Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Midlife Crisis is Better than It Sounds

The Dakota believe that how you act in the first year after a loved one's death is how you may act for the rest of your life. If a belief survives for thousands of years, it is probably not on just pure luck.

Yesterday, my niece asked me,

"Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like? You're cutting back your work hours. After 17 years working with the same partner, you're starting your own company. Now you are leaving your judo club where you have been for eight years, going to a different club to teach."

She may be right. My reaction when Ron died was to work three jobs, plus teach judo at the college twice a week and run practices at the local judo club. Work was my answer to everything. I paid off the medical bills, funeral bill, unpaid taxes, two mortgages and saved money for the girls' college. If I needed a break from my kids' constant squabbling, I went to the office and worked. If I needed more money, I went to the office and worked. If I was bored or lonesome, I went to the office and worked. Are we detecting a pattern here yet? I even met my husband on the Internet and met him in person for the first time when I was in Washington reviewing grants for - you guessed it - work.

Now, three of the girls have jobs, the medical bills, funeral bills and taxes were paid long ago. Still, I have been working 80-hour weeks, spending more time in airports than any human being should have to endure, waking up in North Dakota one week and in Georgia the next. In the newspaper recently, I read a comment from someone else who decided to retire, he said,

"I woke up in the morning and for a minute was irritated the hotel had forgotten my wake-up call. Then, it hit me - I was home in my own bed."

It was 5:30 a.m., about 40 below zero, in Devils Lake, North Dakota this January when it hit me. I didn't want to do this any more. I was done. There may be something to this belief about staying on the path you have chosen after a loved one dies. Otherwise,only an abnormally slow person would take 17 years to come to the logical conclusion that being in an airport, before dawn, in North Dakota in the middle of winter was about as far as one could get from ideal working conditions. This would be particularly true if one happened to have a perfectly good home in Santa Monica where it has not hit 40 below since the last ice age. I called my partner and told him that I was done. After this year, I was going to retire from the company and do something else. When he asked me what, I told him truthfully that I didn't know, but whatever it was would definitely involve less snow and fewer airports.

Having kept to my word and just returned from my last business trip three weeks ago, I have found that -- life is better. I am working just as many hours, but from my desk at home, and in graduate schools less than ten miles from my house. The result is more time on work I enjoy and less time in security lines.

Last week, it became apparent to me that the philosophy in our judo club had just diverged too much from mine. I really think the focus for small children is on learning technique, having fun, making friends and getting exercise. I don't think winning local tournaments or even national tournaments is important for kids under 13. In fact, I don't think it is important for anyone unless it is what they want to do, not what someone else wants for them. I really don't think learning 'the way we did back in the day' is necessarily a good thing. A lot of those old ideas, like not using crash pads, never taking a water break - well, I like the way Billy Joel put it,

"The good old days weren't always good and tomorrow aint as bad as it seems."

In fact, tomorrow seems quite good. For a while, I will be working out on Saturdays, instead of having two nights after work that I am teaching. I'll have more days when I can go to the beach with Julia or meet with clients and not have to rush back to teach. I am going to be working with two new programs, a class for girls at Hayastan, and a USJA/USJF West Coast Judo Training Center. Tom Peters said that it is always easier to build a great new organization than turn a mediocre organization into a great one. I believe that is true.

A crisis literally means a point when a decision is made which determines one outcome or another. Simply, we create our future by the choices we make. As I have gotten older, there are more demands on my time and I have had to make choices about where I choose to spend it. One way to look at this is as a negative, stressful time, but, after years of experience, I look at these points as an opportunity to make life better.
Judo tip #2: Watch videos of top players in action, the world championships, the Olympics. Observe where the player's feet are when she is throwing, her movement, whether it is fast or slow, in what direction. I have heard people say that uchikomi is a poor way to practice because players in competition do not move the same way as with uchikomi. In fact, though, when I watched many, many ippon throws with harai goshi, which I was teaching this week, it looked exactly like the way I am trying to get my students to move in moving uchikomi. Don't let someone else tell you how a throw looks in competition. Watch and decide for yourself. Video tapes from Fighting Films and others are great for this, and so is youtube.

No comments: