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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Little Black Belt is FOUR!

number 4

My blog turns four today! Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts. I’m glad I could reach people all over the world and share my love of the life changing martial art taekwondo. During the past year I went through a major change at work, learned the mystery of  a lingering health problem, and passed my second Dan test. To celebrate my blog’s birthday I’m sharing my favorite posts from the past year. Enjoy!

1. You ARE Something (Other People Believe It, So It’s About Time You Did) (April 2017) A new opportunity at work teaches me about valuing myself as much as others do.

2. The Best Birthday (July 2017) My master and fellow students make my birthday one of the happiest ever.

3. You Are Who You’ve Been Waiting For (August 2017) A speech at a work event teaches all of us about the power of stepping into who we really are and what we can really accomplish.

4. So I’m Eating Meat Again: a Cautionary Tale of the Rules We Place on Ourselves (September 2017) I realize that my foray into vegetarianism triggered a latent eating disorder and I take up hamburgers again.

5. Leadership Toolbox: the Power of Practice (October 2017) I see a lot of parallels between black belt leadership and the leadership skills I encourage people to develop at work. Just like being a good taekwondo student and instructor, being a good leader takes diligence and practice.

6. Saying Goodbye to the Parasites In Our Lives (October 2017) A little microbe I named Plankton and the relationship I had with “him” taught me that sometimes it’s harder than we think to give up things that are ultimately harmful to us.

7. Getting a Black Belt vs. Being a Black Belt: Thoughts on Testing for Second Dan  (November 2017) The day before my second dan test I reflected on what it means to pass the test and the responsibility attached to actually wearing the belt.

8. Being Okay With Where You Are (November 2017) A yoga class and a botched board break teach me that it’s okay to be forgiving of myself and accept where I am and what I’m capable of doing moment to moment. (And you can do that too!)

9. Why I Teach (Even Though I Want Everyone to Leave Me Alone) (February 2018) I have a love/hate relationship with teaching and presenting, a skill I’ve cultivated both in the workplace and in taekwondo. I seem to have a knack for guiding, coaching, and inspiring people, but damnit, sometimes I just want to be quiet and not talk to anyone for a week. My blessing is my curse, sigh.

10. You Know More Than You Think You Do: What I Learned from Practicing “That Old Japanese Form” (The Poomsae Series Part 14) (February 2018) This post marked the end of both The Poomsae Series as we know it for now and the end of a treasured student-teacher relationship and the lesson I was able to carry with me.

Thank you for reading. Let’s make it another good year!

Am I Replacing One Vice With Another? Part I

cigs-food-drink

These are a few of my favorite thin–oh you guys, lighten up, I’m joking!

A few years ago I questioned whether taekwondo was something I was going to stick with for the long haul or a hobby I was going to toy with for a while and then set aside. I’ve since proven to myself that taekwondo is most certainly not a “passing fancy.” It’s what I turn to for physical and mental fitness, it has pushed me to and beyond my limits (and many times my patience), and I’ve achieved milestones and goals in the dojang and elsewhere I never would have thought were possible a few years ago. It’s not just a hobby or a sport. It’s a calling and a community. I want to practice taekwondo until I die.

I once told a friend that I get from taekwondo the same feeling I had hoped to get from church–it has nothing to do with my Christian faith, which is very personal and private, but rather it gives me a sense of belonging and a desire to serve with like-minded people I care about. I always felt alone and guarded everywhere else but the dojang. I still do.

These past few weeks I’ve noticed a heavy weight sinking onto my shoulders and an increasing sense of emptiness. I put on a good front when I’m in public, but often when I’m home I deteriorate quickly. I’m struggling. I don’t completely fall apart though. I never allow myself to because I’m all I have–falling apart is not an option, but I know I don’t feel content in my Fortress of Solitude like I used to. Weekends and long nights have been hard. I don’t want anyone’s help though (and if anyone from my real life asks I’m going to give you the same answer). The thought of spending extended periods of time with people annoys me even more than the anxious thoughts that swirl around in my brain when I’m trying to sleep. So what should I do about this uneasy feeling?

Lately the only place where I’ve truly felt good is at the dojang, and this has been an excellent time to “throw myself into work,” as one might say. Last month we prepared students for a tournament and two other students to test for black belt. This past week we’ve been helping a number of lower ranking students prepare for a color belt test. I’ve been busy teaching, coaching, refereeing, fighting, kicking, sweating, and sometimes having a really hard laugh. Guys, I’ve sometimes felt so “high” I probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive after taekwondo class.

And then I go home, and the dark clouds rush back. I’m ready for my next hit and wishing it were time for another class again because it feels so damn good and more importantly, it keeps me distracted from what I don’t want to face. Hell, after the color belt test on Friday I went home feeling what comedian Katt Williams so eloquently described as, “Hungry, Happy, Sleepy,” although he wasn’t attributing those feelings to taekwondo. My problems and worries seemed so insignificant! I was elated, if only for a few hours.

Things started to make sense when I asked myself a tough question I’ve been avoiding for quite some time:

Is taekwondo is just a replacement for other pain-numbing vices?

I can get addicted to things fairly easily–substances, people, exercise, ideas, hopes, feelings, beliefs, thought patterns, activities. I have poured my heart into taekwondo, but perhaps I set myself up for a new addiction right from the beginning. I went back to taekwondo because my life was in shambles, at least beneath the surface. At first it was a solitary activity. Getting a black belt was an afterthought. I went to class, listened intently to instructors, and practiced my techniques. Then I started to open up to my instructors and accept them as friends, and I also realized I had a talent for leading other students. Nothing has ever felt so natural. This little mistrusting, very guarded introvert was making connections.

I fell in love with taekwondo for many reasons, but the largest one was how it made me FEEL. Even on nights when I was frustrated, I still felt that endorphin rush, soul cleanse, mind rinse off awesomeness that I get out of just about every class. That’s why I continue to go. Yes, I definitely want to test for second degree, but I still mainly go to class because it’s FUN and I feel SOOOO GOOD. I love the physicality, practicing the techniques, seeing myself improve, and especially helping my instructors and other students, not to mention hitting stuff with my hands is indescribably, viscerally satisfying. I like to tell myself that the dojang is the one place where I can give selflessly. Or maybe I’ve found myself to be in a one-woman cult of my own trapping.

I think the real cause of this overwhelming, sinking feeling of loneliness and emptiness is a combination of things: illness among family and friends, the death of a young coworker, job insecurity, this ugly and frightening American political landscape, and just within the past few days, a death in the family that has hit me much harder and haunted me more than I thought it would. I am emotionally and physically exhausted. But let’s face it, 2016 has been hard on everyone. It started off with David Bowie’s death and pretty much fell to absolute crap after that. I suppose breaking from the weight of this awful year was inevitable.

I’ve learned the hard way  that no one and no thing (not even taekwondo) can save me from this exhaustion but myself. I’m pretty good about reminding myself that when I’m feeling down. I know I sometimes put too much stock into taekwondo to give me those happy feelings. Taekwondo is not magical. It’s just like money, weight loss, or a relationship–feels good in the moment, but at the end of the day I’m stuck with myself, so I’d better be happy with who’s looking out at me from the mirror.

These dark clouds will pass. These painful situations I’ve been in will lessen. As my dad said to me about this time last year when I was feeling low, spring will come. Things always work out for me in some form or another, and like a good black belt, when I fall down seven times, I get up eight. It’s time to get up, Black Belt.

I’m tempted to take some time off from taekwondo to see how well my emotional coping skills work without it, but right now I just can’t. If this is my new vice, then so be it.

Why I Like Mean Girls

little mean karate girl

“So I was working with this cute little girl who looks just like Tweety Bird. She kept wanting to do the one step [self-defense technique] with the takedown. She had this crazy smile on her face and kept saying, ‘Takedown! Takedown!’ I like this kid!” I said to one of my fellow black belts. He paused for a moment and then looked pointedly at me.

“Why, because she’s like you?”

Absolutely.

There’s a running joke at our little dojang that all the females are mean and crazy. We move fast, fight hard, and go for blood….all in the spirit of good sportsmanship of course. One teenage girl has earned a reputation for kicking everyone in the face during sparring. It’s like a right of passage to get smacked in the head by her. Another woman regularly kicks the crap out me, and to add insult to injury, she punches me right in the chest. (It just HAS to be there instead of my stomach for some reason. And this is during “no contact” sparring, mind you.)

Meanwhile, tiny Tweety Bird, with her glasses and giant blue-green eyes, kicks really freaking hard for a little kid and ki-yahps with loud maniacal glee, especially when she’s tossing around her older sister. My instructor has trained me to be aggressive during fighting and move in quickly on my opponents during self-defense practice. I get a sick pleasure from breaking boards with my hands. Sometimes he seems surprised that he’s created all these monsters.

The underlying theme in our Taekwondo Mean Girls Club is CONFIDENCE. We might not all be the best, but we won’t go down without a fight.

Nothing makes me prouder than to see a girl kick ass, but it’s not for reasons you might think. Sure, I want to see them stay out of trouble, build healthy minds and bodies, and earn their black belts. More so, they have the power to avoid the pain I’ve experienced by being a lifelong doormat. Since childhood I’ve been bullied, teased, humiliated, and harassed. Other than crying or getting angry I never fought back. (Except that time I slapped a boyfriend in the face for calling me fat. God, that was satisfying.)

I let myself be abused in various ways over and over again, and that is my deepest regret. I was a lonely, sensitive child and a jaded, skittish young woman who retreated further and further into herself as the only means of self-preservation. I didn’t think I could defend myself. I didn’t know how, and my mind didn’t work fast enough to save me. Even to this day in all my black belt glory I find myself in situations where I later regret not saying or doing something to stand up for myself. I still have a moment or two of being in shock when someone crosses my comfort zone and chips away at my dignity. Do people really think it’s OK to act like that? I’m reluctant to get close to anyone again, be it friend, romantic partner, or otherwise for fear of being hurt again. My outer shell grows thicker by the day.

I have pain and damage to undo despite the huge strides I’ve made in taekwondo. I’d like to think most of the young girls I work with in the dojang aren’t burdened with that, at least not yet. It hurts my heart to think of them feeling scared, angry, in pain, or helpless. I can’t protect them all the time, and neither can their parents. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to get their hearts broken. They are going to do and say things they regret. What I hope they can avoid is the pain and shame of not standing up for themselves when they felt threatened or mistreated.

So yes, I like mean, aggressive, and most of all CONFIDENT girls. They are proud of who they are and won’t compromise to please someone else. They have self-respect and know when to speak up and speak out. They can value themselves highly despite what a friend, a boy, a teacher, a boss, or total stranger might think of them. They can avoid the mistakes I made and the missteps I took. They can have bright, bold futures filled with love and happiness. I can’t change my past behavior, but going forward I can be as tough and fearless as these girls I admire so much.

Love is Like Grape Soda…or, Being Happily Single on Valentine’s Day

crush-soda-grape-54495

Nope to grape soda…and to crushes, for that matter.

“For me, right now anyway, a relationship is like…grape soda.”

I was talking to a trusted friend and mentor a few weeks ago, and the subject of dating had come up. After a serious relationship ended last April, I spent several months doing the exact opposite of what I used to do after breakups: I wasn’t thinking about dating at all. I wasn’t wishing for it. I wasn’t interested. I was genuinely surprised when friends asked if I was dating because it was so far from my mind. My parents knew not to ask, and they were probably glad that I was taking time for myself. Even when my ex attempted to reconcile, I was tempted but ultimately declined. I was officially closed for business.

I continued my explanation to my friend:
“Grape soda is one of those things I don’t dislike, but I just don’t think about it, and I never buy it. If I see it at a potluck I think, ‘Oh look, grape soda,’ and then I forget about it and pour myself a cup of Sprite or Coke instead. Same thing at the grocery store: ‘Oh look, there’s grape soda on the shelf. You don’t see that every day. I guess some people like it,’ and I keep walking and forget about it. I don’t have negative or positive feelings towards grape soda. I just don’t care.”

That’s how I now find myself feeling towards dating and romantic love: nothing. I just don’t think about it. It’s become this fuzzy, foreign concept that doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t dislike relationships, and I’m still attracted to men, but I’m not pursuing love or companionship.

After the big April breakup last year I needed to stay OUT of the dating pool for a long time because I was bitter, angry, and sad and needed time to grieve. Now that I’ve worked through those feelings (well, for the most part), in some people’s minds I should be ready for love again, but…nah. I don’t wanna. Telling me to “get back out there” is like telling me to get a puppy or go on a hot air balloon ride. It sounds nice, but….nah….not for me, thanks. I don’t hate puppies or hot air balloons or relationships; I’m just not that interested.

I’m a little dismayed at all the biased information on the internet about being single: how to cope with it, how to handle it, how to feel better about it. I’ve tried to find information about people who don’t want to date just ‘cause, but all I come up with are a bunch of sob stories from people who dramatically claim they “don’t believe in love anymore!” when they’re secretly pining for it or from people who are so burned and scarred from past experience that they are terrified of entering into another relationship again. I don’t feel angst, fear, despair, or…well…much of anything.

Being single is not a disease, and it is not a curse. It is an opportunity to discover who you are, what you want in life (and what you want in a partner), and what makes you happy. People take being single like it’s an insult or it’s something bad that has been intentionally inflicted upon them. I know that because I used to think that way. Oh, the time I wasted feeling sorry for myself! I thought all the men in the world had conspired to reject me. Boo-freaking-hoo! Now that I’ve let go of the self-loathing and resentment, I’m totally fine being alone, and in fact, nearly a year after the end of that last serious relationship, I prefer it. No dates, no texting, no set ups, no Match profile, nothing. If I sense a man is showing some interest, I run like hell. I go to work, go to taekwondo, do the things I like to do, and enjoy my life.

I am a rock. I am an island. Leave me alone.

And for the record, since I know people are going to assume this: I’m not anti-relationship. A lack of interest in something doesn’t mean I hate it. Grape soda, for example—don’t hate it, just don’t care. Same way with love. I’m not anti-marriage. I’m not anti-men. I don’t hate my ex and am not irreparably heartbroken. Maybe when I’m good and ready, I’ll welcome love back into my life, or maybe I will spend the rest of my life alone and unattached. Either way, I’m fine with whatever happens, and just being able to say that is an accomplishment I’m proud of.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if I’m deluding myself. Maybe I am so mired in loneliness and sadness that my foggy, fuzzy brain doesn’t know what’s normal anymore. When my friend of the grape soda conversation asked me to define love, I was stumped. I said I knew that I’d experienced it, but I couldn’t describe it. Months after that discussion I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe I’m in such a deep depression (or denial) that self-imposed exile has become the norm. I do get lonely, and sometimes I wish I could get dressed up and go on a nice date with a nice man. But then again, I don’t feel like something is missing from my life so much as something extraneous has simply been removed, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps permanently. It’s truly a strange sensation to feel no desire for something I’ve longed for and pursued all my adult life.

That absence of feeling puzzles me more than anything else.

Perhaps this absence of worry and longing for love is part of my larger shift toward relaxing and loosening the reins on my life a bit. Things have begun to fall in place like magic (or the law of attraction): Ever since the Christmas holidays I’ve stopped worrying about certain aspects of work, and without any doing on my part, my responsibilities were shifted away from activities I didn’t enjoy to things I find greatly fulfilling. I stopped trying to cram my free time with activities, and now the weekends feel longer and more restful. I stopped caring about having a perfect body, and now I’m a fitter and leaner version of myself than I was at an even smaller weight. I finally, finally stopped feeling angry and sad about that failed and possibly final relationship.

…Not giving a shit suits me.

Letting go of the “need” for a relationship felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. In getting over my addiction to love from another person (it was more likely a need for validation and attention rather than real love) and an anxious need to be in a relationship, I learned the power of loving and valuing myself. Sounds cheesy, but if you’ve spent most of your life hating yourself and desperately seeking the approval of others, experiencing this kind of shift is profoundly liberating.

I did feel a little down a few weeks ago when I saw Valentine cards in the grocery store and thought about how I didn’t have anyone to buy a card for…but just like whenever I saw grape soda, I kept walking and promptly forgot about it.

So, if you’re in a relationship this Valentine’s Day…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. If you’re single…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. Drink some grape soda, whatever. Either way, I hope you recognize your own value and beauty. You don’t need anyone else to tell you that it’s there.

Watch, right after I post this, some joker is going to come along, sweep me off my feet, and ruin all my single fun. *Sigh*

Five Things I Lost While Training for My Black Belt (Besides Five Pounds)

good riddance cake

I don’t want to even look at cake right now.

Training for my October black belt test did more than get me in good physical shape and help me hone the skills I needed to demonstrate to earn my new rank. It also helped me rid myself of some particularly damaging (and sticky) habits.

1. I lost my sweet tooth.
Remember how I was going on about craving Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies in the last few posts before my black belt test? I finally bought a box, eagerly ripped open the plastic packaging of the coveted treat, and….meh. They’re a lot smaller than I remember them being, and they don’t have that wonderful greasy mouthfeel they used to. Maybe all the trans fats and yummy stuff were removed. I won’t be buying another box.

Along with the sweet tooth I also seemed to have lost my tolerance for junk food in general. The week following my test I gave myself a pass to indulge and polish off the goodies I had when my family visited for the test: leftover pizza, chips, soda, sliced turkey and Swiss cheese, Halloween candy, and….meh. I had carb face and a processed food headache. I did make it to Whataburger, so thankfully I didn’t have to revoke my Native Texan card. When I finally ate an apple after eating all that crap I felt like I’d bitten into a juicy atomic bomb. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my boring staples of oatmeal, brown rice, roasted vegetables, fruit, and boiled eggs again.

2. I lost my taste for alcohol.
I’m sure a few of my oenophile friends are thinking, “WHYYYY?” I gave it up for seven months primarily due to some health problems I was having at the beginning of the year, and I decided to just keep going until I completed my black belt test. It was much easier to quit than I expected, and I didn’t miss it at all. I enjoyed the champagne and red wine I drank with my family after my test, and I do see a bottle of Single Barrel Jack in my future, but…meh. I don’t dislike alcohol now. I just don’t NEED it anymore, and THAT is a very good thing.

3. I lost my need for validation or approval from other people.
I’m still eager to please and like to put smiles on people’s faces, and of course, duh, I care about what my taekwondo instructors think of me (and yeah, my boss too since he helps me pay for those taekwondo classes), but I don’t care anymore whether people “like” me or not. I enjoy and appreciate compliments, but they’re icing on a cake that I’m not craving that much anymore. (That’s my metaphorical sweet tooth). I still strive to do better, but I don’t worry about how I look, how I sound, or how people perceive me.

I know that I’m a good person, and I accept myself for who I am, both in my personality and my physical looks. I know I can kick ass in a business meeting just as much as I can in the dojang. During my actual black belt test I had no worries or fear. I wasn’t second guessing myself or apologizing, and I nailed it. I was so calm I wondered if part of my brain had melted, but maybe it meant that I’m finally, FINALLY exercising that fabled confidence martial arts is known for bringing out in its practitioners. Less than a week after my black belt test, during a meeting with some tough business clients, I tapped into my newfound strength and wooed our tough clients into going with the plan that my boss and I were proposing. Whether I’m in heels and a suit or a black belt and bare feet I am strong, confident, and capable. I would’t have been able to say that before I began taekwondo.

4. I lost my total and utter feeling of disconnect with other human beings…well, some of the time.
I know I’m not a sociopath because I have a very present and very vocal conscience, but I’m not exactly Mother Theresa either. I can go a whole week not speaking a word to anyone and not caring at all. (Actually it would be nice to have a week like that, where I don’t speak to ANYONE).  One of the reasons why I got back into taekwondo was to get out of my house and more importantly, get out of my churning, depressed, self-loathing head. Taekwondo is a contact sport in many ways—obviously in the physical sense, but very much in the emotional and social sense. We’re a tribe, a family, a community. We rely on each other to learn and improve. I simply can’t get lost in a train of worrisome thoughts if I’m having to chase a nine-year-old across the mat with a kicking pad or help a teenager with tricky parts of their form.

Through my instructor’s encouragement, I have gained a lot of experience teaching and coaching, and that will be an even higher expectation now that I am a black belt. Turns out, I’m good at it, and more importantly, I enjoy it. It’s brought out the loving, giving, attentive parts of my personality that to this point in my life I’ve only been able to share with my family. I’m the doting, compassionate mother that I will forever refuse to be elsewhere, the leader I don’t strive to be professionally, and the funny, outgoing, loyal friend that I am unable to be in other parts of my life.

It still takes an extra effort for me to interact with people, but I’m doing it more frequently. Taekwondo forces me to actively and intensely engage with people six hours out of the week, which is more than I’ve done in the past. One of these days perhaps my “real” persona will bleed out of the dojang and into other parts of my life, but for now it’s nice to know that at least with some people I don’t feel the need to wear a mask.

5. I lost my need to be in a relationship to be “happy.”
This might be the most important loss (or gain?) of all. My partner of two years and I split up in early April, exactly a week after I successfully tested for bo dan, leaving me to travel the path to black belt alone. The relationship was already on thin ice, but we’d both held onto hopes that we could continue, until we simply couldn’t. For my entire adult life I thought that I needed a man’s love, or at the very least his attention, to be happy. I don’t believe in soul mates and hate the “you complete me” crap, but I still wrapped up a lot of my self-worth in what some dude thought of me. That was another reason why I re-entered the world of taekwondo: I had one dating disaster after another, and I was miserable. I needed to get away from myself before I messed up my life even further.

I don’t regret my most recent relationship at all. My partner and I loved each other very much and both agreed that we were able to be our true selves more with each other than either of us had been able to with previous partners. I think we both needed each other as support systems until we were able to function independently on our own. It was nice to have someone who loved me at most of my belt tests, especially the first one when I jumped from white to green, but by the time we split I figured out that I was able to continue the journey by myself.

I was heartbroken when it ended, but I wasn’t at a total loss of what to do, and more importantly, I didn’t blame/hate myself for the break up. I bounced back more quickly after what was my most serious relationship to-date than I had from one- or two-month flings. I didn’t have time to let a breakup crush me; I was training for my black belt! At first I thought the timing was terrible since I would be training for my black belt test “alone,” but in hindsight the timing was perfect. I learned  that I could rely entirely and singularly on myself to succeed.  I doubt I would have had that eerie sense of calm the day of the test if I were still subconsciously searching over and over for the validation that someone loved me, approved of me, and accepted me.

So will I start dating again now that I have my black belt? NOPE. SOOOO not interested, and SOOOO don’t care. One, it’s only been seven months, and I am simply not ready to consider anyone else as boyfriend material; it’s too weird and too soon. Two, and the more important reason, I haven’t been able to enjoy just being myself in…well…ever, so I’m going to bask in that for a while. I’m having way too much fun on my own. The way I feel about dating is the way I feel about sweets and alcohol and relying on other people to boost my self–esteem…nice, but….meh. Besides, whatever joker I finally decide to spend time with might as well start coming to taekwondo class with me or move along, because that’s where my heart really is.

Darkest Before Dawn

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel “I’m sorry! I’ve lost my mojo!” I wailed as I clumped and teetered through a series of spin kicks. We had set up what I will now refer to as The Gauntlet: five or six holders stood in a line holding focus pads as each student whirled past, hitting each pad with a spin kick. I thought I was going to get off easy since it was getting late, and we had a large class. I sighed as I was asked to switch pads with another student and was glumly thankful that at least I only had to do the kick on my right side.

I can’t fully describe how awful it was. I kept falling forward, my leg either stayed in a cramped chamber position or flopped out ineffectively. My foot limply tapped the pad or missed it completely. Of course the more upset I became the worse I got. The advice my instructors shouted at me made perfect sense, but my brain and body refused to communicate. Grandmaster gave me such a disappointed and frustrated look that my heart nearly broke.

This should not still be happening. I have been doing spin kick since I was a white belt; I should have it down by now. I have no problem slinging my body upside down in a yoga pose or throwing a powerful every-other-kick-but-spin kick in taekwondo class. Why all of a sudden am I nearly immobilized when asked to do this somewhat basic kick? What the hell is going on??

“Cut yourself some slack,” said a soothing voice in my head. That’s the enlightened part of me that is the calm inside the storm. It’s been growing larger and more powerful over the years, but it has a lot of crap it has to fight through. “How many other thirty-six year old women can do what you do?” it continued. “Look at you, you’re keeping up with the kids like it’s nothing! It’s probably just PMS. That makes you bloated and dizzy. Go home, pout a little, and eat some chocolate. You’ll feel better.” (And to my guy friends who got tricked into reading this far: HA! Made ya blush!)

“Yeah, you’re thirty-six!” said another much more sarcastic voice. This was my ego, the judge who ruled my life for a very long time. I never encountered mean girls in school, but the Queen Bee is alive and well in my head. She’s gotten weaker over time, but she’s still a bitch. “Grow up and stop embarrassing yourself even more by whining and complaining! You’re such a drama queen! Shut up and quit holding up the line!”

I’ve learned that the more tightly you cling to something the faster it will crumble in your fingers, whether it’s money, a relationship, or something else that you feel must have otherwise you can’t be happy. I’ve never cared as deeply about academics or career as I do relationships or other interests, and yet those are the areas where I’ve had the stupid good fortune to succeed. I wasn’t forcing it. I let go of the outcome and let good things come to me.

I think in a similar way I might be clinging a little too tightly to taekwondo. It helped me get out of a serious pit of depression and break some damaging emotional habits, but I have to remember that I’d be OK without it too. I’ve invested so much of my heart in it though that any disappointment sends me into a panic. My instructors have been nothing but kind and infinitely patient with me. They don’t think any less of me because I didn’t do a good job tonight. The only harsh critic I have is myself. Plateaus or even the proverbial two steps back are just that: a pause in time. They eventually pass. This will too.

I do have to give myself some props though. As I drove home I thought, “Wow, even though I got upset and frustrated I didn’t start bashing myself for being ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ or ‘worthless.’ I’m growing up after all!” I was frustrated and upset, but for once I didn’t turn the anger in on myself. You guys don’t know how much of a change that is. While I may have hit a plateau in training it seems I’ve moved up in other areas. Yay!

Leave it to my chief instructor to bring me back down to earth. At the end of class as we were all shaking hands I sighed and fretted about my poor performance. “Oh, I don’t know what to do, I seem to be getting worse and worse! I’m letting everybody down!” I moaned.

“It’s just one day,” he said, shaking a kid’s hand and giving me a pointed look. “If you are really good at everything and don’t have anything to work on then you become stale and arrogant. You need a challenge.” In that moment I really appreciated his level-headedness and emotional maturity that seemed like it belonged to a much older man. If I’d had that same confidence and big picture mindset at twenty-three that he does then…well….for starters I probably wouldn’t be falling apart over a crappy spin kick….and I probably wouldn’t have sent all those long psychotic emails to ex-boyfriends…or changed my college major five times….and….well, you get the picture.

I admired him for it and kinda hated him too.