Why I Said “Yes” to Jiu Jitsu at 32

This past summer, I completed a Leadership 360-Assessment that examined values alignment within my life. As part of the assessment, I got to see what my surveyors ranked as the top values that they see me living regularly and the top values they want to see me live more fully.

The top two requested values that they wanted to see more were:

1) RISK-TAKING

2) WELL-BEING 

At the time, I was planning to announce my transition to running my business full-time and this certainly gave me more courage to embrace the risk to actually do it.

But these results also prompted me to deeply evaluate what living these values more fully would mean for my life.

Well-being wasn’t a big surprise – with building a business and working a full-time job, my physical health was always the first thing I sacrificed to also maintain a social life. I had run in marathon relays and joined a gym since starting my business years before, but I never seemed to keep consistent motivation. Neither running nor fitness classes ever fired me up.  But prioritizing my physical and mental health more would create more opportunities to “enjoy the journey” so to speak.

When it came to risk-taking, I thought about how else I avoid risks in my life by letting my fears and limiting beliefs stop me from pursuing great opportunities. My go-to response to new, uncomfortable experiences is to over-analyze and think about everything that can go wrong. But I’ve learned over the last few years that what we worry about almost always never happens.

So, what would happen if I did a 180 and decided to focus on everything that could go right?

What would happen if I decided to really LIVE the value of risk-taking by saying yes to everything that makes me uncomfortable?

After all, every time I said yes to discomfort in the past, I felt more alive, excited and aligned with who I really am.

This is where Brazilian Jiu Jitsu comes in.

I had never participated in martial arts before. I was a volleyball player for 10 years which isn’t even a contact sport.  But my husband started practicing BJJ right after we got married and I watched him fall in love with it.

Before my commitment to embrace risk-taking, I attended a few of his scrimmages and found myself exhilarated while watching the fights. I quickly realized that I missed competing, I missed being on a team, I missed studying a sport while taking care of my health in the process. But I talked myself out of it with limiting beliefs that it would be too uncomfortable getting chocked and directly wrestling other people.

After my 360-Assessment, I realized that jiu jitsu was a perfect opportunity to say yes to something really uncomfortable that would also challenge me and help me grow, while  prioritizing my physical well-being.

As I started Jiu Jitsu at True Believer in Pittsburgh, it resonated with me instantly to learn and work on improving technique while physically exerting myself.  I connected to the other teammates in the gym, as we are all supporting each other on improving at a sport that is incredibly difficult, but also fascinating.  As I quickly fell in love with the sport, prioritizing time for my physical well-being became easy.

Now, don’t get me wrong… the first time I got pinned and choked by someone, I was very uncomfortable. But I quickly realized that at jiu jitsu class, I never think about my overwhelming task list or the uncomfortable stress I’m dealing with outside of the gym.

When I’m on the mats, I am fully present and fully engaged.

There’s also something oddly rewarding about training for months, continually getting beat, and then having a moment where something clicks and I excitedly find myself in a dominant position.  I’ve done it right and I worked really hard to figure it out.

It is humbling when I fail (and I fail often) but then it is incredibly fulling when I succeed.  Jiu jitsu is a perfect mirror for my life as an entrepreneur.  It’s required a lot of hard work and overcoming many rejections and failures.  It’s required a willingness to learn, to put in a lot of time and effort, and to seek support from others. It’s also required a growth mindset in that I must believe that I am capable of getting to where I want to be.

And then when I reach a point of achievement, I am on fire inside – because not only is it earned, but I’ve become a better person in the process.

As black belt Chris Matakas says, “We must embrace failure to progress in this art. By venturing into the unknown, we give ourselves the opportunity to develop new abilities…  We will never master this art, but we must daily strive to be better. You are a work in progress. All good things are.” 

Through jiu jitsu, I’ve affirmed that continuously being challenged and getting out of my comfort zone in a way that makes me feel alive…this aligns with who I really am and what motivates me.

Risk-taking is now a key value in my life.  Whenever I am faced with a choice or an opportunity, I evaluate:

“What is driving my decision? Fear? Or, does this decision authentically align with who I am and who I want to be?”

True Believer is co-hosting a tournament in the middle of June, and when I thought about competing for the first time, my brain started to over-analyze everything that could go wrong.  But as I’ve become more conscious of my limiting beliefs as well as my values, I shut down the over-analyzing and simply asked myself, “Are you saying no only based on fear?”  And the answer was yes.  The only reason not to do the tournament was a fear of losing and looking bad.

But deep down, I really wanted to embrace the risk and move to the next level in my training.  I wanted the learning opportunity.  And my instructor made it very clear that the experience of competing matters most (at least as a white belt).  So, I said “Yes. Clearly I’m uncomfortable, so this is something I need to do.”  

Unfortunately, I dislocated my elbow at practice less than a week after registering for the tournament. I was almost surprised at how disappointed I was to miss it. My team, who could not be more supportive, has talked to me about additional tournaments coming up in July or August, yet now I have an added layer of discomfort as I’ve experienced my first injury. What if my elbow is weaker now and I get injured again? That’s a risk, no doubt.  But to me, it’s one worth taking because I know that when I complete my first tournament, I am going to feel ridiculously alive, regardless of the outcome.

The journey of beginning jiu jitsu has affirmed that living a life that is aligned with my values is truly much more fulfilling.  It has encouraged me to keep getting uncomfortable and taking risks in all aspects of my life.

There’s not one risk I have yet regretted taking, even if it didn’t work out in my favor. And some haven’t. But this truth remains – my only regrets are the risks I didn’t take.

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