Being Okay With Where You Are

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“Yoga is about being okay with where you are today,” said the teacher as we slowly worked our way through poses in a mid-morning class. I’m not sure the ancient Yogic scriptures included that in their philosophy, but hey, it’s a nice thing to hear on a Monday morning. I’ve been practicing yoga for twenty years, and have for the most part been totally okay with those days when I’m more wobbly or the decline in my flexibility over the years. I’m pretty chill with where I am, at least on the mat.

It was also a reminder that outside of yoga class and perhaps the workplace, I often am not okay with where I happen to be in a given moment, which keeps me unfocused, wrapped up in my own thoughts and the lies I tell myself, unaccepting and unable to let go, and unable to comfortably remain in the present moment.

I had a very profound moment of not being okay or accepting of where I was during my second dan test. Everything was going well: I had retained my balance and strength during a very difficult slow-motion kicking portion, put power and precision into my forms (and it meant a lot to me that my mom said I should compete in poomsae at future tournaments), executed my self-defense well (and kinda accidentally hurt my partner, but that’s what he gets for attacking me), and fought two bigger, stronger black belts without getting whacked in the head. Cool. I was going to ace this test.

We ended the test with my favorite activity, breaking. We practice breaking quite a bit in classes, but it’s a rare thing to actually get to break boards. I love breaking not even so much for the challenge and creativity of putting a sequence together, but let’s just face it, hitting shit is FUN. Breaking stuff is cathartic. Black belt promotion tests are years apart so unless there’s a demonstration, actual breaking is a very rare treat. I was beginning my sequence with a spinning knife hand strike followed by a punch. I had practiced this countless times and had successfully completed it at a demo last year. Yay! Let’s do this. I took a deep breath, wound up, spun around and–

THUNK.

The board didn’t break.

Crap.

I was in shock that I didn’t get the outcome I was expecting, but I didn’t skip a beat and tried not to show my disappointment externally. I kept going, thankfully nailing my final break on the first shot, which was a flying roundhouse and the one in theory that was the most difficult. In the end everything was broken, there were shards of wood everywhere, and all was well.

Only in that moment it wasn’t. My mood dropped significantly, and I had to force myself to smile in the photos we all took after the test. Other than my breaking, I knew I did well, and I’ve known before the test that I had already earned that second degree with all the work and dedication I’ve put in over the past two years. My masters assured me that it was not a big deal and overall I had done a good job. On the way to lunch at my request for some “coaching,” my musician brother told me about a time he saw Billy Joel, one of his idols, make a mistake on national television. Billy just rolled his eyes and kept playing, and it helped my brother accept those times when he made mistakes in his own performances.

Not passing my test wasn’t the issue. I was disappointed that I didn’t perform at the level I expected, especially during my favorite testing portion. I wasn’t perfect, and I had a hard time accepting that. I was still able to enjoy a celebratory lunch (and of course Champagne and cupcakes) and a pleasant afternoon with my family, but my dampened mood nagged at me. I wasn’t okay with where I was that day.

I think my next big challenge and perhaps something I should focus my efforts on in 2018 is letting go of specific, “perfect” outcomes related to what I love the most: taekwondo and my personal relationships. Experience has proven that “letting go” and not agonizing over a particular situation opens up doors of opportunity to outcomes even better than I could have imagined with my limited knowledge. I care too much about certain aspects of my personal life, and all that does is cause me stress and pain.

I have mastered the practice of healthy detachment with my career, partially to keep myself from getting too stressed out about work and partially to spite society, which assumes that women who do not have partners or children MUST be married to their job and be absolute workaholics. I’m very good at what I do, like and respect my coworkers, care about my clients, have a fantastic work-life balance, and am happier with my job than I ever have been before. Just this year I got a big private office and the shortest commute I’ve ever had, plus twice the salary of what I made when I first started with my company…but I could walk away from it all in a heartbeat and never give that job or anyone related to it another thought.

It’s not that I don’t care about work. I’ve had plenty of moments of being upset, angry, or worried about work-related situations. But I don’t let those feelings overtake me or serve as a sense of purpose or fulfillment in my life. I love my job, but I don’t let work define me, whereas I seem to do the opposite with my personal life. I’ve made plenty of mistakes at work, but I’ve been able to brush them off quickly and remind myself that they don’t impact my overall performance.

If I don’t have work at least I still have my personal life, and perhaps that thought keeps my work detachment going. But if aspects that I value in my personal life go away or I fail or I’m rejected, I feel like I will have nothing. I’m holding on to those aspects so much that I can’t open myself up to the organic growth and opportunities that I’ve seen with my more relaxed take on my career.

I’m okay with where I am in my career. You could even say I’m content. I’m not always okay with where I am personally. Throw in one little metaphorical wobble to my personal life, namely taekwondo or the ambiguity of some of my personal relationships, and I panic. I feel lost and scared without the security of knowing that things will be okay, that I will still be accepted in my dojang and by the people I love. I berate myself for not trying harder and for supposedly disappointing the people I care about. I’ve put this same undue pressure on myself regarding my physical appearance since I was a teenager. Hell, I’m still underweight thanks to an intestinal parasite, but I habitually still look for flaws. “Thin” is such a an unfamiliar descriptor to me that I have a hard time attributing it to my physique. I’m holding myself and the rest of what I value in my personal life up to such impossible standards that the foundation threatens to crumble beneath me.

I can take disappointments at work in stride, and I long to have that healthy sense of detachment with my personal life. The fear of loss and the pain that it causes is unbearable. I never feel hatred or jealousy at work, and I rarely feel doubt. I can’t say the same for my personal life, and all that does is cause more pain.

Not breaking the board the first time wasn’t the real problem. Being so attached to things going my way was what made my mood crash when my expectations weren’t met. I’m so afraid of losing taekwondo or people I care about that I let the worry and fear overtake me before anything even happens. That causes more unnecessary stress and sometimes more mistakes.

I want to be okay and content with being who I am without those safeguards I’ve built into my personal life. I want to be able to not give them a second thought when they’re not needing my attention. I want to detach from everything and everyone in a healthy way.

Perhaps not breaking that board on the first attempt was the best thing that could have happened. It was a good reminder of where I am with the unrealistic standards I put on myself. No matter how I did at Saturday’s test, I’m still a black belt, and I’m still going to class tonight, ready to keep practicing…in a healthy, detached way of course.

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In Defense of Complacency: When Good Enough Is Good Enough

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Good enough. Let’s move on!

In new employee orientation at my workplace we play this video with alarming statistics of what could go wrong when 99.9% is “good enough.” Newspapers are missing front pages, shoes are shipped in mismatched pairs, newborns go home from the hospital with the wrong parents, planes crash…you know, fun uplifting stuff. We ask the new employees their opinion and of course they say, no, 99.9% is not acceptable. I work for a healthcare organization, so understandably excellence, use of best practices, and an aim for zero mistakes has a heightened sense of urgency.

(This is the part where I lean in conspiratorially)

…Caring for hospital patients and landing planes aside…Don’t you think there are times when good enough is good enough? Right now you want to say, “No, that’s not true! We should always strive for perfection! We have to always try our absolute best!” But I also know you’re fighting the urge to admit that I’m right…just a little bit, at least in certain circumstances. Ladies and gentlemen, I now take the role of the little devil on your shoulder and will present my argument for why complacency is sometimes the best approach, or why good enough is indeed, good enough.

There are times in taekwondo class that I do revel in the mechanical minutiae and the persistent pursuit of perfection, most often in forms. Forms are my moving meditation and give me the chance to really immerse myself into my practice. Whenever I’m leading a group of students through their form I encourage them to try just one little thing differently the next time they do it. That staves off the boredom that can accompany repetition (I remember those seemingly endless form practices as a child). Compared to fast-paced sparring, practicing forms is a downright luxurious, dare I say decadent (and delicious) deep dive into technique.

And then there’s sparring. I don’t have time to worry about the minutiae during a fight. Hopefully all my training outside of sparring have programmed certain skills, minutiae and all, into my body so it reacts subconsciously anyway. I try my best in each fight, but I don’t necessarily do my best. I’m okay with that. As long as I’m defending myself effectively (for the most part), getting in a few good hits on my opponent (for the most part), and most importantly having fun, that’s good enough for me.

And then there’s jump spin kick…and 360 roundhouse (tornado kick)…and 540 spin kick….yeah, y’all gettin’ good enough from me and that’s it. I’d like to think a sign of maturity is not only a healthy awareness of one’s strengths but also of one’s limitations. I’m petite, pushing forty years old, and have a messed up back, hips, and right hamstring. I push myself hard during workouts, but I’m also well aware of my physical limitations. With these types of complicated airborne kicks I just think, “F-ck it,” do my best, and put my energy into activities I can master with both feet on the ground. The kids can jump all they want, and I enjoy watching them fly around in the air. I’d rather play with knives, hand strikes, our hapkido-inspired self-defense techniques, and my trusty forms. Good enough for me.

The question is, “What’s the best use of my energy and my time?”

I naturally do better and more effortlessly reach that 100% of excellence when I’m doing something I enjoy, I feel confident, and I’m being creative. I can get that 100% with things that are more difficult or less enjoyable if I approach things piece by piece, rather than take on the entire burden at once. And sometimes I just call it good enough and move on.

Sometimes it’s okay to accept “good enough.” When time is limited or resources or limited (or capabilities are limited), it’s perfectly fine to give your best version of good enough and move on. That’s a smarter and healthier approach than running yourself into the ground trying to do something that for you is too frustrating, too difficult to be worth the trouble, or infringes on more important priorities. If you’re running in circles, trapped in analysis paralysis, going down a rabbit hole, or in the throes of any other metaphor I see way too often in the corporate world all in the pursuit of absolute perfection I suggest you stop wasting your time, stop stressing yourself out, and accept “good enough.”

Perhaps there’s a fine line between giving your all and picking and choosing your battles. One of my coaching clients compares his approach to his career development and his work as hospital leader to how he approaches woodworking, his favorite hobby.

“I want to make sure I get the measurement just right before I put the pieces together,” he told me. “If you’re careless and you cut a piece too short then it’s too late. You can’t put the piece of wood back together.” I suppose that’s true for major decisions about his career or choices he must make that would have a major impact on employees and patients….but there are other times when you can just slap shit together and call it done.

Complacency, at least in the context of this article, is not giving up. Perhaps a better word would be “Contentment.” You do what you can, and at the same time you also let go and accept what is.

And that’s good enough for me.