Karate Life Lessons Series #7 – When Looking Outside Fails, Look In

It’s been a while since I wrote a life lessons series post, but I’ve been waiting for the right one. The one I’m going to share today is especially meaningful to me, because it’s the quote I chose to sign off with on my sensei’s dojo wall when I was given my black belt.

When looking outside fails, look in.

At the time, sensei was using it to refer to those who try karate out for a while then give up, claiming that “it doesn’t work.” The message was that if karate isn’t working for you, don’t blame karate, blame yourself for not training hard enough. You get out what you put in.

I chose this quote as the one to live permanently beside my name in the dojo because whether I had thought about it or not, this quote has informed the way I view the world since I was very young. I always believed that if I put the effort in, I would get good grades. In tennis, I believed that more time spent practicing on the court meant more tournament wins. The quote has meaning for anyone studying karate from white belt to black belt, and well beyond the dojo too.

I could talk forever about how it applies, but in the interest of keeping you awake, I’ll focus on the areas where I see people violate this the most.

At Work

No matter which workplace you’re in, you’ll always run into people who look jealously in the direction of peers who they believe have received preferential treatment. You’ll hear things like “must be nice to be the favourite” or “you’re so lucky you have the role that gets all the good projects.”

To those who would say those things, let me ask you something: do you really think that luck or likeability were the only factors leading to that person’s success? Come on. I get it, favouritism is a thing, but you can’t always be blaming that for why you aren’t where you want to be.

If you’re not achieving the level of success you’d like to achieve, don’t project your disappointment on other people; look in the mirror. Take a good hard look at how you’ve been performing in your role, and what you might need to do differently. Maybe you need to promote yourself more internally, or maybe you need to show your leaders you’re willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Either way, nobody is going to move the needle for you; you need to do it yourself.

At Play

Whether it be young kids or adults, I see people give up on a hobby after just trying it out way too often. They try something out, they inevitably suck at it (because that what happens when you’ve never done something before), and they quit.

What happened to perseverance and hard work? Look. If you want to learn woodworking, you’re going to suck at first. You’re going to screw up. That’s part of the learning process. The same is true for tennis, karate, cooking, photography, and literally anything else you try to pick up for the very first time.

Don’t blame activity and say it’s not for you just because you’re not seeing immediate success in it. Rather, look to those who show mastery at the activity, and ask yourself this question: “Do I value what they create enough to work towards it myself?” If the answer is yes, then stick with it. You’ll suck at first, and then you’ll suck a little less. Then one day a little less. Until one day, you don’t suck at all, and you’re pretty damn good instead.

But you know what? If you don’t look yourself in the mirror and commit to working through it, you won’t ever get there.

At Home

Look, I’m not one to give relationship advice. It’s not a category on this site, and I don’t feel qualified to speak to it. But you know something? I read a great line on eHarmony once upon a time that said something to the effect of “you need to be willing to take a look at your past relationships and examine why they ended. Then you need to accept your share of the responsibility for that, because it takes two to tango.”

What a perfect example of looking in instead of out.

If your relationship has problems, don’t singlehandedly blame your partner. (ok, there are certain times when that’s warranted, but those are corner cases). I’ve been in some crappy relationships in my life, and I can tell you honestly that in all of those cases, I was never fully off the hook. The reality is that staring yourself in the mirror and asking yourself what you can do better for the relationship is a mark of dating maturity, and of a healthy-minded person.

Let me give you an example. I was with someone for a while, and our relationship started out great. Eventually though, it became rockier and rockier, until eventually she cheated on me. Now, I could blame her entirely for that, sure. That would be the easy route. But it would also ignore the fact that I was subconsciously pushing her away for months leading up to that point. Bottom line: we both played a role in how that relationship played out, and only through accepting that responsibility was I able to move on and learn from my behaviour.

Wrapping it Up

Next time things don’t go the way you would have liked them to, try to mindfully pause before you point the finger somewhere else. Take a second and think about what you can take responsibility for and do differently in the future. Rather than blaming factors beyond your control for your misfortune, it’s a lot more healthy (and a lot more useful) to focus on the things you can control.

When looking outside fails (and it will), look in.


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