You Are Who You’ve Been Waiting For

Catching water reflections (3)

“You are who you’ve been waiting for,” the speaker said with joyful tears in her eyes as she addressed a group of leaders. My colleagues and I were hosting the final event for a program designed for talented leaders in our organization. Our last speaker was reminding them that the future of the organization was in their hands, and the time to act was now.

She had moved up through the ranks in the organization and discovered at one point that her success and her future rested squarely in her hands. New and a little unsure in one of her first leadership roles, she realized she had the opportunity to be the person she always aspired to be and that no one else was going to do the work for her. It was a scary but ultimately liberating feeling. She encouraged everyone in the room to not wait for anyone else to solve problems, make changes, or meet goals. We could all trust and believe in ourselves.

We’ve been told to dress for the professional role we want or “be” the person we want to date. I also recently heard the phrase “water your own grass” rather than always looking longingly over the fence at the metaphorical grass that is supposedly always greener.

That advice could also be ascribed to martial arts: Adopt a black belt mindset when you are a white belt. Develop the heart of a teacher while you are a student. Train your coaching eye while you are learning. Be the type of black belt you admire. Don’t wait for your next class. Begin now.

Sometimes it’s easier said than done to make that type of change when we are nagged by those pesky human emotions of doubt, fear, envy, anger, and attachment. Sometimes those feelings can be overwhelming, and it’s very tempting to be critical of yourself or of others. Sometimes I struggle deeply with those feelings although I choose not to share my pain with anyone–maybe denial is another one on the list, ha ha. It’s easy to blame other people or circumstances, and that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person. It’s just a natural part of being human.

…but…with a little self-compassion, patience, and practice (okay, a LOT of practice) you can begin to change your mindset from one of seeing the world as an adversary to seeing it as an ally. Focus on what you can do and control rather than what you can’t. Pause, observe without judgment, and find ways to get back on track when harmful emotions overtake you. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and doing what you “should” do or having what you “should” have. (I’m still working on that one.) You may not be able to change all the situations or people in your life, but you can immediately change your responses to them.

And isn’t that a wonderful feeling when it begins to take hold? Isn’t it awesome that the person who could change your life is looking out from the mirror at you? You don’t have to wait until the right person, opportunity, project, or amount of money comes along. Change and improvement can begin right now with you.

Water your own grass. Be the person you want to fall in love with. Wrap that proverbial black belt around your waist.

You are who you’ve been waiting for.

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Are You Driven By the Process or the Project?

success road.jpg

My mom is a prolific knitter. She always sewed, crocheted, did needlepoint, but ever since she retired she really took off with knitting. Mom loves it, and I have drawers full of pretty scarves, shawls, and gloves as a side benefit.

Recently she told me about the concept of being a “process knitter” versus a “project knitter” and determined that she is most definitely a process knitter. She likes choosing a new pattern (the more challenging, the better), hunting down the right yarn, selecting the needles, and working through the mathematical process of following the pattern and watching it gradually transform into a finished product. I suppose there’s a meditative aspect to it too. Once she finishes a project she’s ready to move on to the next one and begin the process again.

It made me wonder whether I am a process-driven martial artist or a project-driven one. Am I more stimulated by the long-term aspect of honing my skills over time or by the project, the higher belt rank at the end of a process? Am I driven by the journey or the destination? Both mindsets allow me to apply what I’ve learned, but the motivation is different.

From the beginning I was more process-driven. I wasn’t concerned about getting a black belt when I first returned to taekwondo, much less getting to the next color belt level. I just wanted to be there, learn new things, and practice. The emotional, mental, and physical benefits were almost immediate and addictive. I started this blog, in fact, because I was so enchanted by the process.

I’ve had my moments of being more project-driven, sometimes so much that I would lose long-term focus, especially during my red belt year. I just wanted to work on my testing requirements rather than the comprehensive whole of my practice. The six months before my black belt test I was definitely project-driven, but the Monday after the test I showed up to class with my same goofy, eager smile, ready to start over with a new process and learn new things. I don’t want to discount my short-term focus, though. It served me well when I needed to quickly learn and apply new techniques and polish my performance before tests.

Doing “black belt stuff” feels more process-driven since so much of it revolves around honing previously learned skills, although there’s a fair amount of new content to learn too. The waiting periods between promotion tests stretch out to years rather than months, so the black belt student has plenty of time to focus on details, refinement, and revision. This past year alone has given me a lot of time to think, experiment, and reflect on the improvements I’ve been able to make through my practice both as a student and as an assistant instructor (and become more aware of stubborn, long-term bad habits).

With other students I seem to be more project-driven. There’s nothing more fun for me than getting a student ready for an event (okay, hitting stuff with my hands is more fun, but helping students is a close second). Let’s get you ready for the tournament! Let’s get you ready for your red belt test! Hurry up and get bo dan so we can get you ready for your black belt test! I think I am more excited about the students who will be testing for their first degree black belts next year than I am about my own upcoming second dan test.

Perhaps there is a way to be motivated by both the process and the project over time. We may be able to see the forest AND the trees. I don’t want to devalue the finished product or project nor do I want to skim over the lessons I can learn along the way. I know I will become more project-driven as I get closer to my second dan test next year, but hopefully I will remain aware of the overall process of being a taekwondo black belt, regardless of where I am in the process.

Happy Fails to You

failure kirk

“Failure is the new awesome,” my yoga teacher said in his deep booming voice as we eased back into child’s pose after a hearty, vigorous vinyasa series. This is interesting, I thought as I breathed into the space between my nose and my mat. I wonder where he’s going with this?

“We’re afraid to fail. Some people say the opposite of success is failure. I beg to differ. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ When you fail it means you’re awesome. It means you took a risk, you stuck you’re neck out.”

He then asked us to move into downward dog he added, “And if you want to stay in child’s pose for a while that’s OK too. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re listening to your body.” I propped my hips up but remained resting on the ground as the salted cashews and piece of salami I’d snacked on earlier this morning had suddenly conspired to form an angry ball in my stomach. (Hey, it was organic cashews and nitrate-free salami so don’t toss my halo in the trash yet…)

I don’t like failing. I don’t like embarrassing myself. I don’t like exposing myself as being less than perfect. But I’ve failed many times and came out on the other side as the winner. I’ve quit jobs, friends, relationships, classes, school programs, and hobbies and they all ended up being the catalysts for change and success that I couldn’t have envisioned being possible if I’d continued to cling to what wasn’t serving me anymore.

In taekwondo I have fallen flat on my back, been kicked in the head, endured countless injuries, and had to try things over and over and over for months or years at a time before I got my mind and body to click and do it right. In my last post I mentioned that I quit ballet and my college dance major, which set off a domino effect that landed me in the awesome life I have today. I’ve learned just as much, perhaps even more, from my “failures” than I have from my successes.

Later in the class we were balancing on one leg in warrior III/airplane (funny, there’s no Sanskrit term for “airplane pose”) with our upper body, raised leg, and arms stretched out behind us. He instructed us to lean, lean, leeeeeaaaan forward…and then dive into standing split. “You see?” he said. “You thought you might fail if you fell forward. But you ended up going exactly where you needed to go.” Sly, this yoga teacher of mine.

We did it again on the other side, and this time I was braver. I tipped my upper body straight towards the floor like a seesaw, stretched my arms and raised leg as high as I could toward the ceiling, dove my face as far down towards the mat as I could, all the while snickering and hearing my taekwondo instructor’s voice inside my head shouting, “Why don’t you do that during spin kick?? I always have to remind you to lean your shoulder back!!” If I fell, who cared? I was going to catch myself and land in the next pose anyway. I was going exactly where I wanted to go.

Are you afraid to fail? Are you afraid to even try because you’re afraid to fail? You might fail. You might fall on your face, embarrass yourself, and totally screw up your life. And you might not. Either way, the final outcome is in your hands.  You have the power to learn from your failures and use them as catalysts for success. Dive in! You’re awesome either way.

(Funny side note: earlier today I was wearing a Nike t-shirt that says, “Behold Awesome.” I guess we’re all on the Awesome Train today)