Well, I made it through my karate belt test on Saturday. I actually really enjoyed my belt test. Yes, it’s true.
In last week’s blog post, Overcoming the Illusion of Fear, I wrote about the anxiety I experienced after my last karate belt test that led me to fear and dread the next one. And I also wrote about what helped me get into a mindset that would allow me to finally feel ready to stand in the fear and do the thing I was afraid of. If you would have asked me a year or two ago what victory would have been, I would have told you it was making it through the test without getting hit in the face. And I didn’t get hit in the face, but that’s not what I feel most victorious about.
You would have thought from reading last week’s article that the whole test was sparring and grappling. In fact, I’m told it only lasted a total of four minutes (though it feels like an eternity when you’re in it). The actual belt test in its entirety was five and a half hours long. Yes, that’s right – 95% of my anxiety and fear was about a four minute portion of a five and a half hour test, a fact that was pointed out to me and other karate students in class two days before the test. It was a startling realization. As I reflected on it, I became aware that it’s not the first time I’ve gotten so worked up over something that I poured more of my energy into worry and anxiety than anything else.
“I’ll feel so much better when that presentation is behind me.”
“I just want to get that project done so I can relax.”
“I won’t be able to enjoy myself until I have that dreaded conversation.”
Do you ever say things like that to yourself? Check the box, and then feel grateful for having checked another box. The trouble with that mentality is that it leads us to withdraw ourselves from the very things that we need to be most present for. We get so attached to the outcomes that we cheat ourselves of the experiences and the real gifts they offer. Sure they’re uncomfortable. Of course we look forward to having them over with. But the real victory is not in winning the trophy, it’s in having played our best game. And to do that, we must be fully present – while the game is being played.
We can prepare all we want. We can rehearse. We can plan and practice. And all of that is good. But really, the outcome of any of these things that spin us into a frenzy is directly linked to what we do during the experience itself. We have to detach ourselves from our plans and carefully rehearsed versions of whatever is about to unfold. Because the reality is that we can never fully anticipate what is about to happen. We need to be in the moment, tuning into the people we are with, the things that are being said and done and what we are being moved to do in response that may not have anything to do with what we rehearsed. We need to trust in that part of ourselves that will direct us in just the way we need to go in the moment.
The key benefit of practice and preparation is that we get our minds around the fact that we have everything we need to rise up to any challenge we will be confronted with. In short, we must believe in ourselves and our ability to respond to whatever is taking place even if we’ve never experienced it before.
Merriam Webster defines “victory” as 1: the overcoming of an enemy or antagonist, and 2: the achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties. The true enemy/antagonist in my battle was the part of me that didn’t believe I could handle the karate test, or any test for that matter – the one that just wanted to get it behind me so that I could go onto easier, more enjoyable things. This is the enemy that created the greatest odds and the most horrendous difficulties.
The biggest thing standing in the way of our ability to achieve whatever we endeavor to do is the part of us that keeps us believing we cannot pull it off. True mastery and success will occur for each one of us as we endeavor to rise up in the midst of this opposition and do what is ours to do. And as we do, we will create something we can be truly grateful for – the experience of discovering and unearthing that part of ourselves that can remain calm in the face of any opposition and access the best possible solution in the moment – any moment. This victory is the only kind that is lasting. And each victory of this kind builds on the one that came before.
A toast, to victory! And to every experience, for better or worse, that gives us the opportunity to truly experience it.
I would like to personally thank the Center for Humane Living and every person who is a part of it for enriching my life, and that of others in so many profound ways.
For more on achieving Victory:
Checklist image by Rawich.
Jumping silhouette by Biansho.