When Fun Becomes Work: How to Get The Love Back

hiding under covers

Funny, the last tweet that appeared on my blog was an article I’d written for the website BookMartialArts.com titled “How Martial Arts Can Reduce Work-Related Stress.” What happens when martial arts IS the cause of my “work-related stress”?

I found myself in that situation at the beginning of this year. We were shutting down our old dojang and moving to a local community center. Imaging packing up a house you’d lived in for 20 years, chuck it all in storage, and move to an efficiency downtown. Also throw in the fact that you didn’t know from day to day when the new owner of your old trusty home is ready to kick you out and move in. I spent the first week of January working long hours at the office every day and spending every evening sorting, packing, cleaning, and commiserating with the other black belts. I was also making myself sick with worry trying to keep parents and students informed of our changing schedule. No one asked me to do it. I just decided that’s what needed to be done.

I also had a lot of demands at work: do this presentation, set up these classes, go to a staff meeting at a clinic, make an appearance at a big leadership retreat. Facilitate new employee orientation for 80-100 people every week. For someone who clearly prefers (and NEEDS) introversion I have a very people-focused job that requires me to do a lot of talking and being “on stage” whether it’s teaching a class or conducting a consulting meeting. I’m weirdly very good at it, mostly very satisfied with my job, but sometimes I absolutely hate it. It’s exhausting, so I take every little break, down time, day off, whatever solace I can, even if it’s just hiding in my office for a day. I don’t want to quit, but once in a while I get overwhelmed need a change.

That’s how I began to feel about taekwondo. After all these years it had finally felt like “work.” I’m good at what I do, enjoy it very much, but I was exhausted and starting to hate it. The first time I realized that I was near tears. I’d had plenty of moments of not feeling like going to class, but unless I was sick and truly needed to stay home, I always ended up feeling better once I got there. This one particular evening I felt in my gut I did not want to go. I didn’t want to quit, but I was overwhelmed and needed a change.

I drank a lot of wine in January and February.

I’m still coming down from two months of feeling stretched thin, sad, and worn out from over-stimulation. Here are some things I did that may help you if you’re dealing with the same love/hate situation and if you’re an introvert like me who seriously needs everyone to f*ck off once in a while:

Take a break, whatever that looks like
I’ve scheduled some random days off from work this month, and I already feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. As if the Universe was listening (it was), I’m in somewhat of  a self-imposed exile at home right now. I’m having some unplanned construction being done at home because my crappy glass tub enclosure decided to fall apart, so I’m hanging out in the Fortress of Solitude while two guys tear up my master bathroom. I’m still accessible to my coworkers and clients (and they sure do know how to find me), but I get to enjoy working in my sunlit home office, not wearing shoes and makeup, making fresh smoothies when I need a snack, and most importantly, NOT TALKING TO ANYONE unless I choose to. I have a few conference calls and possibly an in-person meeting at the end of the week. No presenting. Awesomesauce.

I’ve also taken about two weeks off taekwondo and concentrated on my workouts at the gym. This week I was finally excited about going back to taekwondo class. It felt fun again.

Maybe you can’t take time off from work in the same way, so take breaks (even if they are just mental) in whatever way works for you.

Set Boundaries
As much as I like to please people, I’ve learned how to say “no” or at least “here’s an alternative” in work situations. That’s taken some pressure off me and allows me more time to do quality work.

I told my parents they couldn’t spend the night this weekend while I was still having work done on my bathroom. Fine, they’ll meet me for lunch and visit another weekend.

I decided not to go to the earlier taekwondo classes to help out and teach (white belts and the occasional higher ranking sibling) because (1) I needed downtime between work and taekwondo (2) I don’t enjoy teaching really young kids–one or two at a time is fun but not the whole class (3) the last time I went to the early class I got stuck with two little blue belt boys who just wanted to play and piss me off and waste my time and (4) I suck at teaching white belts, and at this point in my TKD career I don’t have much interest in perfecting that skill. (Not that white belts aren’t awesome. They are; I just don’t want to spend my mental energy on creative but simple ways to keep them educated and entertained…especially when they’re all little kids). There are other people who are higher ranking and with more responsibility over the school who can do that. I don’t have to be there all the time…it’s taken me several months to convince myself of that.

Find Comfort in Simple Activities
Around the end of February I felt the urge to do some spring cleaning. I went through all my closets and drawers in the Fortress of Solitude (home), changed out my winter decorations to more colorful items, and cleaned out a bunch of papers in the Batcave (my work office). I feel like I have a bright, clean, fresh start in my two cozy sanctuaries (and soon a new tub and shower area).

Sometimes on an evening off or a Sunday afternoon I like to practice my taekwondo forms at home. It’s a different environment, I can listen to a podcast or music while I practice, and I don’t have to interact with everyone. It keeps my memory for poomsae sharp and gives me time to concentrate on what I want to work on, not re-teaching a color belt their form—ooh did I type that out loud? (if my students are reading this…PRACTICE ON YOUR OWN!!!)

Change Your Perspective
I don’t have to work. I get to work and be creative and write and help people learn and do things I truly enjoy (and make money, which I TRULY enjoy as well). It’s a new year and I have new and long-term clients that I get to help and coworkers I get to create with.

I don’t have to go to taekwondo. I don’t have to train or teach–I get to. I have the privilege of training under very skilled masters and a grandmaster and I have the joy of sharing what I love with other students. I’m adjusting to our new space and even learning to appreciate it. I have 7 or 8 bo dans testing for black belt next month, and I get to guide them every step of the way.

You get to wake up every day. You get to provide for yourself or for others. You get to experience life and make your own choices even when you don’t think you have any choices.

Sometimes all we need is a break to get back on track…and a glass or two of wine.



Why I Teach (Even Though I Want Everyone to Leave Me Alone)

holding hands

I really should title this post “Why I Consult/Inform/Coach/Question/Advise/Facilitate,” but it’s not as catchy. I find it extremely funny in a karmic way that an introvert like me who preferred to read and draw rather than interact with other kids grew up to make a living out of talking to people. In my personal life I’ve grown into the role of instructor at my taekwondo school, and I love it. How could this have happened? Lately I’ve begun to feel the pressure of my role as helper and guide and wondered if I needed to take a break.

January was a very stressful month at our dojang due to certain circumstances I won’t get into. I was beginning to feel burned out in my leadership role, and I was even in tears one night when I realized it was the first time in five years that I truly did not want to go to class. It felt like “work,” which it never had before, even on nights when I didn’t feel well and even during long tournament coaching days. I kept going back, though, and each time I felt reenergized by interacting with the other students and instructors. I can’t help offering advice before class or being willing to stop what I’m doing and answer questions from a student who asks for my assistance. I can’t walk away from it entirely even though some days I just don’t want to be there. Many bottles of wine have been present during the course of what has been the most stressful month of my taekwondo career.

Meanwhile at my day job…
No one in my personal life quite understands what I do professionally so here’s an example of what I’ve done a typical week as a learning and leadership development consultant for a large healthcare system: I’ve presented company culture and strategy at new employee orientation for 90 people, had a coaching meeting with a physician in a development program who was a little apprehensive about leading his team’s first project meeting, compared notes on what’s going on at my hospital with the director of HR, advised a former leadership coaching client that she needed to be up front with her boss about wanting to move into a higher role, presented a workshop on accountability to over 60 nursing leaders, and lead team building sessions for staff at two stand-alone medical clinics. Meanwhile in the dojang I recently ran a test to promote six students to bo dan, the rank just below black belt. And those many bottles of wine came in handy.

It’s been a busy month. I’m tired.

I took some time to reflect on why I’m so drawn to what I do at work and in the dojang and what I want for my future.

I’ve been providing information and facilitating learning my entire career from my first library internship at the UT Southwestern Medical Center to my current job. I didn’t choose learning as a career; I wanted to be an animator for Disney or an artist for MAD Magazine. Over time I just sort of…fell into it. I liked finding information and I liked helping people meet their needs, whether it was determining the next course of a patient’s care or determining the next step in someone’s career. As a hospital librarian I saw how my work could help clinical workers care for their patients. In my training and development role I’ve seen how my work helps people build better relationships, take bold steps in their careers, and improve their work processes. I’m thrilled when my coaching clients from years ago give me updates on their progress. In taekwondo I get more excited about other students testing for color belt or black belt than I do with my own black belt tests. It’s fun helping people prepare. It’s awesome seeing people succeed.

But damnit I’m worn out. I’m tired of talking to people and hearing myself talk. I’m so looking forward to next week because I have NOTHING on my schedule. A meeting or two, but no speaking engagements, no team building, no orientations, no professional development classes, no coaching, no belt tests. I’m going to hide in my office and not talk to ANYONE. I’m hoping during the taekwondo classes I’ll attend that others take on more of the teaching responsibility and I can just be a student for once. I wouldn’t say this is “compassion fatigue,” which can plague clinical care providers, but I think I need to use this little break in extraverting myself to the world wisely.

And then I’ll be right back to it, and I won’t be able to help myself. A little teaching here, a little coaching there. Sure, I’ll give that presentation. Yes, I can lead warm-ups in taekwondo class. Yes, I can help you with your form. I didn’t chose this. Helping people learn chose me. My success is seeing them succeed. I’m a servant leader and a caregiver, and this has become my calling. The pull is so strong I can’t see myself doing anything else. As tiring as this is sometimes, I hope I continue to feel so lucky that I get to do what I do at work and in the dojang.

Getting a Black Belt vs. Being a Black Belt: Thoughts on Testing for Second Dan

EPSON DSC picture

Tomorrow, after two years of hard work and training, I test for second dan. The obligatory post-test Veuve Cliquot Champagne and cupcakes are chilling in the fridge. The dobok I will wear is clean and folded. For once I don’t feel the twinge of any lingering injuries. I feel prepared and confident in my skills and warmth and joy that my family will be able to witness this next step in my taekwondo journey.

Getting second dan has a more subdued feeling to me than getting first dan did. I can’t explain it right now and probably won’t be able to until I’ve lived in my new rank for a while (that is, if everything goes as planned and my knees don’t decide on sudden mutiny). Maybe it’s because I’ve been distracted by a busy month at work, or maybe I’m just more aware of what I’m in for this time around.

Our Grandmaster has said that you’re not really a black belt if you just test, get awarded the belt, and then quit, which is the fate of so many martial artists, especially younger students. Those students have performed color belt techniques, and that’s it. They stop before they even begin the learning process that comes with being a black belt. I am the only one from my “graduating class” who is still attending our school.  When I got my black belt a lot of well-meaning people asked, “Now what?” as if that were the end rather than a spot on a continuum of training. I don’t think I’ll be asked that question this time. Most of the people I know have realized that taekwondo is an inherent part of my life. (How could they not, since I talk about it ad nauseam?)

I was proud to “get” my black belt. I was excited and happy during my test, and I don’t want to take away the importance from that moment. It was a very important point in my life and an accomplishment I’m very proud of. But the first time I put on my belt just meant…it was the first time I was putting on my belt. I wasn’t really living and performing as a black belt yet. I couldn’t wait to show up at the next class and start learning “black belt stuff,” and I’ve been in a learning mode ever since then. 

The learning has only intensified. I feel like I’m testing for my black belt every day in class, meaning, living up to the potential and responsibility of my rank. There are lower ranking techniques I still have yet to master, and every time I do “black belt stuff,” I’m looking for ways to improve my practice. I’ve learned volumes about teaching and by default, have learned more about taekwondo technique by teaching it to other students. Teaching has helped me better understand the “why” behind what we do and ways to make what I do stronger, faster, and more effective.

Being a black belt has taught me so much beyond new forms or advanced self-defense techniques. It’s helped boost my confidence both in the dojang and in the workplace, plus patience, adaptability, leadership, and oddly enough, more compassion, especially since I take responsibility for the students I help guide and coach. When I’m facing a difficult task at work or in the dojang (and sometimes in those tough physical therapy workouts), I think, “Come on, Black Belt, you can do this!” My belt isn’t just something I wear around my waist a few hours each week. It has become a part of my psyche and identity. I’ll be a black belt for the rest of my life.

I’m excited about my test tomorrow and recognize it for the important event it is (and that Champagne tastes really damn good, so I’m equally excited about that)…but it’s just one event in that never-ending continuum. I’ll show up to class on Monday with the same big dumb smile on my face, eager to learn and ready to keep practicing. Eventually I’ll be a second dan, and I look forward to the journey.

Saying Goodbye to the Parasites in Our Lives

This is Plankton. He’s my intestinal parasite.


…it’s not REALLY Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants, but this is how I picture the recently diagnosed parasitic infection in my digestive system–a tiny little bastard who’s always scheming to pull one over on everybody. He’s a dick, and I’m tired of the way he’s been treating me, but I’m also a little afraid to say goodbye to him.

I’ve hinted at my digestive-problems-of-mysterious origin in a few posts before. I’ve always had some food sensitivities since at least high school, but they got noticeably worse right after Christmas last year. I lost a total of 14 pounds in about 2-3 months, which on my 5’3″ petite frame was a lot. I’ve gained back about 6 pounds, and this is hard to admit…I’m not entirely happy about it.

Plankton’s taking up residence in my body was apparently one last f–k you from 2016, a year I think we can all agree was just awful for everyone. He made me sick, he ruined my appetite (and sometimes my entire day), and he was a constant unpleasant presence in my life.

He was also my enabler. I LOVED losing weight. I LOVED seeing the numbers get lower and lower on the scale every morning. I LOVED that sometimes all I ate for dinner was very carefully counted out Saltines and a little bit of hummus because I was too sick to eat anything else. Plankton tapped into my almost-but-not-quite-yet resolved issues around body image and disordered eating. He knew just what buttons to push to make me want to hang onto him a little longer.

Plankton knew I was having a pretty glum start to 2017 (job instability and a dark bout of loneliness), so he made himself a point of focus that I could cling to. Other parts of my life were unhappy, so if I could control and monitor my weight, at least I had some tiny bit of stability. (Yes, I recognize the irony in that statement) Sometimes even without the symptoms I restricted what I ate to see if I could get the numbers even lower. I wanted someone to notice my weight loss and ask if something was wrong. No one noticed other than my parents, who only see me every few months. I kept my secrets to myself.

So Plankton and I learned to live with each other. I tried to avoid foods that would trigger his wrath, but later in the year I let myself indulge and kind of enjoyed the fact that some “problem” was letting me eat whatever I wanted while keeping the weight off. We were a team, albeit dysfunctional. I waited nine months until seeking help from a doctor.

I knew I had a problem that was beyond just “food sensitivity” for months, but the seriousness of it finally hit me during a brief conversation with my mother. She told me how “drawn” I looked earlier in the year when I was at my lowest weight.

“So you’re saying I looked…thin?” I responded, half-jokingly but secretly, shamefully pleased. But seriously, what if this was worse than just lactose intolerance? What if I had IBS? Hell, what if I had colon cancer? Next thing I knew I was crying in the shower thinking about how as a self-loathing teenager I’d wished for a serious illness that would make me lose weight. It was a relief (and admittedly, kind of cool) to find out my problem was treatable.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to Plankton in the form of antibiotics. My original food sensitivities won’t go away, but if all goes as planned I won’t have the constant issues my clingy friend brought to the table, no pun intended. I’ll kind of miss him. He kept me skinny. He helped me fit into a cute little black skirt that I was going to get rid of because it was at one time too tight. I don’t want to go back to my pre-Christmas weight. What will I do without him?

Do you have parasites in your life you need to get rid of? They could be other people, habits, activities, perhaps even your own thought patterns. We can be in parasitic relationships that we know are making us sick, but we’re having a hard time seeking help. Are your parasites enabling you to stay stuck in a mental or physical place you don’t want to be but fear you can’t leave? Are they telling you that you must accept an unpleasant situation because you don’t deserve better? What is draining your energy and sapping your soul? Who (or what) do you need to let go of for good?

It’s time to let go of what no longer serves us and be brave enough to face the world alone. It’s time to be free.

Two Months Until Second Dan Begins With Rest, Wine, and Whataburger

texas whataburger

YAS! That’s how Texas black belts fuel themselves!

So it’s still the plan that I will be testing for second degree black belt in about two months. Even though I’ve had two years to prepare for this test as opposed to six months for first degree, I’m more nervous and leery about it this time around. If you’d like to read more about the psychological aspects and musings on it, read this post. I’ll continue with that theme in another post. Now I’m going to talk about what I plan to do with myself until that eagerly awaited day.

I’m kicking of my two months of training with…rest. I have a few minor lingering injuries that keep getting aggravated by training, plus I’m getting mentally burned out from taekwondo, so I’m taking the week off. No taekwondo or ballet barre although I’ve been walking and doing yoga, plus I’ll try swimming if it doesn’t aggravate my shoulders, both of which are snapping at me with memories of old injuries. I need to stop and let my body and mind heal and reset. My biggest hope is that the swelling in my sprained finger will go down, and I can wear my favorite ring again. #taekwondivaproblems.

Next week I’ll get back to reality with getting my physical fitness in gear. And boy do I need it.

My physical health and fitness isn’t quite at the level it was before first degree even though I weigh about the same, actually a little less. Most people would probably agree that I needed to gain weight this year. At one point I was below 110 pounds, and I know I’ve lost muscle tone. Maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog post. I’ve put a few pounds back on although these extra pounds I’ve put on are not muscle but rather the result of Texas-shaped waffles, chocolate, and what may very well be the best pizza in my city.  Worth it.

I still fit into my favorite short black skirt (which I couldn’t last year), and the slacks that used to be snug are still too loose, so psychologically I’m satisfied. After this forced week of rest and a few final indulgences, namely wine and the most unhealthy and delicious food I can find, it’ll be back to chicken breasts, brown rice, vegetables, and fruit smoothies. A healthier diet and an increased exercise regimen will hopefully help me build back some muscle in a few weeks. I’m also giving up alcohol until my test so I’m sure I’ll deflate in no time. Today, though, as I write this, I’m drinking a giant glass of pinot noir so I can, you know, remember what it tastes like through two months of agonizing dryness. And like a good Texan I’m going out this weekend in style with a Whataburger meal.

As for exercise, I’ll go back to ballet barre class, which is fantastic for my lower body, increase my swimming sessions, do my balancing exercises on my BOSU at home (I finally broke down and bought one after getting really good results in physical therapy), and work in extra cardio and yoga at my gym since I’ll be decreasing my time in the dojang from six days to three or four. My taekwondo classes are usually intense enough that I get a very good workout each time anyway.

I’ll go back to my regular classes although I’ll teach less other than testing and tournament weeks to avoid burnout again. As much as I love all the students and the opportunity to improve my teaching skills, I need a break. Given that I have a full-time job (which also involves public speaking and coaching) and a household to manage I really need some quiet time at home. Perhaps my introverted tendency to be drained by too much interaction has finally gotten the better of me, so for a while I’ll only attend the classes designated for higher ranking color belts and black belts. Something is telling me that right now I need to focus on being solely a student.

Rest assured the post-test celebration of Champagne and cupcakes will once again happen, and it will once again be glorious.

Guest Post: How to Deal With Life’s Uncertainties Like a Black Belt

BookMartialArts.com, the website I occasionally write for, just retweeted this article. I forgot I’d written it! So, my readers, enjoy it again!

Little Black Belt

Check out my latest guest post on the martial arts travel site BookMartialArts.com:
How to Deal With Life’s Uncertainties Like a Black Belt 

This an expansion on a post I wrote several weeks ago. Life can be frustrating, scary, and stressful, but maintaining a black belt attitude (whether you’re a white belt, black belt, or not even into martial arts at all) can help you get through tough times with confidence and grace.


Looking for a great way to lower your stress levels? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

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Finding Fresh Ways to Learn…Or, I Geek Out at a Forms Seminar


This past weekend I attended a poomsae (forms) referee seminar sponsored by USA Taekonwdo, the national governing body for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and is a member of the World Taekwondo Federation. I’m not really interested in judging or refereeing at tournaments, but since forms are one of my favorite aspects of practicing taekwondo, I was curious enough to sign up.

I figured it would be good to know what judges were looking for so I could prepare our students (and myself) to compete in forms at the next tournament and just improve our daily practice in the dojang. Plus I get a little tired of always being on the facilitator side of training, so once in a while I like to be a participant and learn something new.

Oh my, the math and the details! I knew when we were handed a sample of the official scoring sheet that our brains were going to be spinning. We discussed accuracy and presentation (and the sub-categories of each), major deductions versus minor deductions, disqualifications, and rules for recognized forms versus freestyle forms. I didn’t realize how much and quickly forms judges need to react, calculate, and recalculate all within about a minute of a competitor performing a form.

The fun part began when the instructor began demonstrating details (both mistakes and what judges want to see) of kicks, blocks, strikes, and stances. “Is that a major or minor mistake?” he’d frequently ask. As the morning went on our answers were more confident, and we’d nod and smile in recognition. He then began performing combinations of forms and asked us to critique through the lenses of accuracy and presentation.

While the instructor used Taegeuk forms for most of the examples, which I am not familiar with (we practice the older, more traditional Palgwe forms at my dojang), he did make several references to the black belt forms Koryo and Keumgang, so I had light bulbs exploding over my head during those moments…if anyone saw me nodding and whispering “Ah-haaaa” while scribbling down notes it was probably during the Keumgang examples.

Did I not have a clue about accuracy or presentation during the Taegeuk combinations? Of course not. It turns out that technique is technique is technique, which I suspected all along. It’s not like the Taegeuk forms have completely different movements. A low block is a low block no matter where it falls in the form. Alignment, accuracy, tempo and rhythm, power…those are key elements we teach as well with our Palgwe forms.

And lest anyone think I’m cheating on my own home dojang instructors, I still defer to their teaching methods when I’m practicing my own forms or coaching another student. However, it’s nice to get an outsider’s perspective once in a while, even when I disagreed on some of the finer details. For a poomsae nerd like me, talking about nothing but forms for four hours was heaven.

Now to truly prove that one can use transferrable knowledge to a new situation (meaning, I can perform and judge a form blindly) I probably should have stayed for the second part of the day when the class was going to perform several Taegeuk forms. Technique is technique, right? I should just be able to learn and perform the form on the spot since I’m supposedly good at forms and pay a lot of attention to detail, right?

Well…yeah…but I opted out, mostly because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time since I’d just slow down the process (everyone else knew the forms). I also knew my Koryo and Keumgang were different enough stylistically that I’d stand out if we did the black belt forms, and I happen to prefer my ways of doing Koryo and Keumgang. And…well…I had company coming that afternoon and figured opening a fresh bottle of wine would be a better use of my time.

I thanked the instructor, told him the lecture and demonstration portion was fabulous, and assured him that I could apply everything I learned that morning back in my home dojang. The seminar inspired me to refine my own forms practice even more, and it gave me some language and talking points to use when I give feedback to other students.

The moral of the story: seek out continuing education in whatever it is you love to do whether you’re feeling stale, looking for a new perspective, wanting to learn a new skill, or simply want to enhance and revitalize your practice.