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Brand new.

Today is my birthday. I think I have about 62 billion friends and acquaintances whose birthdays are also in November. There’s another significant November birthday that I almost forgot about until this past week. November also marks my dojo’s birthday. In November 2010, we move from our Center City location to our current South Philly home. Many years ago, before my time, our club was in South Philly. So for the judo program, it was like a homecoming and for our jiu jitsu program, South Philly was its birth place. I can’t believe it’s been just four years that we’ve been on Broad Street. We used to have barely eight people in our judo class and barely four people in jiu jitsu. Now we have people stacked up to the ceiling. We’ve grown so much and sometimes I forget how uncertain it felt when we first opened the new club. Four years. When I think of that time in November 2010, it seems like today is my fourth birthday, too.

2010 was the start of my new life. Late that summer, I ended a seven year relationship. That’s also when I set my heart on social work. In the fall, I started my Master’s of Social Work program at UPenn. During the months leading up to that break up, I fell in love with judo and in a way, judo was all I cared about. I wanted to be at the club seven days a week, and before school started, I was there five days a week. I trained at another club on Saturdays. After the break up, judo gave me focus and hope while I was mourning those seven years. Although I chose to end it with my former boyfriend, turning my back on seven years would grind on my conscience. But all the people I met while training were so brilliant, so creative, so dedicated, their presence reminded me over and over again that I made the right choice to move forward with purpose.

During the fall of 2010, I needed my dojo. It was another intense transition to go to graduate school. It was exciting for me to finally pursue my career in social work. I’d known for sometime that I wanted work that was complex, challenging, and had a meaning greater than myself. I wanted to solve problems and fight.  Like the individuals I met through judo, the field of social work led me to passionate, intelligent, and innovate people, several of whom I know will be in my life for a long time. Everything about social work felt right. But I almost cracked several times that fall.  Amid the pressure to perform, to achieve, to ignore sleep, and be excellent, my family life was chaotic and unsettling. I didn’t even felt at peace in my own bed. At least once a week, though, I could go to practice and be home. Judo had taught me about mental exhaustion and self-motivation, but it also gave me a safe place to let go and be all parts of myself.

I know who I was before the fall of 2010. I liked parts of me, but I was afraid to fail, afraid of confidence, and afraid of success. I would tip toe towards what I wanted, then double back when I got too close. In the fall 2010, I felt free. I was free to take risks, I was free to be incredible, I was free to fail, and I was free to suck it up and try again. I felt brand new.

So here I am, four years later. My dojo, judo, jiu jitsu, and my homegrown family are bricks in my foundation. I am working at the most challenging job I’ve ever had and I am dead set on succeeding. My friend, Dennis, encouraged me to publish a book of my haikus, and he’s working hard and guiding me to make that happen. My family keeps growing closer. I love my friends, I love my neighborhood, and I love my tiny little kitchen where I sit and write these words. I know I turned 33 today, and I don’t know what other 33 year olds feel like, but right now, 33 feels as fresh as four.

  1. November 10, 2014 at 20:36

    Happy birthday!!! I enjoyed this post. Hope you’ve enjoyed your special day!

    • November 13, 2014 at 19:38

      Thank you! I loved it! I got to practice living in the moment. It was really nice.

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