My New Goal: Give Zero F*cks By Forty

relax on beach

I am celebrating my 39th birthday this week. While I won’t be eating complimentary cake in my dobok with my other black  belts and taekwondo students like I did last year, I’ve enjoyed some extended time off and have a few fun things planned. The biggest thing I plan on doing is embarking on a year-long quest to take me into the next decade of life with a smile: I want to give zero f*cks by forty.

Many people start improvement plans on their way to forty: some do a “Fit by Forty” exercise regime, which I don’t need because I already am. Some people get their financial act together, which I don’t need to do because it already is…Hmm, I suppose I could embark on a year of humility, but…nah!

So why the “Give Zero F*cks by Forty” program? Frankly, I have spent most of my life sweating the small stuff—and the big stuff that turns out to be relatively small in the big scheme of things. Work, school, what other people think of me, what other people say to me, my body, what I do or say, the worries and limiting beliefs and troubling thoughts that take up real estate in my mind–ENOUGH! I’m exhausted!

Giving zero f*cks about the  things that really don’t matter (which is most of “the things”) sounds like a dream. I would be calmer, more relaxed, more open-minded, and more accepting of the shifts and tides of my life.

It won’t be perfect from the beginning, and I know I will have many setbacks and have to re-commit myself many times between now and next July. I’m a control freak in many aspects of my life. It’s served me well academically, career-wise, and financially, but it’s left me pretty tightly-wound too. Letting go of my hatred for a particular body part will be hard. I’ve been failing at that since I was 13. Not being pulled into senseless panic over things at work that don’t matter can be difficult to resist if everyone else is doing it (although working alongside true lifesavers in the healthcare industry has given me a pretty good perspective on what is truly important and what isn’t). The political landscape and division in the United States is a nightmare. Social media is a tempting time drain. Sometimes I daydream about rude, hurtful things people have said or done to me in the past, and it can be a chore to yank myself away from those runaway thoughts and move forward. Letting go of the things I want the most out of life and trusting that they will come to me in due time and without desperate attempts is a huge act of faith.

Does this mean I won’t care about anyone or anything anymore? No, it doesn’t. My new mindset doesn’t mean I’ll stop loving people who are important to me (but it will mean I won’t waste thoughts on people who aren’t) or not put in a good effort at my job (but it will mean I’ll stop taking myself and all the corporate-ness so seriously) or stop trying in taekwondo class (but it will mean I’ll loosen it from my heart strings just a little; holding onto taekwondo too tightly is hurting me this year). What this really means is I’ll stop needlessly worrying about all the stupid petty crap that makes me miserable. We all get pulled into senseless worrying depending on what’s going on in our lives. It sounds so easy and so inviting to let it all go, but sadly we’re programmed to hang on tightly to the very things that make us unhappy.

I’m glad I’m giving myself a whole year.

…but I can do it. If anything I have that black belt stubbornness that makes me continue to challenge and motivate myself.

Join me. Sit back, relax, give zero f*cks, and let yourself finally enjoy the people, things, and experiences in life that truly matter to you and bring you joy.

Zero F*cks by Forty begins in three…two…one…

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Make Yourself Miserable or Make the Most of It: When That Big Change Doesn’t Go Away

Choices

Last year I was on top of the world.

Due to some restructuring in my department at the end of 2016, I was sent to a different work location that is MUCH closer to home, a much more fun and lively environment, and I have a big office and garage parking. At the beginning of 2017 I quickly rekindled past work relationships and built new ones, and I created a presence in my new domain. I couldn’t wait to get to work every day.

Meanwhile in taekwondo I was going to the dojang 5-6 days a week. Some of those hours were spent training in my own upper ranking classes, and other hours were spent helping my Master teach lower ranking classes. We had a little clique of black belts that cracked each other up with jokes and worked together well as a team when it was time to lead in class or coach our students at tournaments. I couldn’t wait to get to taekwondo every day, plus I had my second dan test to look forward to at the end of 2017.

2018…not so much.

This year started out as a big ball of stress: During January I was filling in for the lead facilitator at new employee orientation, which my department hosts every week for 80-100 people. I had been specifically chosen for this task because I was so well regarded as a speaker even though I am extremely introverted. I don’t know where that talent comes from. Black belt mojo I guess. [insert eyeroll here] While it was fun and somewhat fulfilling, it was utterly exhausting. I didn’t like giving up my Monday every week. I didn’t like having to be “on stage” and deplete all my energy.

In addition to orientation I was quickly being pulled into other time-consuming work projects plus learning that expectations of myself and my team had changed as well as the direction of our work. I didn’t like some of that change. While I’m financially comfortable and really do enjoy my job most of the time, I was starting to feel stuck. I don’t want to do training anymore even though apparently I’m pretty good at it. I want to shift to coaching and writing and have more quiet time. I do have those opportunities on a small scale in my current role, but my “talent” as a facilitator will be tapped into more often this year and the next. I haven’t left due to some sense of loyalty and fear of certain consequences (namely, not having income).

Meanwhile in taekwondo we went through a MAJOR shift that took up a lot of physical and emotional energy. We were moving from our dojang to a community center at the beginning of this year. Every day for the first week or two in January I worked all day and then spent hours at the dojang with other students and family members helping to pack up and store items from the school. I took it upon myself to text parents daily about changing class schedules. I was micromanaging the process, and I wore myself out. I didn’t like this change.

Now we have class twice a week in a new, more ascetic location, and lately I’ve felt pretty unmotivated to go. I’m tired of teaching and want more “quiet time” just spent training. As much as I care about my students, I dread having to spend 12-14 hours at another tournament. I want to shift from being “on stage” so much to training in earnest for my third degree and possibly competing in forms and breaking at tournaments. I don’t see those opportunities on the near horizon in my current situation. Once again I began to feel stuck due to some sense of loyalty and fear of certain consequences.

By May and June the stress was starting to subside although as I said earlier,  I’m not thrilled with my current situation. I had been free of new employee orientation by the end of February. I had gotten into a more comfortable and organized groove at work (and more accepting of certain changes), and I found fitness activities to substitute the time I no longer spend in taekwondo class. Am I as ecstatic as I was last year? Nope. Do I have my moments of thoroughly enjoying where I am right now. Yes. A few breaks from the routine have been helpful, too.

It helps to remember that even though I feel “stuck” right now I always have choices. I have the choice to leave as much as I have the choice to stay. More importantly, I have a choice about my mindset. I can choose to be miserable, or I can choose to make the most of it. Usually when I make the latter choice things have a way of working out even better than I could have planned.

It also helps to have those refreshing moments that remind me that things aren’t so bad. This past week I taught a communication workshop to a group of enthused, fun, hard-working adult learners. Later I spent that evening sparring with some of my taekwondo students and teaching new black belts how to referee. Even though I’ve been telling myself over and over that I’m tired of where I am, I have to admit I had a pretty good time. I still love helping people learn, although for me it may take a different form in a few years. I made the most of it rather than wishing I were somewhere else.

For now I’m staying where I am and focusing on what I like about my status quo rather than ruminating on what I don’t like.

Here are some things we can all do when we feel stuck in a less-than-desireable situation:

  • CHOOSE how you feel. No one can control your emotions and reactions except you.
  • Accept what you can. My status quo might be…well…the status quo for a while so it won’t do me or the people dependent on me to fight it.
  • Look for the positive. It’s in there somewhere.
  • Plan when you can. Just because you are in a particular situation you don’t like doesn’t mean you can’t work on your exit (or change) strategy.
  • “Don’t borrow trouble from the future.” I heard this advice from a man in the course I recently taught. He warned against getting caught up in all the “what ifs” that can distract us from the real life that is happening NOW. That phrase is golden.
  • Focus on what feels good.
  • Make the most of it and remember, another change is inevitably coming.

The Motto That Keeps Me Motivated (and Annoyed)

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I have a poster in my work office that reads, “A black belt is a white belt who refused to give up.” This is a popular phrase in the martial arts world, and it’s popped up a few times on my blog.

I’m kind of annoyed at myself for buying it. Every day it hangs over my head, reminding me of my power, potential, and the expectations set upon me, even on the days when I just don’t wanna.

I’ve had a lot of days lately where I “just don’t wanna.” I was pretty burned out personally and professionally at the beginning of the year. I feel like I’m finally coming out of that fog, but I’m not out entirely. All the while that stupid poster has been there, glaring down at me and reminding me that I can’t give up. I’m resentful of that. What if I do want to give up? I’m tired of having to be my own savior and champion and foundation…but here I am with my f-cking black belt.

The motto is also a reminder of my roots. As a white belt I was open-minded, eager to learn, and willing to take on challenges. You probably felt the same way as a new student or when you first started a new job. Lately as a black belt I’ve felt overwhelmed, jaded, and secretly toying with the idea of quitting. It’s helpful sometimes in class to revisit taekwondo fundamentals, skills we learned as white belts. Practicing simple blocks, strikes, and kicks has a calming effect.

In some circumstances  quitting, giving up, leaving, letting go are appropriate responses if it means choosing a new and better path. There’s nothing wrong with that. “Refusing to give up” sometimes means making a change or taking a new opportunity that takes one in a different direction. I don’t want to “quit” my current situations, but I am actively seeking a change.

What gets me through taekwondo classes and the work I’m currently doing is reminding myself of why I got involved in the first place and how much I enjoy helping people. What gives me hope is that the same discipline and determination I display in the dojang can help me take control and change other situations in my life.

So I’m going to keep the poster in my office. Every day it’s a reminder of where I came from and who I can be. It’s a reminder that if I’m not happy with my current circumstances I have the power to change them. I can control my responses, just as I do in the dojang.

We were all “white belts” at some point. What makes us black belts in martial arts or in life is the desire to keep learning, improving, making changes, and designing our own destinies.

Taekwondo Has Become an Afterthought and an Albatross

broken-heart

I used to be a taekwondo person with a growing career. Now I’m a successful career person who just happens to have a (2nd degree) black belt in taekwondo.

I don’t like that feeling.

Sure, I have a poster in my office that says “A Black Belt is a White Belt Who Refused to Give Up,” and I go to class once or twice a week…and that’s it. I don’t think about it much. In reviewing the past several months prepping for my four year anniversary blog post I realized I didn’t write about it much either, even last year when I was heavily preparing for my 2nd Dan test. Regular life has taken over, and taekwondo has taken a back seat.

Taekwondo had a very prominent place in my life for several years, and within a few months it suddenly dropped to nearly nonexistent. I’m just now starting to notice the negative effects. I’ve let myself get pretty stressed with increasing work demands the past few months, and I attributed a piece of it to my lack of “outlet.” I had taekwondo to look forward to almost every day for the last five years. I planned for it, thought about it, daydreamed about it, and could always count on it to be a healthy balance of all the “adulting” I had to do during my day job and just keeping up a household.

I have a nice home and nice people to visit with outside of work and nice hobbies, but I’m missing that euphoric high I used to get from a hard-working, fun taekwondo class. I’m missing my drug and my life balance. I feel like I’m missing part of my identity too.

My taekwondo world went through a huge upheaval at the end of last year. I don’t want to go into details here. Suffice it to say there was some tension and stress among everyone involved. The schedule has changed, the location has changed, and some of the people have changed. I went from going to the dojang five or six days a week to maybe two. I backed away from teaching the lower ranking class because I realized how much I disliked it and how stressful it was for me after a long day at a busy job. Now I only go to the “advanced class” once or twice a week. The temptation to stay home after a late meeting or long commute instead of going to class is fairly regular.

I’m not very happy with my current situation at my taekwondo school. I’m not getting much in the way of “black belt training,” my favorite instructor is gone, the location is sub-par, and I know I don’t have the same conditioning I had last year. There’s only so much one can do in two hours a week, especially if about half that time is spent teaching. (I also don’t have an intestinal parasite to keep me really skinny like I did last year) I’d like to train and test for third degree, and in the meantime I’d like to compete in forms and breaking at tournaments. My current situation allows me neither the time nor attention to focus on those goals.

If I were coaching me as I do with other people, I would remind myself that I do have the choice to leave…and right now I’m choosing to stay. I’m not very happy where I am but I feel like I need to stay out of obligation even though the world would not fall apart if I left. Certain people have certain expectations and assumptions about black belts and “loyalty,” and if I chose to leave there might be trouble, at least in the short-term.

I don’t know if going to another school would inspire me to make taekwondo a bigger part of my life again. I think some of that has to come from me. I think I can try harder to make the best of the situation I’m in now and come up with ways to practice taekwondo outside of the limited class time.

Right now I have eight students testing for first degree, and that is keeping me motivated and positive. I care very much about my students and am not ready to move on from them yet. After the test I think I’ll have to reevaluate my place in the school and decide whether I’m brave enough to do what’s best for me or to wait it out a little longer and hope for a deus ex machina.

You Know More Than You Think You Do: What I Learned From Practicing “That Old Japanese Form” (The Poomsae Series Part 14)

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This is my last essay examining an individual form. Unless I can talk one of the senior black belts into teaching me Sipjin or Jitae I’ve gone as far as I can go with black belt forms…for now. I plan on teaching myself Taeguk color belt forms, so that will definitely give me some insight to write about at a later date. But for now this is the end of the direction I’ve been taking with The Poomsae Series.

Anyway…

I don’t even know how to spell the name of the most recent form I learned. I’m going to take a guess and call it “Nopei” (pronounced NO-pay), or as one of the grandmasters in our circle calls it, “that old Japanese form.” At my school this form is learned along with Sipjin at fourth Dan. It’s the last form performed before one attains the level of master…in our school anyway. It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Nopei is a holdover from the old days of taekwondo, or at least the “old days” of the resurgence after the Japanese occupation of Korea and the rise of Korean grandmasters in the United States. It’s a very rarely taught or practiced form in the American taekwondo world, like Koryo One (see article for explanation) and more recently (and regrettably in my opinion) the Palgwe forms.

I asked the master who trained me for my black belt to teach it to me as somewhat of a goodbye. He was leaving the school to take a full-time job, and poomsae (forms) was one of his greatest talents. He always made forms look precise, strong, and smooth, and he expected no less from his students. He’s been my mentor, leader, and friend for several years, and I’ve modeled all the things I do well after his teaching, especially the way I practice and perform forms. I won’t blame him for the stupid things I do—that’s all me.

Nopei begins simply, even more simply than the Palgwe OR Taeguk forms: one double knifehand high block to the left followed by a slight shift in weight and another to the right. Fists go the belt and the black belt takes three determined steps forward—not slides, not in any fighting stances, just straight up walking (hell, practically strolling although in a very determined manner) with precisely rolling feet.

This is where it gets interesting. In a flash the black belt leaps from the simple walking position into a graceful landing onto the left leg and holds for a breath, just long enough to make an impression. The best way I can describe this movement is that it ends up looking like the Keumgang crane stance with diamond block except with knife hands and the lifted leg more angled for roundhouse kick rather than side kick. It’s a beautiful image, and I know my words don’t do it justice. Along with simple inside-to-outside knife hand strikes, a few middle punches, and a break in dead center with a downward punch (ideally with an actual board or block), the jump is performed three more times.

Nopei ends simply and softly with three high blocks to the back and, facing forward again, those same two knifehand blocks but with the body at a slight 45 degree angle, a subtle wink to whoever is paying close attention.

There are a few more novel pieces to the form after the break, but my favorite part to watch (and to do) is the jump. It’s so different from anything I’ve done in a form or anything I’ve done in five years of taekwondo classes for that matter. It takes some adjusting in both body and mental focus.

Things have changed dramatically for me in my little taekwondo world. The master who taught me the form is gone, we’ve moved to a new location and are still adjusting to the space, and there’s now a lot more pressure on me to lead classes.  For the first time it’s begun to feel like work and an obligation rather than an energy-booster and a pleasure, and that has broken my heart. My feelings toward and relationship with taekwondo has changed.

What this form has taught me is that I know more than I think I do. I can learn a deceivingly simple form with new and unfamiliar movements. I can lead other students and black belts. I can adjust to changes that I don’t necessarily want but have to accept.

Many years ago when I first got into the organizational development industry I was fretting over a project I didn’t feel qualified or experienced for. My director at the time, who was always kind and sincere, looked at me pointedly, said, “Melanie, you know more than you think you do,” and strolled into his office. I’ve never forgotten that moment and I keep that memory as a motivator whenever I’m faced with a challenge. I know more than I think I do at work, in taekwondo, and in life. I just have to relax and trust my instincts.

“Let’s do Nopei together so I don’t cry.” I was chatting with my master before an evening class during the last week he taught at my dojang. I was starting to get teary and emotional about the fact that I wouldn’t get to learn from him anymore. He has inspired, guided, and pushed me further than I thought I could go in the last five years. He’s the best “boss” I’ve ever had as far as grooming and preparing me for my own leadership role, even on the days when I didn’t like him very much, ha ha. These days when I really don’t want to teach I pull from a store of confidence I’ve been able to build through my master’s guidance. I know more than I think I do. He saw that in me before I even realized it.

Moving and breathing in unison we walked through the form together. Then he had me go through it on my own so he could observe, ever the instructor. That was the last form we practiced together and a fitting passing of the torch from teacher to student.

I know more than I think I do, and I know I can do this on my own.

 

The Poomsae Series Part 12: Taebaek, Or, Old is New Again

renew

I’m officially a second degree black belt now, and that means with a new rank I have a new form and a new addition to the Poomsae Series! Yay! Enjoy!*

“It’s like a recap,” my chief instructor said one day when we were discussing the second dan black belt form Taebaek. “Now you’re second degree,” he continued hypothetically, “So let’s make sure you remember all your old color belt forms.”

“More like a clip show like on TV,” I countered. “They’re too lazy to make new material, so they just put a bunch of random old stuff together.”

I was marveling at the fact that Taebaek, the form we at my dojang learn as a second degree black belt, seemed so much easier to learn and seemingly less complicated than the two first dan forms, Koryo and Keumgang (Some teach Keumgang at second degree, Taebaek at third, etc. We do things a little differently). I’d heard my instructor for a long time claim that Taebaek was a mash up of old Palgwe forms, but it never really resonated until I learned the form myself.

I actually learned this form last summer as a first degree black belt, and it all started as a joke wrapped in a dare. During class one night a second degree black belt, who always seemed to forget that he had to use the bathroom until about 10 seconds before break time was over, was absent from his spot in line.

“Go ahead, Melanie, fill in,” my instructor said, gesturing for me to take my place at the front of the class. “Now you’re second degree!”

“Cool! Does this mean I can learn Taebaek?” I giggled. To my surprise (and utter delight) he took me up on it about two weeks later and taught me and a fellow first dan the form. This was the first form I had ever been able to remember in its entirety the first day of learning it.

If this form is a clip show, it’s also a video game filled with fun “Easter eggs,” at least for certain taekwondo practitioners who still do the old school beautiful and complex Palgwe forms. It truly is a mishmash of a sweet new moves like breaking an arm, which is awesome, and many signature pieces of color belt Palgwe forms, which I know quite well. (I suppose it’s new to Taeguk practitioners. If you’re curious, look up videos of Palgwes Yuk Jang, Sah Jang, Pal Jang, and Oh Jang, and see if you can spot the shout outs.) Like Koryo, it follows the very familiar Palgwe sideways H pattern. Unlike Keumgang, it’s not a directional mindf*ck.

Taebaek starts out with a new move, a crossed knife hand block (I found it a bit drill team-y but went with it) followed by a familiar front snap kick and double punch. Okay, this is interesting. Then as you turn to the front–BAM!–the double knife hand high block/strike from Palgwe Yuk Jang. What!? YAASSSS, the form with flair! Okay, um, that was a pleasant surprise! Let’s keep going. There are a few more new pieces (and in slow motion too!) and then BAM!–the signature “crescent moon” double block of Palwge Sah Jang. Oooh, this is fun to revisit, and it comes with arm break, and a punch! Get it girl, let’s kick some ass in style!

Turning in a 90 degree angle and moving to the back is reminiscent of the block/spear hand combo in both Sah Jang and Pal Jang, and then oh snap, it’s that f*cking scissor block from Oh Jang! Aw, HELL no! I thought we were done with that awkward, needlessly complex blue belt form, but noooo, it just has to get in one more jab. Y’all, I can hardly contain myself. Maybe a nicer way to refer to this form than clip show is homage.

Although Taebaek pulls heavily from lower level forms, it has a freshness and sense of humor to it. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to turn away from your roots when you want to keep growing. What got you to first degree won’t necessarily get you to second or third degree, but you can still draw on your experiences. It’s an opportunity to add black belt understanding to color belt principles. You don’t have to do away with who you are. Continue to draw on your good qualities, and just, well, turn it up a notch.

[*I actually composed this article last summer, but I didn’t want to jinx myself and post it before I got second degree…and then I learned that it’s usually a third dan form at other schools, and I’ve learned that one too already, so the hell with it, I’m writing an article on the third/fourth dan form Pyongwon. Stay tuned…]

You ARE Something (Other People Believe It, So It’s About Time You Did)

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I’ve recently changed job locations within the company where I’ve been employed for the last nearly 13 years. It’s a bit of a homecoming since I returned to the hospital where I first began my career with the company. After a six year stint at our corporate office in an adjacent city, it was time for me to come home. A few weeks in I got a life lesson in how our perceptions of ourselves, who we are, and what we deserved can at times be flawed at worst, underestimated at best.

Last Monday the director of the department (I don’t report to her but we work together, and she manages the department where I’m now located) offered me a bigger office that had just recently been vacated. My initial reaction was to say no—(1) I was pretty sick from an upper respiratory infection and was out of it when she asked (2) I was being too impulsively sentimental and attached to my first “real” little office, and most importantly (3) I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by looking like the new kid who breezed in and took one of the biggest offices. We’d all gone through a difficult work situation that left many people feeling sensitive and vulnerable. I didn’t want to contribute to that…which is ironically a bit arrogant of me to make the assumption that I was responsible for everyone’s feelings and moods. I worry too much about what other people think under the guise of wanting to take care of everyone. All that’s done is cause unnecessary stress and heartache.

The next morning I changed my mind, took her up on her offer, and by the afternoon I was all moved in. I love my new space. It’s huge. I can even practice a form in there (slightly modified but still) if I wanted to. It turns out my assumptions about my adopted work team were unfounded. They’d wanted me to have that big office from the beginning and were very happy that it was finally mine. Several of them even stopped by and said so. Due to the nature of my job I have a lot of meetings, and many of them are very private coaching meetings. I needed a larger space so my guests and I could be comfortable.

The afternoon that I moved in to my big office I hosted a meeting with one of my coworkers and a mutual friend, a hospital leader whom we’d both worked with on different occasions. My coworker mentioned a recent disappointment she’d had on the job. She was feeling pretty down when one day she was contacted out of the blue by a recruiter. She ultimately didn’t take the offer, having decided to stay where she was, but she was flattered by the attention.

“It just felt good to know that I AM something to someone,” she said. The other woman and I nodded and smiled in understanding. I thought about how important it is to feel that, and it often takes an outside perspective to remind us of what we were too blind, self-conscious, distracted, or even self-centered to see in ourselves.

“I think you underestimated the support you were going to get when you came here,” the department administrative assistant told me the next day when was helping me set up my phone. Maybe, but I think it was more of a case of underestimating myself. I didn’t think I deserved the big office. I didn’t think that the work I did was important enough or that what I did mattered to other people. It took other people pushing me into a new space (literally) for me to see that hey, I do make a difference after all. I AM something.

So take that opportunity. Take what is being offered to you on a platter. Take the big office. Enroll in a college course. Apply for that job. Sign up for your first taekwondo class. Tell that person you love them. What is scarier? Acting on what you want or continuing to live in doubt, controlled by fear and anxiety? Say yes. Take it. You are worth it. You deserve it.

You ARE something.