When I was a very young boy I could remember emulating many heroes. There was a time I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, then it was Captain America, then Spiderman and so on. It always seemed like life could be so much more if only I were someone else…then I grew up.
As I grew older, and being in Karate, I watched many people try to be like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and others of fame. I began to realize that all they were doing was mimicking those people and they would never be them. So I set out on quest to be myself. To learn to be the best version of me I could be. As I traversed my 20’s I remember hearing many of friends wishing they were someone else. In Karate, when I was winning a lot of tournaments, I would often hear people say they wish they were me which flabbergasted me because I never saw myself as anyone super or unique.
Then I entered my 30’s and I will never forget a conversation I had with one of my teen students at the dojo. This student wanted more out of life than the “hand” they had felt was dealt to them. They always were looking at others with envy and then turning inward their feelings and hating their life. They wanted “more” out of life. During the conversation my student told me that they wish they were me. I was a bit astounded by this and asked why in the world they wish they were me. My student said I had it all together. A good job, a good Karate school and I drove a nice car, owned a motorcycle and, well basically, I was successful in life.
I had to pause for a second because I was not successful as I felt it. Then I turned my student and said “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”. My student looked at me in puzzlement so I explained to them the following about my life…
I spent many years working three to four jobs at a time to get through college. I lived in some very slummy places and owned some run down cars. I scrapped to get by everyday and often went weeks wondering if I would have enough to pay the bills from week to week. I often went without eating because I had no money for groceries or I lived on bologna and bread more often than not. During those years I also was going to college full time and finished with a mountain of debt from my loans. At one point in my life I wanted to be one of my friends. He had a great job, great relationship and was very successful as my friends and I saw it. I knew what my student was facing and feeling very well…and, well to be honest, most people have been there before too.
Then I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t an overnight thing, just like their Karate, as I explained it to them. Just because you can make a fist and throw a punch doesn’t mean that same punch will work in a real fight until you have gained the right amount of skill, understand timing, distancing and targeting…and can apply it. I told my student to think back three years ago when they began training and how awkward everything was. Then I said “and look at you now”. They had never stopped to think about where they had come from, what they had gone through and how far they had gone. It became clear to them that they really had accomplished quite a bit.
Many times I see people who wish they were someone else or had someone else’s life. I have heard them say it with their own words. But the reality is the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Many times we don’t know what that person we see as successful went through to get where they are now. We also see people as successful because society equates having a nice home, a nice car and nice things with it. In reality I know many people who have nice things that are miserable in life because they don’t have inner peace. That is the key we all should be seeking…not material things…but rather to be at peace with who we are.
My student was not at peace. They were often depressed because they wanted more than what they had. This student needed to look within to find their peace. They couldn’t and were looking outward to others and other things to see how they “wanted” to be, instead of who they “could” be. For the next year I spent quite a bit of time reminding my student they are great and can be anything if they are willing to work hard, make sacrifices and set goals…and attain them. It was a nurturing time for my student but I didn’t go easy on them nor coddle them. I pushed and expected effort…and I got it, even when they didn’t want to give it.
Now, I am in 40’s, teaching Karate full time and doing what I love for a living. It has been about 10 years since I last saw this student and they were 18, off to college and moved far away. One day I was sitting at my computer checking email and I got a message from my student. It was a very long email but one I was very grateful to receive. To sum it up they had finished college, got the job they dreamed of, moved up the ladder and was finding success in life. My student got married, had a boy and seems very much at peace. The last paragraph of the letter is what really struck home, and with their permission, I am allowed to share it here…
“For many years I always looked at the life others were living. I was jealous and envious because it always seemed like they had more than I did. Then you talked to me in the dojo that one day and my life changed forever. Not only did you expect my best, you pushed me day in and day out to give it my all but there was more. I watched you, Sensei, and seen how you were just, well, you. In a world where everyone seems to want to be someone else life their favorite actor, martial artist or celebrity you were always just you. That seemed to be enough for you in life. When I graduated high school and moved away I always thought about that when I felt envious of others. If it was good enough for you Sensei then it would be good enough for me so I set out to be my best version of me…like you always said in the dojo “be the best you that you can be”. Thank you Sensei for a lesson that extended beyond teaching me Karate.”
Being you is important. My student learned this and I am very happy they did. It is easy to want more out of life, but that path leads to depression and envy. Being the best version of you is what life is about. It isn’t about wanting the fancy home, cars or things others have. It is about seeing where you want to be, for you, and going after those goals. It won’t be easy. It will take hard work and sacrifices, but in the end you will be at peace because you will be the “best version of you that you can be”. I can only hope and pray more of my students learn this lesson because all I ever wanted for each of them is to be at peace with whom they are. That, in itself, is very valuable…and a strong lesson to learn. It won’t be easy but anything in life worth it never is. Never want to be someone else…want to be you and become the best you that you can be. Keep training my friends.
Rokudan Shorin Ryu Shorinkan