The Power of Being Terrible

Martial arts is hard for me.

I don’t mean because the moves are literally difficult, even though they are. It’s not hard for me because of the moves, it’s hard for me because I am bad at being bad at things.

In martial arts, as with many sports, you start out being terrible. And then you get good enough to feel like at least no one is pointing and laughing at you. And then you get good enough to think “hey I’m pretty good at this”. Then you get good enough to realize actually you are terrible.

If you are say, a control freak who can’t bear to fail at anything, this requires an attitude adjustment. Or a personality transplant. Probably the second thing.

You have to be mentally prepared to be awful at everything every time you go to class, but also to surprise yourself by how amazing you are at everything every time you go to class. To be forgiving with the limitations of your body and your experience, and also know that they will not be limitations forever. To look at others just beginning and think to yourself “that was me once, and nothing is different about me now except I have more hours of work behind me.” To look at others far ahead of you and know they are just you, plus more work.

It’s easy to forget that of course you are terrible, but now you are terrible at way harder moves than you once were. You are terrible at the finer points of that kick you conquered the basics of. And later you will be terrible at even more difficult things. Terrible, for something that looms so large in your mind, is just a word for “haven’t done the work yet”.

I am particularly fond of getting caught in this trap with running. When I finished my first 10K competitive run, I thought “Ugh, I wanted a better time.” I was mad at myself for not pushing harder and going faster.

I had worked myself up from 5K to 10K in about three weeks before the race. I finished middle of the pack in my age group and overall. And instead of being proud I even finished, and in a respectable timeframe, I was mad that I had only doubled my distance in three weeks. (Instead of, I guess, doubling my distance and running a career-runner speed.)

But I didn’t put in the work to run a career-runner speed. There just wasn’t time to do that. I know because there wasn’t even really time to learn to run a 10K. I entered physio the day after the race to repair my severely abused hip. I had put in the work to overcome my body’s limits, but I hadn’t put in the time to do it respectfully, carefully.

You can’t fast-forward through being terrible. Everything is just time, and work.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the world of martial arts, where the black belts practice more or less the same kicks and punches they did as a white belt. You never really finish martial arts, you just move to new levels of time and work. Your reward for doing the work is more work.

It’s an exercise in learning to fail gracefully and continually. But also to recognize that it’s not really failure unless you stop.

Fork in the Bathroom

At my office, there are no company utensils. They’re trying to be green, so you have to bring a fork and spoon from home and keep them in your desk.

This is totally fine most of the time, except sometimes I have an awkward moment where I have to take my fork to the bathroom.

the layout of jill's job

The bathroom is between my desk and the lunch room. Come the lunch hour, this necessitates a logically maddening double-back to collect the fork. Or. I can choose to wander bravely into the washroom carrying only the fork, a choice that clearly states to everyone that I Just Do Not Care About Being Cool.

unhappy stick lady carries fork into bathroom

But then once I’m in the bathroom, I’m struck with terrible anxiety. What do I do with the fork? Do I leave it on the counter, within splashing distance of the overenthusiastic hand washers? That would announce to everyone that I probably have an incurable mouth disease. Do I take it into the stall with me? That’s more private but I don’t want to seem like some weirdo with mysterious fork-related bathroom needs. I mean what am I even doing in there? 

But if I can ninja the fork into the stall no one even has to know.

Bathroom stall fork drop

So as not to attract attention, I act real squirrelly en route to the stall, constantly checking my blind spots for possible witnesses I will have to murder.

toilet paper dispenser with a fork on it

Having successfully avoided human contact, I sigh out a sweet breath of relief and carefully balance my fork on the handily-located toilet paper shredder. Stealth is very important. A misstep here can alert the entire ladies’ room that someone has brought cutlery to the party.

Then of course all that’s left to do is to escape with dignity.

escaping the bathroom