saying no

Recently my Master asked me if I wanted to do competition (forms and board breaking) or focus on testing for third Dan. Without hesitation I said I wanted to focus on third Dan. Breaking boards is fun as hell, but I’m not interested in competing.

I hate tournaments–they’re crowded, often disorganized, and everyone has a serious case of crankiness. All the micro-confrontations make me extremely uncomfortable. Also, at this point in my life I’ve prioritized my money and free time for other things. Maybe I’ll do a tournament or two in the future for fun…but not the near future.

I might have struggled with that answer in the past, wondering if my answer would determine my fate at that dojang. I’m not very good at being honest about what I want and what I don’t want. It’s taken me nine years to admit to my current manager that I don’t like facilitating training or orientations even though I’m very good at it. She’s known I’ve disliked it for a long time and has taken means to give me other assignments that I enjoy…I’m the only one who thought my likes and dislikes in the workplace were my well-hidden secret.

I’ve also fudged the truth in my personal life to appease teachers and authority figures. When a college advisor in the dance department asked me if I wanted to study dance for myself or to “share it with others” I lied and said I wanted to share it with others. In my nineteen-year-old wisdom I thought she would think I was being selfish if I said I just wanted to learn it for my own pleasure. Instead I said what I thought she wanted to hear, which landed me in a pedagogy class, which I did NOT enjoy.

More recently, it took the better part of a year and ups and downs of still unresolved emotional issues to leave my former dojang and Grandmaster.

I’m angry at myself for making myself so available and accommodating and so freaking good at helping people. I’m worn out.

Ever the people pleaser, I sometimes go past being accommodating and break my boundaries if I think it’ll keep me on a person’s good side. I tell them what I think they want to hear even when they are giving me a choice. That lie feels “safe” even though it’s ultimately destructive. I give up my time and energy and autonomy, and I begin to resent the people I’m so hell-bent on helping. Honestly, it’s a bit manipulative on my part even if I don’t have malicious intentions (and in the case of my job, I LOVE money and benefits more than I dislike anything I do so I put on happy face and did whatever was needed).

Maybe it’s turning forty and overall feeling more in charge of my levels of happiness, or maybe I’m finally in a good headspace where I can be honest about what I want and don’t want. I don’t want to compete. I don’t want to teach taekwondo classes, especially not with white belts or really young children. I want to train my ass off (on the days I’m there anyway), practice and perfect my poomsae, get better at more complicated self-defense, get better at sparring, help lower ranking students when it’s appropriate, and test for third Dan.

At work I don’t want to lead orientations or classes or team building. I don’t even want to do personal coaching anymore, which is something I’ve been hungrily pursuing for years. (Ironically I have several coaching engagements this fall.) I want to write and design, something I’ve been doing all along anyway.

I’m done taking care of people and being responsible for them. I’m tired of being the go-to girl and the people-pleaser. I’m done. Done.

My new outlook will probably push me in the opposite direction for a while. I’ll be more closed-off, questioning, maybe even a little distrustful. It’ll take some time to build new habits and mindsets and find the right balance of protecting my energy and time and giving my services and talents to people in the way that I truly enjoy doing (even though I’m loathe to admit it).

Being a black belt is about bravery, taking a stand, and putting faith in our choices when we know we can’t undo them. We have to think quickly to protect ourselves and get out of a jam. I haven’t been good about that in the past. In some cases my well-intentioned falsehoods have made me feel over-used, and I’ve ended up with results I didn’t like. I want people to like me, and I want a steady income and the opportunity to do things I enjoy, but saying “yes” to everything isn’t the way to do it. It’s taken a while for my black belt bravery to translate from the dojang to the rest of my life.


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Stay tuned for my upcoming book – “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you in Spring 2021!

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