I often overhear people prefacing what they say with things like, ‘If only it was easier, I would…’ or ‘If I had more time, I would…’ or even ‘I wish I could…, but…’. And they are right!
Well, perhaps in part anyway. If we were presented with the ‘right’, ‘correct’, ‘perfect’, or ‘ideal’ conditions under which to perform or live our life, things would be a lot ‘easier’, ‘more enjoyable’, ‘more productive’, etc., but we may never really know our potential. I guess my question is: ‘in living with ease, are we truly growing?’ If we are constantly in search of ease in our life – training; work; home – I believe we are not presented with opportunities to be better, or stimulus to grow.
It’s easy to tell ourselves and others that the conditions aren’t right to do something. And therefore, not have a go. What’s more, it’s easy to excuse away a lesser standard afterwards by ‘explaining’ that there wasn’t time or that something got in the way. This can often make us feel better about ourselves, but are we being honest with ourselves? Now, let me be clear that I struggle with this human condition too. I don’t pretend to have mastered this… But I am aware of it and giving it my all to be better at it every day. Therefore, I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to resist these temptations. If the circumstances aren’t right for what you might term ‘optimal performance’ and you are considering not doing something, do it anyway under the trying conditions and grow from the imperfect experience. I suggest working with the conditions and notin combat with them wasting valuable energy attempting to change something that may be beyond your control. I suggest applying a flexible disposition that will offer the prospect to develop a view that while perfection is always our ultimate goal, it is often not the immediate objective. In the pursuit of this, I often apply the metaphor of the muscle to our overall development.
Just as a muscle needs stimulus to grow, we also holistically need stimulus to develop to be the best version of ourselves. The muscle may at times resist the training; it may feel stiff, it could even have a slight strain. But are these reasons enough to not use the muscle at all? Even while nursing a strain a muscle can be used through its recovery and other muscles used in more intensity to compensate. For example, when you break the arm or tear a muscle in the arm with which you brush your teeth, it is a great opportunity to increase the dexterity of the other hand. Right? The alternative is to not brush your teeth, and we know where that leads. In short, just as the muscle will respond to exercise (stimulus) by growing stronger, bigger, more flexible or even faster, so too does our cognitive, emotional and physical capacity develop when placed under conditions (stimulus) not ideal or of our liking. In these circumstances we are asked to either respond or walk away (wondering what might have been or could have been achieved and developed within us).
Often when thinking of or responding to situations not ideal or perfect I look to my daughter for inspiration. So I will share some of her story in the hope that she might help you too to be inspired at times when it’s easier to make excuses and walk away. Many of you know that my daughter has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy caused through brain damage that occurred at birth. Many people see her as almost what society terms ‘normal’. However, what many don’t see regularly is the indomitable spirit that lays beneath all that she is and all that she is becoming. From the moment she could move, movement was difficult – her legs just didn’t work. When she crawled, she dragged her legs behind her with the strength of her arms, all the while developing further strength in her upper body to drag herself around the house faster. Never did she cry about it and never did we pander to her disability, pitying her and making allowances for her. Some may have judged this as excessively harsh, however, we believed that support is what she needed, not pity and that one day, she still needed to walk and engage to the best of her ability in a world that was not perfect! Over time, with much therapy and unrivalled determination on Zara’s part, she eventually crawled. Walking was much the same. I think that a lot of the therapy and Zara’s hard work at such a young age has developed new neural pathways to circumvent some of the damage to the brain. Now almost 12 years on, Zara holds the Australian record for the T-35 Multiclass 800 metres. She also practices Aikido, ballet and contemporary dance. Now, my intention here is not to boast about Zara’s accomplishments, nor am I trying to convince you that she is any different to you or I. But I do hope to explain that she wouldn’t be the successful human being she is today without choosing to respond positively and actively to far less than perfect conditions, and perhaps even finding a way to excel at the same time. In addition, Zara always looks empathetically to support others through difficultly despite having every reason to demand support herself. This quality, if nothing else, is a quality we can all aspire to, wouldn’t you agree? Finally, Zara’s cerebral palsy doesn’t define her as ‘disabled’, she has chosen to flip it to define her instead as able and exceptional. Likewise, our ongoing and often difficult circumstances don’t define us, it is our responses and achievements in spite of them that does.
What might this look like for me? Well, when challenged by Mori Sensei to do my 4thDan four years ago (which I have written about in a past article) under very tight time constraints, a knee operation recovery and demonstration preparation, I had two choices. Thankfully, I chose to trust Sensei’s judgement, accepted the less than perfect conditions and went for it. Consequently, I now have this in my psyche as a measuring stick to which many other challenges pale in comparison, i.e. life has actually become easier as a result! And now, as I prepare for my demonstration this year and I look to do my 5thDan sometime soon, I embrace the ‘less than perfect’ to see what standard I can achieve under challenging circumstances. What might this look like for you?
In closing, I would like to place a further challenge in front of you. From the outside we often perceive conditions in the lives of others as far better than that which are actually being experienced. So, while we individually battle to respond flexibly, positively and actively in less than ideal conditions in our own lives, I challenge you to be as perceptive as possible of the difficultly others might be experiencing too. Let’s allow our awareness of the challenges we are facing, not shying away from, be the first step in supporting each other to be the best version of ourselves.