, almost abrasive sound of the whistle during my high school games, a sound that cut through the air, slicing each moment into a before and after. When I was dropped from Team USA, that whistle marked the end of an era – the before of newfound confidence and the after of self-doubt. My response felt mechanical, an athlete’s reflex: train harder, run faster, tackle stronger. I originally mistook motion for progress, not yet realizing the real journey unfolding in the spaces I tried to fill.
For me, soccer has always been both a field and canvas – where athleticism met artistry, each play akin to a brushstroke, as part of a painting detailing a larger story of both passion and pursuit. I learned in soccer, as in art, each moment takes both participation and appreciation, mirroring life itself. The neighbor, a mentor whose guidance seemed almost inadvertent, illuminated this path. Eight years older than me, she earned a scholarship to play soccer for another Division 1 university. I looked up to her, not for what she did with the soccer ball, but for what she represented: a way forward.
The turning point wasn’t a game or goal; but blowing out my knee just before a global pandemic – a moment that forced stillness onto a life of constant motion. Lying on the field, staring up at the vast indifference of the sky, a clarity emerged: not every aspect of life can be predicted or controlled. The only thing we can control is our response. But the injury was not a pause, rather a redirection. In the recovery that followed, where every small movement meant a small victory, I found a different strength not in trying to dominate the field, but understanding it, in moving with it.
College brought the unexpected. When starting with USC, I moved positions, from the midfielder I had been trained to be, to right-back, a position that demanded not only physical agility and tenacity, but a mental reshaping of how I viewed the game, how I viewed myself. I first embraced the role with detached curiosity, a part of me standing outside, observing, learning. Motivated and inspired by my teammates, I thrived. And suddenly, the Canadian Federation took notice. Playing for Canada in the World Cup became a dream come true – a testament to life’s propensity for irony.
2022 (Taylor Swift year) felt like a chapter that belonged to someone else’s story. The transition from collegiate to professional soccer was less about the change in play and more about the shift in reality. Being a professional can be isolating. It’s a stark contrast to being surrounded by the Trojan family. But in the solitude, I found parts of myself that seemed to be overshadowed by soccer – the artist, the performer. I returned to painting, singing, and exploring the performative aspects of life seeing soccer as not just a sport but a production for an audience. It was, maybe, an odd perspective, but it was uniquely mine – after all, to be number one, you have to be odd.
In my role as Captain, I've come to understand that effective leadership hinges on empathy and insight, not just direction – it's about harmonizing individual strengths with our collective goals. Sustainability anchored my approach to leadership, guiding the next superstars of USC soccer not by force, but by leading by example.
Looking forward, I aspire to not be defined by just goals, tackles, and titles. I want to travel, explore, and contribute to community narratives larger than my own. For me, soccer has become a medium of self-expression – a way to make the most of my capabilities and touch the lives of others.
Whatever will be, will be. Once a passive acknowledgement of fate has become an empowered mindset. It’s a recognition that life’s script isn’t always ours to write in its entirety but ours to fully interpret. In this unpredictability, the uncertainty that I once feared, lies the beauty of our journey, a story that continues to unfold.