When it comes to goal-setting, inspirational quotes and motivational monologues will no doubt light the fire in your belly. Even drive you to take that very first tentative step.
How many though, feel inspired, set a goal and just stop well before the starting line is even out of sight?
No judgements. They probably had their reasons. Some are excuses sneakily disguised as reasons but nevertheless, they stopped.
What if you set a goal and then couldn’t stop?
What could you achieve? How far could you push yourself once the rubber hit the road, if deciding to stop just wasn’t an option?
I discovered the answer to that question when my 11-year-old son threw down a 12-month challenge for us to complete together.
Here’s how it went down…
I started Taekwondo over 3 years ago age 40 and at the time, as a fledgling Yellow Belt, I couldn’t picture myself ever being good enough to wear a Black Belt. Wasn’t sure if I had it in me at that point.
Overwhelmed by what was required between yellow here and black somewhere waaaaay over there, I simply focused on the very next step, the next technique, the next stripe on my belt.
So to sit here now having earned that Black Belt with (what I now know was) a torn muscle in my back, seems a bit incredulous.
Yeh. I know!
Right now you’re thinking, one or (ok!) all three of the following things:
- How on earth did you not know that??!!
- Why didn’t you stop?
- You idiot!
Well…obviously, I knew there was an issue. My back was painful. I’d seen a physio, had some massages, did all the things I thought would be helping, but I didn’t realise the situation was quite as bad as it was.
Had I of received the diagnosis from my sports doctor prior to my Black Belt testing day would I have altered my course? Probably not.
Even if I knew I would barely get to wear my new Black Belt for the entire following year due to the level of rehab I would need?
Sounds insane doesn’t it? I can’t really offer much in the way of a sensible-sounding rationale except: Such was my determination to achieve my goal – To earn my First Dan Black Belt on the same day my (now) 12-year-old son achieved his Second Dan.
This was the challenge he threw down for us 12 months prior and not delivering on my promise to him that we’d make it happen was in my mind, not an option. There was no quitting because it got hard. What message would that send to him?
(I feel the need to point out right about here that there would obviously be some situations that would demand stopping. Like the bloke who dislocated his knee on Black Belt testing day during a sparring collision. No choice for him in that situation.)
Anyhooooo, one of the symptoms I was experiencing with my torn Quadratus Lumborum (which runs from the bottom of your rib cage to your pelvis) was random spasms. Day to day, the pain was manageable and once I was warmed up at training, even barely noticeable.
But at times, all of a sudden, particularly if I had been sitting down too long (occupational hazard when you’re a writer), the constant ache would turn into a whole other thing as the entire length of the muscle seized up in spasm, sending pain shooting in all kinds of random directions.
Black Belt Grading Day
With this in mind, you can imagine how I felt when on the morning of my Black Belt exam, buzzing around the house in a bundle of nervous excitement, I bent over to pick something up off the floor and …. bam!
Pain. A lot. Of. Pain.
I suspect my face went grey.
I looked at my husband, eyes like plates, stinging with tears, terrified he was about to pat me on the shoulder, shake his head and say “Maybe next time”.
Black Belt tests are only offered every six months.
Instead, bless his cotton socks, he flew into action. Whatever I needed to get through that day, he was going to get it, do it and be it. I have never been more grateful of his support or had a more obvious sign of how well he knows me.
Off to the chemist he went for the strongest pain killers and anti-inflammatories he could get his hands on. We drove an uncomfortable two hours to the examination hall on a 35 degree day. My dear Taekwondo friend and remedial massage therapist Bec (who in my mind, might as well have had her very own angel wings at this point) met us there, frog-marched me to the changerooms and got to work on my spasming back muscles, filling the steamy air with that familiar smell of Tiger Balm.
Then it was time to stretch, warm up, wait my turn and hope for the best.
Two hours sitting on a wooden floor trying to stay stretched and warm, keep my pain in check and not be engulfed by the fear that I was definitely not up to the task ahead, was not exactly how I had pictured this day going.
When I was finally called to the mats, took my place in front of the panel of judges, sucked in a few big deep breaths to try and calm myself while I waited for our Grand Master to shout his instructions at us in Korean: “Charyut, Kyungnet“. I literally thought:
“How am I going to do this? I can hardly move.”
Except for my hands. They were moving. Ok, shaking!
It was over.
I’d completed all eight kicking combinations including three on each side of the killer tornado to spin-hook doozey, demonstrated patterns four to eight, performed no less than 24 self-defence techniques, been thrown to the floor, hip thrown my significantly-taller-than-me partner several times, endured about six exhausting rounds of sparring, and broken some boards.
Wait. What?! I hadn’t noticed the pain in my back once. I was euphoric!
I didn’t even know yet whether I had done enough to pass but thanks to the superhero, pain-killing power of adrenaline (It’s totally a thing!) surging through my system, I had made it to the end of my exam. As you can probably guess, I did pass and even with a score much better than I had been anticipating.
I did get to celebrate the achievement with my son, the rest of my family and friends in the days after and was presented with my embroidered Black Belt and my certificate sent from Korea. But I’ve barely had the chance to actually tie that belt. I’m ok with it though.
My son is too. We cherish our achievement because we both understand how hard the other worked to get there. Now that’s bonding! As it happens we’re onto a new goal now but we’re both a bit more relaxed about how long it will take to get there. It’s the beginning of a new journey and, for now, we’re happy to take our time with it.
What I learned
It had been a lot of years since I’d set myself such an audacious life goal. Achieving what I did on the day of my Black Belt test made me realise that you really do NEVER know what you are capable of until you give yourself absolutely zero opportunity to fail.
And what I have learned during the enforced period of absence from training since that day is, you don’t always have to be flogging yourself to achieve something amazing. It is actually ok to stop for a bit.
Let it sink in.
Living a full life doesn’t mean filling it up. With people to see, places to be, things to do, dreams to crush. Sometimes the real magic is in the silences, the emptiness, the time to just be.
Ensuring there are both lights and shadows along the way in life, really do make you appreciate each of the unique tones for what they truly are.