Posts Tagged ‘motivation’

Haikuesday 12.27.16

December 27, 2016 Leave a comment

I pedal swiftly

as though engaged in a chase,

and I drive the hunt.


It’s me again.

February 6, 2016 Leave a comment

During grad school, my friend Leslie and I would frequently growl to each, “I didn’t come here to make friends. I CAME HERE TO WIN!” Of course, we were making fun of reality television bravado while making fun of ourselves and our competitive Ivy League environment, but there was truth in our humor. I did want to to win at grad school because I want to win at life. Winning means something different to everyone, and I don’t always have a clear picture of how winning looks to me. I think most of the time, it just means that I’m doing things that I care about, that I’m impacting the greater good, and I’m committing fully to my endeavors. Even if I’m not the best or a natural, I will be someone who stands out.

About six months ago, I was offered the chance to “win” at work. In addition to my role as a clinical social worker, I was asked to perform some internal quality assurance auditing for the agency. I was excited for the work because a big piece of myself loves spreadsheet and percentages and making graphs. Also, I wanted the varied work experience so that I can keep carving out future career opportunities. When the auditor role was proposed to me, the only negative aspect of the position was that I would have to perform my auditing duties as overtime since I still would carry my full social work caseload. So I started working before work and after work, which turned into 10 and 11 hour days. Monday through Friday. I was killing it in my new role, but I had nothing left inside for anything else.

A major force in my life that keeps me driven, keeps me confident, humble, and curious is training judo and jiu jitsu. I need to have something in my life that pushes me  mentally and physically and provides continual learning. Training fulfills this need. With my new work position, I had to cut out practice. I worked too late to make it to class, and then I soon lost the motivation to get up early to maintain my conditioning. Then I started on the self-pity diet, choosing burritos and pizza over lean protein and roasted vegetables. By October, I could not fit into my pants comfortably. In turn, I stress-online shopped several new dresses with my overtime pay. I looked adorable, but I felt like I was in a tornado getting attacked by bees. My life seemed out of control and I was operating in survival mode.

Thankfully, my agency does value me and starting January 1st, I was relieved of all the overtime. My duties shifted so I could perform my auditing role and some other clinical work withing the reasonable confines of an eight and a half hour day. Finally, I could train again. I needed to get back to class. During the months that I was working all that overtime, I realized I have no other positive coping skills for stress and anxiety besides training. If I’m not training, I’m stress eating. And while my stress eating led to a nice wardrobe expansion, I did not feel happy, confident, or motivated. Mainly, I just felt a mix of defiance, guilt, and defeat. After ringing in 2016 hugging a bottle of NyQuil as my only weapon to murder a cold, I got back on a mat on January 9th. Although I’ve learned that my recovery time is not as bouncy as it used to be five years ago, I didn’t feel as terrible as I thought I would. I was ready to feel miserable and humiliated by how much I lost. And sure, breathing was hard and I could feel how stiff I’d become, but I could get through classes. I felt encouraged. I felt relieved. I felt motivated.


Happy me in the middle, surrounded by two of my awesome teammates after my first judo class in five months.

This week, I was me again. I felt strong. I could see myself walking with my head up and shoulders back instead of head down, shoulders dropped, feeling punched in the gut by responsibility and sacrifice. I’m sure as heck not losing any weight, but my body is different. It wants to be pushed. It craves getting on the mat. I’m sprinting now instead of trudging.

It’s perfect timing, really–getting my strength and drive back. In the last two and half weeks, I learned that my agency wants to give me another great opportunity for my career. It will be more responsibility than I’ve ever had to manage. I’m equal parts honored and terrified. But I’m me again. I can do it. I came here to win.


Five years.

April 4, 2015 4 comments

March 2015 marked five years since I stepped back onto a judo mat as an adult. Five years. I couldn’t believe I was there already, but at the same time, judo felt like it never left my life despite my seventeen year gap in practice. When I started training with the Philadelphia Judo Club in March 2010, I knew this was it. I knew I was back for good. No doubt, no hesitation. I was not going to be the hot-headed quitter I was in childhood. I was going to love all of judo–the big throws, the breakthroughs, how good it feels to win, and I was also going to learn to love taking falls, working through plateaus, and the growth that comes with losing. No quitting this time. No quitting.

Of course, making a commitment is one thing; carrying out that commitment is another. About a year after I got my brown belt, I started to feel stuck. Looking back, I think my learning got held up because I was overprotecting an injury and I also started comparing my progress to others. While I believe that a little bit of insecurity can sometimes motivate you to do better, I think it can also stop you from taking the risks you need to learn and grow. My solution at the time was to shift my focus from judo to jiu jitsu, where I could enjoy the freedom of being a white belt again. I still went to judo, but with less frequency and less focus. Last year, I was fortunate to have six months with a great training partner who pushed me in judo and made me remember how much I love it. Since she left, our judo program has gained a lot of athletic, enthusiastic, driven judoka who challenge me and create a fun, competitive atmosphere at practice. With this new energy, I felt myself making progress– I was taking risks again, I was using more commitment in throws, and my instincts were getting better. I decided that for my five year judo anniversary, I would compete in the Liberty Bell Judo Classic during the last weekend in March. I hadn’t competed at Liberty Bell since 2012, and since then, only fought in two judo tournaments. It was time to get back out there. I was excited. This was going to be a good day.

But it wasn’t a good day. Maybe judo really wanted to see if I still cared. Maybe judo needed to know if I really loved him or not. Maybe judo was just reminding me that this sport is really hard. I lost. I lost bad. It wasn’t because of my conditioning or my technique. It’s because of my mind. I lost focus and started to have doubts, and you don’t have a chance to win unless you believe that you will win. Leading up to the tournament, I felt overwhelmed by pressure at work. Two weeks before the tournament, my younger cousin died and his funeral was a few days before the competition. The Liberty Bell falls during the  the anniversary of my mom’s suicide. I realized my hurt shoulder was, like, actually injured. I grew more distracted and more and more vulnerable about fighting. My main source of comfort was that my club was bringing nine people to compete, and I felt relieved to be surrounded by my team.

Handing out the Scott Latimer Memorial Award for my brother at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic.

Handing out the Scott Latimer Memorial Award for my brother at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic.

As I write about the all the things on my mind leading up to the tournament, I realize they sound like excuses for why I lost my matches. But I do not view those circumstances as permission for me to lose. I discuss them because I truly believe that I can take those circumstances and turn them into driving forces of empowerment. Our struggles can be challenges to overcome, not weights which bury us. During the opening ceremony at the Liberty Bell, I stood with members of my judo family whom I’ve known for over 25 years. We stood together to hand out the memorial award for my brother. As I looked at all the judoka lined up on the mat, I felt so mixed up. I was happy for the young man receiving the award, I was proud of my brother, and I was proud to be a part of judo. However, I also felt exposed for people to hear my name, see my face, and hear about the loss my family experienced all those years ago. I’ve tried so hard to move past that. I tried to ease my mind and tell myself that most people were probably lost in their own heads, trying to focus on their upcoming matches.  But I let doubt set in, and I missed an opportunity to hold on to that sense of pride, of being a part of something honorable and important. I got scared.

So I lost my matches. I don’t need to go into details. All you need to know is that I lost my matches because I didn’t believe in myself like everyone believes in me. I have not been that disappointed in a long time. I went into an empty room after I was done fighting and cried like a child. Later when I home, I cried so hard my stomach hurt. I didn’t know I cared like that. I didn’t know it meant that much to me. But it did. And it sucked.

I still had a good judo anniversary though. My team freaking dominated at the Liberty Bell. We had a bunch of medals and five of them were golds. I loved seeing my team’s hard work come through for them. That was awesome. Then the following day, a few of us went to the New York Athletic Club to see the New York Open, and international judo team tournament. The US, France, Germany, Poland, and for the first time, Cuba, were all there to compete. There were world champions, Olympians, and Olympic medalists. The US, France, and Cuba had women’s teams. Seeing those elite athletes fight was electrifying, especially the women. It was the most dynamic judo I’ve ever seen, and it changed the way I see the sport. The passion, the poise, the skill–it was breath-taking. I was in awe for six hours straight. It’s a day I will keep with me for a long time, since it was just what I needed to see after feeling so crushed. Judo can be brutal, but it can also be beautiful. We saw numerous gorgeous techniques, but one of my favorite moments was during Kayla Harrison’s first match with the French team. Her opponent got injured at the end of the match and had difficulty standing up. Harrison helped her opponent stand, bow out, and walk off the mat.

I won’t forget last weekend. I still have all that disappointment clinging to me, but I am determined to work through this. I am injured now, but I actually made a doctor’s appointment for this week. I know that I will have to rest it for a while, I’m still going to practice even though my participation is limited. I won’t stay away and let some lost matches and a dumb shoulder turn my back on a sport that gives me so much. I continue to feel gratitude for coaches, teammates, and the friends that I’ve made at my club. I don’t always feel strong, but they give me strength. I’m ready for the next five years.

My team, the Philadelphia Judo Club, at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic. Love them 4-eva.

My team, the Philadelphia Judo Club, at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic. Love them 4-eva.

Haikuesday 03.31.15

March 31, 2015 2 comments

Now is the moment

to be my own champion,

and forge my own fate.

Please check out my soon-to-be-released haiku collection, coming May 2nd! The e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

I said yes.

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I participated in the Tri-State Tough Mudder. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Muddder obstacle challenge, it is basically a 10-12 mile run merged with a very muddy, cold, dangerous incarnation of Sesame Place for physically-fit adults.  The obstacles are inspired by those implemented in military training, so they are designed to test phobias and mental endurance surrounding frigid temperatures, small spaces, fire, electrocution, and heights, among other things. So why did I do this? I did this because someone asked me to, and I said yes.

Sure, I was asked to participate in the Tough Mudder team through a Facebook invite along with about 25 other people. I could have ignored the request, thinking, “Well, I wasn’t PERSONALLY asked so my response doesn’t matter.  They’ll get enough people.” I also could have used anyone of my ongoing injuries as excuses. However, I decided that 2013 is the year I say yes to all opportunities presented to me. I have never done a race, not even a 5K. I had never run more than maybe four miles.  I was intimidated by the nature of the obstacles. But if I said “no”, I would be saying “no” to a new experience. I don’t like to turn down experiences. I feel like I’m cheating myself if I do that. So I replied “yes” to the invite and paid my registration fee so I wouldn’t chicken out.

With less than two months until the event, I took inventory of the things I was afraid of so I could plan my fear-facing strategies:

Fear #1: Running.

I am not a runner. I am slow. My left knee hurts sometimes. My hips hurt sometimes. Other times, I just get bored. I used to run about 2.25 miles as fast as I could a few times a week to build my cardio for judo and jiu jitsu, but I gave that up in favor of kettle bells. I hadn’t run since March, and it was impossible for me to imagine myself running, or even lightly jogging, 10-12 miles mixed in with physically challenging obstacles.

My strategy was just to run at least three times a week to get back into the meditative mindset needed for running. My goal was to work up to five miles. To keep myself motivated and accountable, I used an app on my phone to track my time and miles, as well as to get encouragement from others. I recruited a buddy to join my for one run a week. My plan worked. I logged my first run on September 3, 20013. I ran 2.12 miles.  On October 2, 2013, I ran 5.28 miles. Then on October 5, 2013, I ran 6.11 miles. I never, ever thought in my life that I could run five miles, let alone six, given my track record. I felt good about running. I started like it. Actually, I might keep two runs in a week as a part of my conditioning, just for fun.

Fear #2: Jumping.

Like running, I am not a natural jumper. When we do box jumps, jump squats, or any other plyometric exercise during training warm-ups, I feel like an elephant plus a turtle. I can’t seem to get my knees up very high, nor can I pull off more than a few reps with a single bounce instead of a double. I do them, but not with competence or confidence. I knew I was going to have to jump over things during the Tough Mudder. And since I am stubborn and proud, I did not want to go around obstacles I’d have to jump over.

Coincidentally, leading up to the Tough Mudder, we did more jumping warm-ups in class than we usually do. This gave me some chances to push myself and think about what muscles I really have to engage. It also made me more comfortable with how uncomfortable I am with jumping. My main strategy, however, was to remind myself over and over again that it does not matter if I make some messy, awkward jump attempts, since this was supposed to be fun. There’s no prize in the Tough Mudder except for a sweatband. I just have to try.

Fear #3 Electrocution.

I am not afraid of heights. I don’t care about being cold. I am not claustrophobic, and I’m a good swimmer. But I am really freaked out by electrocution. My mother had serious mental health problems throughout her life. As an adult, she was in and out of treatment and was hospitalized a few times. I know that at least during one hospitalization of hers when I was in my twenties, my mom underwent electro-shock treatment. I have always been disturbed by electro-shock treatment for mental health and it upsets me still to think of my mom going through that, I’ve fast-forwarded images of it in TV shows and walked out of my mental health diagnostics class in grad school during a lecture which covered electro-shock therapy (or the friendly term for it: electroconvulsive therapy). The thought of physically experiencing that to any degree, even out of context, terrified me. I was worried that when I faced those obstacles, I’d have some huge crying and hyperventilating fit, or just freeze and become catatonic. What then?

I had no strategy to face this fear. My strategy was to stay in denial and remain avoidant. Yesterday, I think the second obstacle was the “Electric Eel”, where you have to army crawl through mud under a low ceiling of electric wires. If you touch a wire, you get shocked. I saw the obstacle and just though, “So what? This doesn’t mean anything if I don’t let it mean anything.” I slid in and shimmied through. I got shocked three times. That was all.

Fear #4: Strangers!

I was invited to join a Tough Mudder team by a woman I met from another jiu jitsu school in the area. She and I hung out maybe twice and had become friends on Facebook. I think she’s awesome and I feel comfortable around her. However, the other team members were students at her gym and I didn’t know any of them. I was worried about being an outsider. People who train together get pretty close. You get to know when someone is hitting their wall and what’s the best way to encourage them. You know each others’ strengths and challenges. You see one another at your absolute best and absolute worst. It’s a very unique bond. How would I fit in with them? What if they are all stronger, faster, smarter, and braver than I am? What if I’m the weak link?

When I was thinking about my fear of being on a team with strangers, I reminded myself that most martial artists are pretty awesome people. Yes, there are a lot of arrogant, self-centered jerks in the martial arts world, but the majority of people I’ve met have been open, fun, and encouraging. My Tough Mudder teammates were exactly that way. I trusted them immediately and felt 100% safe with them. Our captain told me that the team’s motto were, “Slow and Steady!” and “No Man Left Behind!” Our captain, who volunteered the day before, recruited another volunteer to join our team. The recruit was a Navy vet and cancer survivor in her late 40s. In the last year, she committed to regaining control of her health and well-being. The day was definitely challenging for her, but we were in it together. We pushed her when she needed a push, and let her go at her own pace when she needed a rest. Our captain made sure she was always in sight.

I had an amazing day yesterday. I was weighed down with mud. I was so cold I could barely move my fingers to untie my shoes at the end. My tendonitis in my left knee was bothering me. But I was ecstatic. I love teamwork and camaraderie. At the starting line, the MC emphasized that the Tough Mudder is about teamwork. If you see someone struggling, even if they are not on your team, you help them. Carry them if you must. I got offered hands from strangers countless times. I offered a boost to a guy who was struggling to get over a mud trench near the end. He looked at me and my 5′ frame quizzically and asked, “Really?” “Sure,” I replied. I give him a leg up and he hoisted himself over. Then one of my teammates gave me a boost. At one point, our Navy vet got a pretty bad leg cramp. She sat down so she could stretch it out when a man trotted over to us to see what was going on. When our teammate said she had a cramp, the man whipped out two salt packets from his Camelback, ripped them open, and poured them in her mouth. He gave her a drink of water. He advised her to eat a banana at the next food stop, explaining that her muscles need potassium and salt. Then he trotted away as quickly as he appeared. Near the last four miles, our captain re-hurt an old knee injury and she was forced to limp. So we walked the rest of the race together. Even though she was in pain, our captain rallied so we could run through the finish line together. It was incredible.

I’m so glad I said yes.


Me, at 5:00 AM putting on my Mudder face.1402168_10151925954655926_1771079214_o(1)

Our nice, clean team before the start


And after.

Haikuesday 08.20.13

August 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Yo, at work this week,

my clients are killin’ it.

They are owning life.

Haikuesday 04.30.13

April 30, 2013 Leave a comment


comes fiercest after bad nights

since that’s the challenge.

Categories: poetry Tags: , , , , ,