Several months ago, I borrowed an audio version of David Allen's Getting Things Done
from the library. I began implementing some of his suggestions, and discovered that the system seemed to work pretty well. So well, in fact, that I decided to invest in a copy of the book on Kindle and see about implementing more of Allen's ideas in my life.
I hit my first stumbling block almost immediately: it turns out that a desk is a major component of Allen's methodology, and I had sold my desk several months earlier (I don't sit at a desk to work, and it was taking up space that could be used for other things.).
I was mulling over this conundrum with my wife one morning, when she said
"Well, why don't you just build a desk? You can probably figure it out."
It's important to understand something about both myself and my father for this story to make sense.
My father is a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn. He grew up in apartment buildings, where, in his words, "if something broke, you called the super." If his father (my grandfather) had any particular skills at building or fixing things, he neglected to share them with my father. Who thus, had none to share with me. As a young boy, I spent some time screwing around with some of my father's tools, but I had no idea what I was doing, and received no particular guidance from him. That phase eventually passed, and between the ages of eight and well, now, I had accomplished few tasks more complicated than hanging a picture frame. Inspired by some of Ross Enamait, I'd built myself one or two homemade pieces of training equipment, but nothing particularly fancy. A neck harness (which I need to repair.) Some thick-handled dumbbells.
But the idea of being able to build things both excites and intrigues me. So I decided that, sure, I would give this a shot.
This is the era of the internet, so going online and finding some desk plans was reasonably straightforward. So was going out and buying the wood, screws, and other assorted materials.
The decision to cut the wood myself, rather than having Home Depot do it turned out be a huge error on my part, and was responsible for me thinking of writing about this experience at all. My wife was traveling with our son, so I had the free time and lack of concern about noise to work on this...which lead to me standing out on the porch with a crappy saw, trying to figure out how the hell I was going to make this work...and deep in the FEAR loop.
I honestly don't remember if my wife just happened to call while I was doing this, or if I just broke down and called her. Either way, I looked to her to bail me out, because, despite knowing exactly what was wrong with my thinking (focusing on the negative, visualizing failure, etc.), I couldn't break myself out of the FEAR Loop. I distinctly remember saying "what the hell was I thinking? I can't do this."
Fortunately, my wife was there, and she talked me down.
I had to change my expectations. The project that I thought would take me an afternoon took a couple of afternoons. I made one or two more trips to Home Depot for some extra materials. I modified the plans to suit different dimensions, and ended up with a somewhat lopsided, but basically functional desk.
What I Learned (Or, What Does All of This Have to do with Martial Arts?)
Lesson Number One: Starting Out Is the Hardest Part
Most of the skills I've attempted to learn in recent years had some correlation to learning skills I already had. My efforts at studying Judo, or my journey into the world of kettlebell and barbell lifting, while challenging, were efforts at learning how to use my body in new and different ways. I'm already pretty used to using my body. Even the ballroom dancing lessons I was taking with my wife, while challenging, were essentially drawing on a similar set of skills. While I certainly experience moments of frustration in attempting to learn new physical skills, I'm pretty comfortable with the process of learning them.
By contrast, carpentry is something I had NO frame of reference for. Every step felt totally unfamiliar. At times, I felt completely helpless, and believed I might remain that way forever.
Of course, there was a time I felt that way with the martial arts too. And I imagine I have some students who are reading this who are nodding, because they might feel that way right now.
And hey, that's pretty natural. If you're learning a new skill, you will likely feel like you suck at it...because you DO suck at it.
Seriously. I have friends who are woodworkers and carpenters, and I imagine some of them would have had some choice words about both my process and my final product. And those words would have been justified, because I made a lot of mistakes. But mistakes are part of the learning process. We make them. If you learn from them, their valuable.
Lesson Number Two: Coaches Are There For A Reason
I honestly don't know if I would have finished this without my wife. It certainly would have taken me longer.
See, I had all the tools necessary to diagnose what was wrong with my thinking at just about every step of the way. I had the words to explain how I was in the FEAR Loop, and what I needed to do to get out of it.
But it turns out that knowing how to fix a problem is not the same as being able to fix it. In this case, my coach was my wife, who gave me a sounding board and psychological boost to be able to get through the challenge.
Sometimes, knowing what to do isn't enough...you still need a coach to help you do it. Everyone needs a support system. Nothing wrong with it.
Lesson Number Three: The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good
My father used to share that line with me. Sometimes I misapplied it, but this time, it works.
Did I produce a masterwork? Hardly. Like I said, it's lopsided. It needs to be sanded (that will have to wait for warmer weather). And probably should be stained as well.
But it is a desk. It works. And dammit, I am proud of it, because I accomplished something that I didn't think I could.
If you're just starting in your martial arts journey...you will not be good at the art you have chosen. That's okay. Take some pride when you do things better, even if you are not doing things perfectly. Better is still better. Mastery takes a long time. Perfection never comes.
Lesson Number Four: There's a Lot to Learn From Trying Something New
This project gave me some insights into myself, but it also gave me some insights into how some of my students probably think or feel.
I know I've written about this before, but I think there is a great deal of value in trying to learn things that are outside of your comfort zone. Possibly far outside your comfort zone. Especially if you're a teacher...take some time to experience what it's like to be a beginner again.You might be surprised what you learn.