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.
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Do Something Already! What to Do When You’re in Analysis Paralysis

mortal_kombat_finish_him

Wait! I need to think about this!! Can I make a pros and cons list? Does anyone have a flip chart??

If the opponents in a taekwondo tournament sparring match don’t engage with the first 5 seconds, the referee commands them to “Fight!” After 10 seconds of inactivity one or both of the competitors could receive a penalty.

There could be many reasons for the competitors’ inactivity: fear, lack of experience, or nerves.  Other times, though, the competitor may simply be trying to make an informed decision. They may have the feeling they need more time to properly size up their opponent and make a decision about how to attack. They may be running through their mental Rolodex of moves before striking the first blow. While being mindful and strategic can benefit fighters, becoming too entrenched in wondering what to do next and analyzing every choice can stop them in their tracks.

I’ve seen plenty of taekwondo students slow down or completely freeze in fights, and I’ve done it plenty of times too. I’ve also seen it many times in my professional life: people become so entrenched in planning a new project or process or making a decision that they drown in the “what ifs.” They don’t trust their instincts and continue to pick at and question their initial choices. I have seen projects and programs that were on a good track for implementation run the risk of disintegrating before they even started because the people involved (or the people in charge) became fearful and began to doubt their direction. They shoot down their hard work before they even try it.

There’s nothing wrong with asking questions and analyzing a situation to address or a choice to be made. In fact, being inquisitive and creative is often the key to the solution you need. Being flexible and adaptable are characteristics of success. However, when anxiety about trying something new or clinging to constant change to avoid making a commitment comes to the forefront, then the project, solution, or decision falls flat and fails before it even gets started.

So what are we to do when we are frozen in “analysis paralysis”?
1. Ask clarifying questions
…and know when you’ve received enough information to get started.
2. Determine the impact: will it matter tomorrow, 6 months, or a year from now? If the answer is no, jump in and fight. If the answer is yes, give it more consideration, but be brave enough to do something and have confidence in your choices.
3. Create structure. Can you break the problem or project into smaller and perhaps more attainable goals? Can you put things into categories? Can you map out the process you need or make a list of the necessary resources? Do anything you can to make order out of chaos.
4. Stay true to your objective. Why are you doing this? What is your ultimate desired outcome? Ground yourself in your purpose.
5. Pick something and go! I used to cheat at “Choose Your Own Adventure” books to get the outcome I wanted. I made a mistake, so I backtracked and tried something different. In most cases you can try again if you mess up. In many cases–not all, let me be clear about that–the consequences are not as dire as you think they may be. Putting up a good fight is better than not fighting at all.
6. Bonus: When in doubt, slide in and do a hook kick at their face…or at least that’s what I like to do.

I think I’ve become more mindful and strategic both as a fighter and as a professional. It’s been a slow process that’s taken years of work, but I feel the difference, and other people have noticed it. When I’m sparring I take a quick assessment of my partner’s age,  body type, rank, and my past experience with them. Then I just jump in and fight, observing along the way, repeating what works well, and changing course if something doesn’t work. The only time I really slow down is when my body starts to burn out with exhaustion. Lately in the conference room I’ve tried to use the same mindset: do a quick assessment, brainstorm solutions, pick one, and go while learning along the way. So far it’s served me well.

Be logical, practical, and most of all be proactive. Jump in. Do it. FIGHT!

Why? How Understanding Leads to Inspired Action

Question Everything Clean_0

“Why do we do this?”

I was in taekwondo class and had corralled a small group of students to the back of the room to teach Palgwe Pal-Jang, one of the most complex forms of the color belt repertoire. It was the most difficult form for me to learn (Even Keumgang didn’t make me weep with frustration the way this one did), although since then it’s become one of my favorite forms for the very same intricacy and complexity that frustrated me in the beginning.

The student asking me the question did a backfist with her right hand, a movement that immediately follows the low block that opens the form. She wanted to know why she was supposed to do that. I could have just told her, “Because that’s part of the form,” or “Because I said so,” but I thought it would be a fun opportunity to help her and the other students develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of something they would be doing over and over again.

“Ah!” I said, “Because of this. Do a low block in front stance.” I kicked at her so she would block my foot.

“See?” I continued. “I just kicked you, and you blocked, but I’m still not out of the way. I might attack you again. You have to strike back, and that’s when you do the back fist.” She swung her fist through the air, and I nodded approvingly.

As the lightbulb went off over her head I remembered when Pal-Jang finally clicked for me. One night Grandmaster had corralled the red and black belts to the back of the room much in the same way I was working with the young students, and explained the purpose of the form piece by piece. Someone grabs your arm. Someone tries to choke you. Look out, your attacker is still behind you. Click!

“Forms help us practice self-defense. That’s why you have to be strong in your blocks and strikes in a form. They’re not just pretty movements.” I demonstrated a few of the particular forceful motions of the form to emphasize my point.

Over the rest of the hour the students asked more questions about why we did certain movements in the form. Every time I acted out the reason behind a block, strike, or escape move I had some lightbulb moments of my own. It helped me fill in an outline with energy and intention. I know my understanding of all those “Whys” will influence the way I do the form in the future.

The next morning at work I was sitting in a planning meeting for one the most complex projects I’ve ever worked on in my career. My team and I were making decisions about an extensive program that would impact the future of many people in the company. It’s been in development for nearly two years and is ready for launch, but as we dove deeper into the finer details we found ourselves asking the same questions the young taekwondo students had asked the night before:

“Why do we do this?”

The danger my colleagues and I could have fallen into was just accepting things “as is” because a decision had been made six months ago or twelve months ago. We could have just gone through the motions the way a taekwondo student might half-heartedly breeze through a form, both of which would result in inefficiency and lack of understanding. Instead we chose to be intentional about our decisions and actions.

With a deeper understanding of our program we realized we had the power to shape it into something that was effective and meaningful. We had a thoughtful discussion that did exactly what my “Pal-Jang Theory Workshop” had done for me and my students the night before: it filled in the outline. We made solid decisions and figured out what exactly needed to be done to make our program successful. It wasn’t quite as much fun as elbowing someone in the stomach, but I had the same sense of satisfaction after that meeting as I did after my Pal-Jang lesson with the kids.

The takeaway? Ask why. Seek clarification and understanding. Question the status quo. Use your newfound information to set your intentions. Don’t just react blindly. A deeper awareness of the “why” behind our actions will help us be more mindful and tactical about the decisions we make.

And if you ever get a chance to elbow someone in the stomach, it’s awesome.

How Giving Up Drinking Saved My Skin

elephant wine

The last time I drank alcohol was exactly three months ago after a lonely Sunday spent on the couch with a bottle of Malbec and a dark mood. I had been toying with the idea of giving it up after I got bo dan rank in April and would “officially” begin black belt training, but circumstances demanded that I give it up sooner.

My skin is very thin and sensitive, and I don’t just mean metaphorically. I can only use the gentlest cleansers and moisturizers or else my face will burn and turn bright red. My face regimen sounds like I’m making a salad dressing: I wash it with olive oil, tone with apple cider vinegar, and after I put on gentle moisturizer with SPF I splash on a little rosewater and glycerin for extra softness and a fresh sweet scent. I even exfoliate with sugar or sea salt.

The ever-present splotchiness and little broken capillaries across my nose and cheeks make me suspect some mild rosacea. In eighth grade a boy once called me “Rudolph” because of my red nose. At that age you could never really tell if a boy really liked you or hated your guts because they were all immature little assholes either way. That was long before I’d ever had my first glass of wine (even communion wine), so I know my red face isn’t just a symptom of riding the sin wagon.

My already pinkish nose and cheeks turn bright red if I have a hot drink, spicy food, wine, spend too much time driving straight into the setting Texas sun, or even just sit still at my computer too long, which causes the blood to pool towards the center of my face. I am tomato red through an entire sparring class, and during one particularly energized class I turned so red I was grey. The more alcohol I drank the more I noticed how red and splotchy my face was becoming….and staying permanently.

In case you still doubt the sheer crappiness of my skin and circulation, there’s more. I bruise very easily, and they last for weeks. Scars from small cuts or bites can last up to six months. I’ve gotten several drive-by diagnoses from nurse and doctor coworkers of Raynaud’s phenomenon in my fingers. The good thing about that is I was able to commission my mom to knit me several cute pairs of fingerless gloves.

So what did giving up booze do for me other than save me from too many calories and drunken Super Mario Brothers sessions?

I lost a few pounds. I don’t attribute that entirely to giving up drinking. I amped up my workout routine and cleaned up my diet about the same time I gave up the bottle. It certainly didn’t hurt though. Drinking wine is like pouring a big glass of sugar down your throat, plus it gives me the munchies. I wouldn’t drink a fully-leaded soda every night. How is drinking wine any different?

My vitals changed as well. I went to the doctor in April, and my resting pulse was 60, and my blood pressure was 114/62. I typically have low pulse and BP rates thanks to exercise and good genetics, but I’ve never seen it lower than about 120/75. At a June health fair it was 106/68. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

My skin did clear up. Even after just a few weeks of not drinking I noticed that some of the persistent redness had calmed down, and it looked brighter. Within a month other people noticed that my skin looked clearer.

The biggest thing was that I got out of my funk. I had fallen into a deep depression earlier in the year, aggravated by the cold dreary weather and some complications in my relationship. I was lonely, restless, and starting to question whether anything was worth the trouble anymore. I got to the point that I needed a drink when I got home, and it kept me company throughout long dragging weekends of isolation and brooding.

I learned to rely on my pure unfiltered self rather than the hazy distraction of an outside substance (whether it was alcohol, food, Netflix, whatever) to cheer me up, get me through a rough patch, or just pass the time. A few weeks after I stopped drinking alcohol my relationship imploded. I wanted to drink myself into a blind stupor during that lost weekend, but I didn’t have a single drop. These days I actually look forward to treating myself to an occasional soda, perhaps ginger ale in a wine glass if I’m feeling fancy, or if I really want to indulge, lemonade mixed with ice tea (and not the kind from Long Island).

Will I start drinking alcohol again? An emphatic YES. I have a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne that I will open immediately after my black belt test in the fall. I’d say that’s about as special as you can get for a special occasion. I LOVE wine, and not just for the slow-building heady buzz. I love the texture, the taste, the complexity of smell and flavor, the beautiful color of it, how it can complement anything from filet mignon to peanut butter crackers (cabernet sauvignon and a really dry cheddary chardonnay respectively in case you’re wondering). It’s my partner in crime while I make a fresh batch of marinara—some for the gravy, some for the cook. Virginia Madsen’s candlelit soliloquy about wine in the movie “Sideways” makes me tear up a little.

Yes, I will start drinking again after my self-imposed oenophile-exile is over. The difference will be that I will truly be able to enjoy wine without being weighed down with the anxious expectation for it to save me from my worries or give me a false sense of cheer and peace. Plus I’ll need to make a new batch of marinara.

Commit, Even if You Look Stupid (I’m Good, I’ll Just Watch From Back Here)

committed sign

“What’s the next part of this form?” my instructor asked, swiveling his head around and looking straight at me.  We had just passed what I call the “jazz hands” portion of Palgwe Sam-jang, the green belt form that we were reviewing that night.

“Ki-yahp and punch!” I shouted back. “No, wait! It’s THIS!!” I crowed triumphantly, whirled around to land in a deep front stance, and slammed down a low block with a sharp satisfied exhale.

“Is she right?” my instructor asked as everyone remained perched in a frozen back stance (except of course for me in all my front stance/low block glory). The other students furrowed their brows, looked down at the floor with embarrassment, and mumbled “Uh…maybe?”

“It’s THIS!” he said, turning to his right, shifting into a front stance, and popping up a high block. We all groaned.

“Oh so close!” I laughed and adjusted my arms.

My instructor trotted to the front of the room and said, “I heard a lot of ‘uh, maybes’ and ‘I don’t knows’ when I asked you if she was right. Commit to something! Don’t do things halfway, at least not in here. Being on the fence means you don’t have an opinion and you’re waiting to see how things work out. That’s OK in the short term, but in the long term it can be dangerous.” He shuffled his feet and straightened his knees into a weak imitation of a back stance.

“You see?” he said, opening his palms and spreading his fingers, “If your stances are halfway now you’ll develop bad habits, and they won’t be effective later.” He shifted back and forth between stances. “You need the strength of front stance,” he said as he sank into his right knee, “and the speed of back stance.” He shifted his weight to his back leg and raised his fists as if ready to spar. “Commit to your stance, even if it’s wrong! I’d rather see you do a wrong stance all the way than the right one halfway!”

I smiled and thought, “At least I was committed to my wrong low block!”

As he continued to weave through the lines of students, correcting stances and fine-tuning blocks I thought about the concept of commitment. Words can carry the weight of the world, but they can also be tossed around casually like pieces of meaningless garbage. I have been hurt both by taking someone’s words too seriously or not taking them seriously enough.  A person’s true character can more often be seen through their actions. Do they follow through on their promises? Do they give and serve? Do they right what was wrong? Committed actions show that we have confidence in our opinions and the choices we’ve made.

The only time I’ve heard an example of how “being on the fence” was the the best choice was an old tale my grandma liked to tell about a distant uncle who was a child during the Civil War. He was leaning up against a fence, chewing on a piece of grass and looking at the clouds, when a posse of soldiers came barreling up the dirt road to his house.
“Boy, what side are you on?” the leader of the gang snarled.

“I’m not on any side” replied my relative slowly, shifting his weight on the wooden post. “I’m on my belly.”