Who Needs A Straight Elbow Anyway?

If you read my last blog post, then you know that I dislocated my right elbow at jiu jitsu practice almost two months ago.  

Despite playing volleyball for over 10 years, I’ve never experienced a “serious injury” before.  Thus, when it first occurred, I wasn’t expecting months of recovery, physical therapy and an inconvenience to my daily life.  Once the doctors popped my elbow back in, I was told to wear a sling for a week and avoid putting pressure on my elbow for a month.  And that was that. 

But after several weeks went by, my elbow was still horribly crooked.  So, I went to see an orthopedic surgeon.  I was relieved to hear that I was right on track with my recovery and that apparently dislocated elbows can take months to heal.  

The surgeon then shared with me that while he expected my range of motion would get better over the next month, my elbow may never be straight again. He said even with physical therapy, it might be stuck at a 20 – 30 degree angle for the rest of my life.  

While I was thrilled to hear that I was healing properly, my stomach dropped to think that one little mistake may result in a crooked elbow forever.  Cue the violins. 

Usually when I’m facing frustrating circumstances, I try to focus on what I’m learning from the difficult experience. 

What lessons can I take away? How can I grow from this?  

But when I tried this exercise with my injured elbow, I felt stuck.  Wasn’t the growth opportunity supposed to be getting way outside my comfort zone when I signed up to compete in a jiu jitsu tournament?  Wasn’t I learning lessons about discipline and growing through failures from practicing jiu jitsu regularly? What could I possibly learn from having to sit out for two months and stop my progress?

The only obvious lesson I could see was, “When you fall, get back up again” – but hadn’t I already learned this lesson many times while growing my business over the last 3 years?  I came up with nothing.  So instead, I just felt sorry for myself. 

Two days after seeing the surgeon, I visited my jiu jitsu gym to watch and take notes.  While watching class without participating was hard, staying away and forgetting what I’d learned was even harder.  So I made it a goal to go at least once a week while I was on the injured reserve list. 

At class, my instructor Jake asked me how my elbow was healing and I told him how the surgeon said I was recovering well but my elbow would probably never go back to being fully straight again. 

Jake smiled, shrugged, and said to me, “Eh, who needs a straight elbow anyway?”  

My immediate reaction was to think, “Are you kidding? I’m only 33, I don’t want a crooked elbow!” But I stopped myself and recognized that I had two choices: 

I could feel sorry for myself, ask him to feel sorry for me, and choose to believe that a crooked elbow would be a detriment to my life. 

Or…

Shrug it off, accept that having a crooked elbow isn’t a big deal, and choose to focus on the good. 

I decided the second option would serve me much better than the first. I smiled along with him and agreed.  

It was such a simple statement but it stuck with me all day.  The more I processed his question, the more grateful I was that he responded how he did.  What a great perspective to choose…My elbow will always be crooked? Okay, so what? Let’s move on with life…

The lesson to be reinforced from this injury hit me like a ton of bricks: my perspective, the story I tell myself about a situation, makes all the difference in how I experience it.  

Of course getting injured is rough. Of course it’s not fun. I believe I would be perfectly justified to feel sorry for myself that I got injured and that it won’t ever fully recover. 

But choosing to focus on that perspective does nothing to make my life better.  It keeps me stuck.  So why not shrug it off and tell myself a different story? 

I’ve believed for years that your mentality has the greatest impact on your results, but this was an incredible reminder of how I am capable of choosing my perspective with every aspect of my life.  

Now, when I feel frustration over sitting out of practice, I think, “Eh, so what’s two more weeks off? What can I focus on that’s good this week instead? What can I do with this extra time?” I refocus, tell myself a new story and the frustration dissipates.  If a new client deal I was excited about falls through, what’s the other perspective? “Well, I’ll survive.  What are the opportunities for new clients?” 

And every time I look at my elbow now and see how it’s curved – “Eh, who needs a straight elbow anyway?”

 

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