5th and final article in the series, “I Can Do Anything?“
Success might not look like what you thought when you first began pursuing it
Back in August, my belt test didn’t go quite the way I wanted it to go. It wasn’t my best performance. I could make excuses. It was outdoors at Gasshuku (extended training retreat), not at my home dojo. Whine, whine whine – I was sleep deprived because I don’t sleep well away from home and especially not in a tent. Complain, complain – I don’t like the way shoes flop around on my feet when I kick so I left them off for the entire test instead of leaving them on until kumite. As a consequence, I slipped in the dewy grass a few times. Whine, whine – the other Senseis counting for the other groups testing nearby was distracting. Complain, complain – I’m directionally dyslexic and we weren’t facing the “front” of the “dojo” when we did kata. Whine, whine, whine – we’d already worked out for an hour before breakfast and we’d worked out the evening before, so I was dog tired. So how is it I managed to succeed? For the level I was testing for there is a good bit of grace, but that’s not the whole reason.
I knew some of the challenges in advance and prepared for them. I did everything I could to ensure that I could get some sleep, so that night wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Besides, I should’ve been able to do everything even if the Senseis had woken me up at midnight for testing! I trained for slippery stuff underfoot. At the latitude I live in, the long summer days mean I can sneak out of the house very early in the morning and do kata on the beach. If the tide’s out, there might be some sand, but for the most part, the beaches here are composed of little smooth rocks that roll under one’s feet (I leave my shoes on – bits of shell and glass are sharp). I’d trained for more than one workout in a day – what I did was barely sufficient but then again, I was pleased to discover I had underestimated my endurance. I didn’t anticipate the other factors. But I did the best I could to train for what I thought might happen.
I could’ve opted wait for the next promotion held in a comfy, air-conditioned dojo on wood floors after a good night’s sleep, only one workout within 24 hours, and a nice, orderly progression through testing each group. But I knew I would always wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t embraced the challenge of testing at Gasshuku. I knew my performance was likely to be “off,” so I told myself to keep on keeping on no matter what. I did. But after awhile of making mistakes in my two strongest areas – kata and kihon, I began to think maybe I wouldn’t pass this test. As I shoved my mouth guard in and strapped the fist pads on to prepare for my weakest area (kumite), I told myself it didn’t matter if I passed. I hadn’t shrunk away from the additional challenges. I had tried. I breathed in and looked around me.
I was in a green field under a blue sky. Trees surrounding the field were sighing in a little breeze. The sun was shining down. My daughter was there cheering me on. I was surrounded by extraordinary people doing fun things. I felt like even if I failed, it was a privilege to be there. Then it happened. Right before I walked into the ring, a Bald Eagle called from somewhere very close by. Wow. My heart was filled with joy, and I had new courage to continue. I suddenly didn’t care if I failed – I was going to put my whole heart into my fight just out of sheer delight at being where I was. It turns out my best performance the whole promotion was in my weakest area. I got the belt.
Success can come from failure or adverse circumstances
What if I’d failed? Sometimes failure can be a stepping stone on the way to success. I would have learned, trained and practiced diligently, and passed the next test with flying colors. I would still have the memories of being outdoors, barefoot in the cool grass, and that eagle calling. Thomas Edison failed many, many times when he was trying to invent the light bulb but we don’t ever say he was a lousy inventor. As Sensei Andrea Harkins says, mistakes are meant to happen. OK, but what if I’d slipped on the grass and injured my knee so badly I could no longer do karate?
Stuff happens. Sometimes we are blindsided – hit by catastrophe out of the blue. For that, I refer you to the success story of Joani Earickson Tada. After being paralyzed in a diving accident, she learned to paint. Sometimes we’re cut down by something we simply can’t stand against. Read Corrie Ten Boom’s autobiography The Hiding Place to find out about how a hideous infestation of lice helped her succeed in defying the Nazis right in the heart of a labor camp. Sometimes we’re rejected by someone we were counting on to help us on the road to success. Julie Andrews wasn’t cast for the movie “My Fair Lady” even though she’d played Eliza Doolitle in the theater for years. Instead, Disney hired her to play the title role in the movie “Mary Poppins.” She ended up winning Best Actress at the Academy Awards that year. The road to success for these ladies certainly wasn’t straightforward!
I’d love to succeed with everything going smoothly along a pre-programmed route, but that’s not in the cards. The road to success can be uncomfortable, to say the least. However, you might find your success to be even better than you first imagined it, especially if the journey was rough.
Does your success amount to a hill of beans?
“So you got your black belt. That’s nice,” my friend says as she slurps her coffee as an excuse to avert her eyes. I briefly and gently correct her about the rank, then ask about her kids.
“You barely passed? I thought it was an easy test.” Good for you, now go learn the new kata or something 🙂
“Joelle White? I don’t see her listed anywhere in this ancient book about 21st century martial arts.”
Not everyone is going to be impressed or even interested in your triumphs. I think it’s rather silly to not be interested in martial arts, but I have to keep in mind there are people who think it’s rather silly to not be interested in growing vegetables. There are people my rank who tested with me that day who had an easier time and who did better. I can live with that. Is anyone going to remember what I did four thousand years from now? Not likely – not many people today know what happened in 1986 BC. So does success matter? Oh yes it does.
Past success is something to hold onto when times are tough. Past success teaches us how to take the next step and achieve new goals. Best of all, we can tell others about our bumpy journeys to success in order to encourage them to keep pursuing their own goals.
Have you succeeded in something? Great! Now set some new goals.