You Are Who You’ve Been Waiting For

Catching water reflections (3)

“You are who you’ve been waiting for,” the speaker said with joyful tears in her eyes as she addressed a group of leaders. My colleagues and I were hosting the final event for a program designed for talented leaders in our organization. Our last speaker was reminding them that the future of the organization was in their hands, and the time to act was now.

She had moved up through the ranks in the organization and discovered at one point that her success and her future rested squarely in her hands. New and a little unsure in one of her first leadership roles, she realized she had the opportunity to be the person she always aspired to be and that no one else was going to do the work for her. It was a scary but ultimately liberating feeling. She encouraged everyone in the room to not wait for anyone else to solve problems, make changes, or meet goals. We could all trust and believe in ourselves.

We’ve been told to dress for the professional role we want or “be” the person we want to date. I also recently heard the phrase “water your own grass” rather than always looking longingly over the fence at the metaphorical grass that is supposedly always greener.

That advice could also be ascribed to martial arts: Adopt a black belt mindset when you are a white belt. Develop the heart of a teacher while you are a student. Train your coaching eye while you are learning. Be the type of black belt you admire. Don’t wait for your next class. Begin now.

Sometimes it’s easier said than done to make that type of change when we are nagged by those pesky human emotions of doubt, fear, envy, anger, and attachment. Sometimes those feelings can be overwhelming, and it’s very tempting to be critical of yourself or of others. Sometimes I struggle deeply with those feelings although I choose not to share my pain with anyone–maybe denial is another one on the list, ha ha. It’s easy to blame other people or circumstances, and that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person. It’s just a natural part of being human.

…but…with a little self-compassion, patience, and practice (okay, a LOT of practice) you can begin to change your mindset from one of seeing the world as an adversary to seeing it as an ally. Focus on what you can do and control rather than what you can’t. Pause, observe without judgment, and find ways to get back on track when harmful emotions overtake you. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and doing what you “should” do or having what you “should” have. (I’m still working on that one.) You may not be able to change all the situations or people in your life, but you can immediately change your responses to them.

And isn’t that a wonderful feeling when it begins to take hold? Isn’t it awesome that the person who could change your life is looking out from the mirror at you? You don’t have to wait until the right person, opportunity, project, or amount of money comes along. Change and improvement can begin right now with you.

Water your own grass. Be the person you want to fall in love with. Wrap that proverbial black belt around your waist.

You are who you’ve been waiting for.

Oh Crap, I’m Testing For Second Dan

uh-oh

If all goes according to plan I should be testing for second degree black belt in less than three months. Uhhh….How is this happening now? It seems like time is going too fast! What happened to the last two years?? I’m not ready; I still have so much to practice!!

The irony isn’t lost on me that my test is tentatively set the same day as Saint Jude Thaddeus’s feast day. St. Jude, for those of you not playing Little Black Belt Catholic Edition at home, is the patron saint of desperate cases and impossible situations. I’m gonna need all the help I can get.

So what’s happened in the past two years?

My personal and professional lives have changed and in some ways become more complex they were two years ago, but I know I’m in a much better emotional place. In 2015 I was getting over a difficult breakup and dealing with a very painful acute injury. The six months between bo dan and black belt were lonely and frustrating. Over the past two years I’ve had many ups and downs, and so far I’ve landed more on the “up” side. I have taekwondo to thank for that.

One of the main changes has been my transition not only from a color belt to a black belt, but also from student to instructor. My grandmaster and masters adopted me as a de facto instructor whether I really wanted it or not. (Don’t worry, I wanted it) There was never a formal invitation. It just kind of happened, and the seeds had been planted before I even tested for black belt. My main instructor threw me into simpler things like refereeing when I was a bo dan (black belt candidate). He added more responsibility as time went by, and I got a taste for it. I started showing up to help at lower ranking classes and belt tests, and pretty soon I started showing up every day the dojang was open. They couldn’t get rid of me at that point.

These days rarely a class goes by when he doesn’t throw some assignment at me, and for the most part I can run with it without needing too much guidance. I’ve even taught a few classes by myself. I seem to have a knack for it (being a training and development professional doesn’t hurt) and I put the same effort into my craft as I do in my day job. Both of my “jobs” are based around building relationships and communicating, or at least that’s how I approach them. I think of myself as a caregiver at work and at the dojang. The kids like me, and the parents like me too so that makes my life easier.

All that being said, I still consider myself a student first rather than an instructor. As long as I have higher ranking black belts and masters above me I look to them for my training. I feel like I still have so much to learn and practice, including teaching methods. Maybe I am too self-conscious about my own taekwondo skills to consider myself an adept practitioner because I know what excellence looks like. I know there are things I can improve, and I’m frustrated when my body simply can’t do the things I know are technically correct.

Before you say, “Oh don’t be so hard on yourself,” let me be clear that I’m really not berating or being hard on myself. I know I do a good job and have gotten pretty skilled in the last few years, but once in a while I have a kind of out-of-body experience and wonder what the heck a goofball like me is doing with a black belt. Once in a while it seems weird to see myself in my instructor uniform and belt. Is this who I am now?

Years ago my instructor reminded me that we need challenges or else we become stagnant. I have certainly not become stagnant, even when I’ve hit plateaus or have felt burnt out. I work hard in every class, and I’m always trying to apply something new that I’ve learned. I’m still having fun, even on the difficult nights, so I think I’ve answered my own question as to whether taekwondo would fall by the wayside with my other previous passions that were right for me at the time until…well…they no longer were.

The nice part about being a black belt is that it’s allowed me to be a bit retrospective and work on color belt skills that I now see with a black belt’s eye.

Here are some other things I’ve learned in the past two years as a newbie black belt:

  • I love sparring. It’s kind of like how I enjoy tennis—I’m not great at it, but it’s just fun to do and an incredible workout. I hated sparring so much as a child that I was relieved when my family stopped training. It’s kind of neat how I grew to love it as an adult and even be able to coach and teach other students sparring techniques.
  • Damn, breaking stuff with my hands is a cathartic experience I have never known before or since.
  • Even when I’ve felt frustrated, angry, burned out, or tempted to quit I know taekwondo has been too good of a force in my life to walk away.
  • I love teaching. It’s truly a delight and something I never considered that I would experience when I was an anxious, lonely white belt trying to get my life on track.
  • I hate jump spin kick and always will to my dying breath. I’ll jump snap kick a joker in the face, but I’m not turning around in the air for nothing. My body don’t play. #sorrynotsorry
  • I am a fierce little poomsae queen, and Keumgang (the form I had the most difficult time learning and now one of my favorites) was made for dramatic shorties like me. Y’all wait, a new addition to The Poomsae Series is coming soon! YAAASSSSS!!
  • I love coaching at tournaments even though they are long, incredibly exhausting events.
  • I love helping at belt tests, but I’m always nervous that I’m going to do something dumb. I usually do.
  • My black belt mentality has seeped into how I carry myself in daily life. I’m more outgoing, more engaged with other people, I’m quicker to stand my ground when necessary, and I don’t take little annoyances too seriously. According to my boss, I’m funnier too. Even when I get upset I’m able to power through it just as I can with a challenging fight, tiring tournament, or difficult teaching experience. I’m also even more of an organized monster than I was before.
  • Taekwondo is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and THE main element (along with a few others) that changed my mentality, outlook, and life for the better. There was life before April 1, 2013 (my first white belt class as an adult) and my life after. Life after White Belt has been much brighter and happier.
  • There’s a lot more that I’ve learned, which is why I started this blog in the first place. Happy reading. 🙂

The anticipation for my second dan is different than what I felt before I tested for first dan. First dan felt like a major transition. This seems more like a continuation, adding more depth rather than breadth to my practice. I need more practice on the skills I know I’ll need to demonstrate, and I hope on testing day I have the same eerie calmness I experienced the day of my first dan test. I feel a different sense of responsibility since the expectations as an instructor will increase. I’m excited, but in a different way I’m not sure I can explain at the moment.

I definitely feel even more at home now than I did two years ago. That’s a nice feeling. And rest assured, cupcakes and Veuve Cliquot are happening after my test this year. It’s my black belt tradition.