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If nothing else.

February 9, 2012 4 comments

This morning, I went out for my morning run like I do five days out the week. I don’t go very far, only for 2.5 miles. When I get back home I do my little strengthening exercises and go on with my day. I partly do this for my conditioning for judo, but I also do it because I like to have that time to myself before my day really starts. Even though my heart rate goes up, it’s actually quite calming.

When I finished my run this morning, I was shocked. I looked at my stop watch and I realized that I was running  an 08:07 mile. For some of you, that might sound slow and unimpressive. For me though, it was sort of incredible. The first time I ever ran a mile when I was 16 years old, it took me more than 12 minutes. I know for years, I ran about a 10 minute mile. Over this past summer, I got a little faster and starting running on average a 09:30 mile. During the last few weeks, I’ve been going on morning runs with a school buddy and since we’re both slightly competitive, maybe unconsciously we’ve been trying to improve our mile time each week. I went out alone today. And like a lot of mornings after I’ve stayed up too late drinking coffee and trying to get work done, I had that split second when I woke up where I thought I was going to skip the run. I don’t know what makes me get up, but I do.

Today, when I looked at my stop watch and calculated that I was running an 08:07 minute, I was so glad I went out. That’s the fastest I’ve ever run. I remember struggling to get through those 10 minute miles for years. I never, ever thought that I could run an 8:07 mile. There on my stop watch was proof that I could.

And this is why I love my morning runs. A sports doctor told me when I was 19 years-old that I had too many structural flaws for running. In a lot of ways, I hate running. It’s not my favorite form of exercise. But I like the time I have to be outside with nothing but my breathing. I like the way I feel after I charge up a hill when it’s cold and dark out and my muscles are screaming at me. And I like the way I felt today when I looked at my stop watch. Maybe nothing else goes right for me today. Maybe I don’t get done half the things done that I wanted to do. But if nothing else, I know that today I ran faster than I ever have before.

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Categories: Challenges, Life, passion Tags: ,

I admire you.

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Currently, I am in my last semester of social work school. With the end of this period in my academic and professional life approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of social worker I want to be. I know I want to be a leader in my field. But what does a leader look like?

When I think of the leaders I truly admire, they are not those with the most charisma and a bag full of slogans at hand. Rather, they are individuals who work quietly and thoughtfully, determining what is best for those they lead in the big picture sense. Real leaders take risks. They hold their ground when the existing power structures threaten their ideals and try to convince the rest of the world that their actions are wrong. Real leaders uphold standards and set precedents. They do not want praise or recognition; they simply want effective, positive change.

I also think leadership must be lonely. To assert yourself against a dominant belief, institution, or system means leaving behind the security that comes with aligning yourself with the majority. When you become the face of a cause or the voice for a group of people, you also become the primary target. Those who initially offer support may feel their courage waning as the opposition grow hostile. Subsequently, they walk away to protect themselves, leaving the leader once again to stand alone.

Right now, I am sitting in the graduate student lounge at my school, surrounded by a few of my classmates who are preparing to take the social work licensing exam. As I look at them and reflect on the beliefs they’ve voiced, the actions they’ve taken, and the work they will do in the future, I feel like I am looking at the quiet kind of leaders I’ve always respected. I am grateful to have these role models in my life and I am excited to see what we’ll do next.

Attitude = outcome.

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

As I left judo practice last night, I thought to myself, “Practice was OK.” The more I thought about it, the more I began to think that I actually had a bad night. When I left training tonight, however, I thought, “Tonight was a really good night.” So what determines whether I have a good or bad practice? Well, I make that determination.

Last night I went to judo on auto pilot. I’ve gone to practice six billion times feeling tired or not in the judo mindset. At times, I’ve gone in with a combination of both. Within in minutes of stepping on the mat, I make myself snap out of it and all I have for the next two to three hours. At practice last night, I don’t think I pushed myself. I had a good first hour of class, and then when randori came around, I went back to auto pilot. My fighting spirit had checked out and I just let it go. When it came time for mat work, I knew I was sucking, but I didn’t rally so that I sucked less. By the time I got home, I was pretty disappointed in myself.

When I left work tonight to head to jiu jitsu and Kata, I was definitely on auto-pilot. Then I remembered how unsatisfied I was with the night before. Tuesday is rough for me since BJJ and Kata are so mentally taxing. But I reminded myself that Tuesday is my night to really challenge myself and learn. I found myself walking a strange line of feeling relaxed and excited to work hard. From an outsiders perspective, it might have looked like I did not have great BJJ or Kata practices. I didn’t pick anything up immediately and had to do extra reps of every technique just to get an inkling of the basic mechanics. Still, I left feeling satisfied with the night and looking forward to my next class. I know this is because I remained engaged.

Learning is not a passive action. I can’t expect to progress if I don’t offer more than the bare minimum. Although I might not have mastered any technique tonight, I have a lot of reflecting to do and some mechanical questions to work through. This is significantly more than last night, when I left just feeling blank and out of sorts. As I move forward with both my social work and grappling practices, I must remember that my work has to come with right attitude. Otherwise, I’ll get stuck on auto-pilot.

Little keys open big doors.

January 9, 2012 2 comments

Today was an incredible day for me in both my social work and grappling lives. I had several little moments where I caught a glimpse of my potential in my two practices, which I love more than I can say. Each experience I had at work and on the mat, while seemingly small and unremarkable, felt electric and expansive. Really, all that happened was that I learned about learning.

This is what I’m taking away today from social work, jiu jitsu, and judo :

1. It’s OK to slow down.
2. Sometimes, you just need to start over.
3. Remain flexible and open to how a situation can unfold.
4. Stay confident.
5. Stay humble.

Although I’m exhausted and a little battered, I feel like a rocket ready for blast-off.

Less reflecting, more living.

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Since I’ve been maintaining this blog for several months, I don’t feel compelled to write a grand reflection on my thoughts about 2011. All I know is that I’m ending the year with people I like a lot and I’m starting 2012 with judo and BJJ, also with people I like a lot.

Each year, we’ll find ourselves going through periods that seem impossible. I think that as long as we take risks, let the people we care about help us in the hard times, and always return the support, we’ll never walk away from a year’s end with regrets.

You need both sides of the coin.

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Yesterday was an amazing day for me.  I had lunch with a family friend, Amy, who’s known my parents since before I was born and my very close with my mom. We had some really interesting conversations about family, communities, motivation, and just life in general. Talking with Amy had this unique feel of spending some quiet time with family, but also that little bit of excitement that comes with good conversation. While Amy sometimes does act like my mama sometimes (giving me a little bag of Hanukkah gelt, asking me if I’m cold as I walk around in a spring jacket in 34 degree weather), it’s in a reassuring way. During yesterday’s conversation, I saw that even though Amy has strong memories of me a little kid, she’s able to see me as an adult, probably more so than I’m able to see myself that way.

Later on in the day, I met up with my friends, Dennis and Jenny, who recently got married. Now, I’ve known Dennis since I was about 10 years old and I met Jenny when I was 15 or 16. We all went to the same high school. Last night at dinner, it could have been two hours of “Remember when that gym teacher, Mr. Blah Blah Blah, got mad because of that thing? That was so funny!” Instead, it was about four hours of intense conversation about our careers (Jenny is in nursing school and Dennis, who served in both the military and law enforcement, is now a teacher) and the difficulties and rewards of being a “helping professional.” We talked about some of the things we’ve struggled with recently and what we hope for in the future. We didn’t skip over the dumb jokes though, nor did Dennis forget to tell us some hilarious stories about my brother. I felt like I was with my true family. Those four hours felt perfect.

While I was having this wonderful day, my great aunt and her family were in a hospice in New England with her son, my cousin, Steven. Steven was sick for a very long time, but things began to deteriorate for him quickly in the last few weeks. Last night, Steven was surrounded by people who loved him, but he didn’t make it through the night. Truthfully, I didn’t know Steven well. My dad’s side of the family is pretty big and I haven’t seen most of my relatives on his side since I was in elementary school. Steven and I had reconnected through Facebook in the last year or so, but still our interactions were very limited. What I remember about Steven is that he was remarkably smart and that he had a fantastic dry wit. Also, I knew I like Steven the first time I met him. My family when to visit my great aunt when I was about five years old and my brother was about seven.  Steven was there, too. He was in his twenties then, lounging on the couch, reading a book. My brother and I were bored. I had a twenty pack of plastic barrettes with little bunnies and duckies and kitty cats on them.  My brother and I asked Steven if we could put all the barrettes in his hair. He said yes. We spent a long time methodically fastening the barrettes into Steven’s hair while he read his book. He was nice enough to leave them in for a while after we were done.

It’s strange for me to think that Steven and his family were going through something so painful while I was I was having such a good time. I don’t feel guilty about or anything quite like that. It’s more like, thinking about Steven being gone makes me feel very appreciate for all the people in my life and the impact they’ve had on me, no matter how great or small. I have lifelong friends like Amy, Dennis, and Jenny who have evolved into my family, giving me such support and inspiration. In the last two years, I’ve made friends through school and judo who I know have made me stronger.

Life is full of loss, but I think it also comes with some pretty incredible gains.

The best kind of inspiration.

December 20, 2011 1 comment

Last night, our judo club had a black belt promotion. As I’ve mentioned before, black belt promotions get me super emotional and last night was no exception. A lot of it has to do with who was getting promoted. Yesterday, it was Eric. I think everyone in our club would agree that Eric is a crucial part of our team. Not only does he help teach judo class on occasion, but he also runs one of our jiu jitsu classes. Even though he has a demanding full time job and a family, he puts in a lot of mat time and competes often. Eric even spear-headed building the floor for our club when we moved last year and I don’t know how we could have gotten our new place together without him. There’s no question that Eric is dedicated to our club.

For me personally, Eric has been a big part of my judo life. I remember him from when I first started with the Philadelphia Judo Club. Even though Eric is well over a foot taller than I am and has about 80 pounds on me, my coaches would often pair me with him to train. They don’t always have much larger people work with much smaller people. But Eric is just the kind of practitioner who you can pair with anyone. He’s patient, he’s safe, and he wants both partners to get something out of their training. He definitely helped me feel a little more comfortable with groundwork in judo and although BJJ is pretty painful for me mentally, I always learn a lot in Eric’s classes. What I’ve admired and respected about Eric is that he works hard to improve, but he shares what he’s learned with his teammates.

Last night’s promotion seemed so perfect. Not only do I believe that it’s Eric’s time to start the next stage in his judo life, but it was good timing for me to see one of my grappling role models hit that turning point. I’m so happy to be healthy enough to train again, but it’s been hard for me to accept how out of shape I am. It’s difficult for me to go through a practice and feel tired at points that would have been no problem two months ago. I hate it when my physical condition takes away from the rate at which I can progress. Seeing Eric earn his black belt, though, reminded me that it’s no fun if it’s easy. We keep coming back class after class because we love the challenge. You don’t get as far as Eric has by letting discouragement win.