I started practicing Taekwon Do in my early 20s. I was much younger, more coordinated, and more flexible than most adult beginners. And I loved the often grueling classes! Learning new skills, improving my technique, combining powerful movements with controlled precision…it was the perfect combination of sport and art for someone like me. I enjoyed it so much that I would get to the studio early to warm up and practice, and stay late to perfect what I had learned that day.
I quickly became friends with the instructors because I was spending so much time there. One night, after everyone had left except for me and two instructors, a conversation about jumping turned into a bit of a competition. I don’t think I’m competitive (although others disagree), but I was spurred on by the fact that the instructors were athletically built men and I was a fairly thin woman. To be clear, they had both acknowledged that I could jump pretty high. But they also said it in a way that expressed surprise, and my girl-power pride got the best of me. I challenged one of them to a jumping contest and he perked up. Game on!
Not only was this instructor a third degree black belt in Taekwon Do, he also practiced a few other forms of martial arts. He pulled out a mat and stood it up like a room partition. Then he went to the back of the room, took a short run, tucked his legs as if sitting in the air, and sailed smoothly over. Clearly he had done this before, but that didn’t phase me. Neither did the fact that most of my jumping experience involved leaps and toe touches, nothing like what he had just done. At that age, I had confidence in my athletic ability and a blind spot for taking on challenges just outside my reach. I ran, I jumped, and I tucked my legs. Just as I thought I had made it cleanly over, my ass kissed the mat and I went down…HARD!
The two instructors rushed over with concern, knowing that both my tailbone and my ego must have been bruised. I laughed it off because what else was there to do?! I not only agreed to the challenge, I pretty much spurred it on! I realized that day that while I might have some natural athletic ability, I needed to watch that my ego didn’t get the best of me.
It took reflecting back on that situation to realize the saying “The bigger they are, the harder they fall” has more to do with the size of someone’s ego than their physical size. Over time I learned 3 things that helped me to keep my ego in check:
1. Be honest with myself about my strengths and my blind spots. Knowing what I’m capable of is just as important as knowing what traps I might walk straight into. That little self-awareness is enough for me to check in and see if I’m ever getting carried away.
2. Be honest with others about my struggles. The “fake it till you make it” culture leaves me ineffectively pushing myself past my limits. Learning how to open up about my struggles built my humility-muscle and still keeps me from falsely convincing myself that I have no room to grow.
3. Let go of comparisons. Comparing myself to others is just a way to feed my ego a diet of unhealthy junk – junk that leaves me feeling like I’m lacking or leaves me thinking I’m better than others just so I can get knocked on my ass, yet again.
I know I’m not alone in wishing for more confidence. Recognizing that I’ll never be the best, brightest or strongest has its advantages, though. It makes it easier for me to accept my gifts and look for the gifts that others bring to the table. I’ll take confidence in who I really am and humility in what I’m not, over getting knocked down any day!