Don’t worry, I’m not challenging you to a fight. I am however challenging you to step outside – outside your comfort zone! You may not have ever thought of it this way, but being successful at anything requires trying something new. Sometimes, trying something new is not such a big deal, like trying a new flavor of ice cream. The only risk is that you may pay for something you do not like. But often trying something new can be a big step and may involve some degree of fear and anxiety.
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be tough, that’s why it is called a comfort zone – you feel comfortable there. The problem with playing it safe and staying in your comfort zone is that you never discover what you are capable of achieving. Of course there is no guarantee that you will succeed if you do take the chance, but there is a definite guarantee that you will not grow as a person, or as an athlete, if you are not willing to challenge yourself. Your comfort zone should be a good starting point and a place to come back to when you need to regroup before trying again, but it should not be a place where you spend most of your time. I don’t know of anyone who has stayed in his or her comfort zone and achieved anything. Of course my blog is primarily about judo so that is what I base much of my writing on, but when I talk about not achieving anything if you stay in your comfort zone, I am not just talking about gold medals, or judo, or even sports, I am talking about ANYTHING! Whether it is in education, or business, or sport, or music, or any other activity, if you are not willing to challenge yourself, you are never going to grow, wherever your interests lie.
That is not to say you cannot lead a happy life if you do not challenge yourself or step outside your comfort zone. The argument could also be made that if I do not take a risk I cannot fail so, while staying in my comfort zone may not give me the opportunity to succeed, but it will also protect me from disappointment. To that I would say, true, but we all suffer disappointments in our lives. If you take a risk now and then and fail, you will be better prepared to deal with life’s disappointments. But, if you take a risk and succeed, just think how great that would feel! But you will never know if you do not take a chance. I’ve said this in previous articles, but I think this is one of the biggest problems with youth sports and our society overall. We teach our kids to be safe, and not put themselves out there. Ok we encourage them to play sports, which is an example of stepping out of their comfort zones, but we make sure they cannot experience failure by not keeping score. This ensures they are not learning to deal with disappointment, so when they are faced with disappointments or rejection later in life they are not prepared to handle it. That’s one of the many things I love about judo. When you compete in a tournament, every match has a winner and a loser. Losing sucks! I hate losing, but it is a part of life, and the sooner you learn to handle losing, and make it a learning experience, the better off and more well-adjusted you will be.
This year we transferred my son to a new school for the 4th grade. The new school has a music program so he decided he wanted to learn to play an instrument. Stepping outside his comfort zone is something we have always encouraged him to do, but it has sometimes been hard for him to try something new. Joining the band program probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I do not believe he would have done it a year ago, so his mother and I were so proud when he came home with the band flyer and said he wanted to join. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to play so he and I went to band night and he tried every instrument twice and finally settled on the trombone. It has been so cool to see his excitement on band days and how eager he is to show us what he is learning when he practices every night! My wife and I are very proud of him for taking the chance and trying something new.
This example of my son joining the band is a small example, but for a 9-year-old who has often struggled with getting out of his comfort zone it is a huge step and that is where it starts. When something else comes along that he wants to try but might be a little anxious about, he will be much more likely to step outside his comfort zone and take a chance. These small steps are where it starts. If you fail you can go back to your comfort zone and regroup and work up the courage, with encouragement, to either try again or move on and try something else. If you succeed, it makes you feel good about yourself and you are much more likely to take bigger risks in the future. Of course when our son or one of our students tries and does not succeed we let them know how proud we are that they made the attempt and that even trying something new is a success, and we help them learn from the experiences which will help them in the next attempt.
Another example of stepping outside of your comfort zone is the decision of a teenage girl from the beginning class at my dojo, Denver Judo, to start going to the advanced practices. Camille is a 14-year-old girl who is a yellow belt and weighs around 114 pounds. Of course the first advance practice she attended was a Friday night practice, which typically consists of warming up then right into randori (sparring). Friday practices lately have been what we call Giant Night because everyone who has attended lately has been six feet tall or taller, except for Heidi and me, and we both have a few inches and about 75 pounds on Camille. She walked into the first Friday practice and saw all thoseÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ did I mention that everyone there was a black or brown belt? She never missed a beat, she did at least one round of ne waza (ground fighting) and one round of tachi waza (standing fighting) with everyone there, some more than one. I was proud of her for coming and staying for the entire practice but wondered if she would come back to that one again. Not only did she come back to the next Friday practice, she also came to the Monday advanced practice the following week. We had a pretty hard practice with warm ups, then about 45 minutes of drills then about 45 minutes of tachi waza randori. I went over to her during one of the drills and asked how she was doing, and she said she was good. I said that this practice was a little different from the beginning class and she laughed and said, “yeah, but it’s fun!”
Again, that may not seem like a big example of someone stepping out of their comfort zone, but for someone who has only been in judo for a short time to make the transition from the beginning class where your skill level is close to most of the people in your class to a class where not only are you pretty far down the ladder as far as skill level but also in size, it is. Fortunately there were several other ladies in practice on Monday closer to her size, but either way, I’m proud of her for making the jump to improve her skills!
Now, I’ll give you a much bigger example of stepping out of your comfort zone. One of the guys in my club, Ryan Jones, was a Paralympic hopeful for the 2012 Games in London. Unfortunately he lost during the trials to Dartanyon Crockett who went on to win a bronze medal in London. Ryan is an excellent athlete, and one of the hardest working athletes I have ever worked with, a work ethic he shares with his brother Scott, who was my teammate at the 2004 Paralympic Games and who I coached going into the 2008 Games. Of course Ryan was disappointed with coming so close and not making the team, but he made a sacrifice of his time and money to go to London to be a training partner for Dartanyon. It was a great experience for Ryan and I was proud of him for being a team player and going, but it is not the way he was hoping to go.
We had talked in the past, if a bed became available, about Ryan moving to the Olympic Training Center as a full-time resident Paralympic hopeful athlete. While the move would not be that far geographically, it would represent a major change to Ryan’s life. Ryan has a full-time job here in Denver, and the move to the OTC would mean giving up his job and his life in Denver to train full-time.
As I said, we talked about it back in the spring, but hadn’t really thought about it for a while. Then in July of this year, ESPN release a story that featured Dartanyon Crockett who they had featured before. Click here to see the original video. The original story was how we found Dartanyon and got him into the judo program. In the follow-up story it talked about where Dartanyon was since the airing of the original story, so of course it featured him in London but started with his moving to the OTC and then making the Paralympic team. ESPN was there at the Paralympic Trials in April of 2012 when Dartanyon beat Ryan to make the team. When I saw the video of them fighting I had mixed emotions, just as I did back at the trials. When I saw Ryan loose to Dartanyon, I was so disappointed for Ryan who had worked so hard, but also proud for Dartanyon who had also worked hard. My heart sank when I saw the video because I knew Ryan would see it and would relive that emotional time. Click here to see the follow-up video (I’m in this one too).
As I expected, when I got to the dojo the next evening, Ryan came in and sat down and told me that he had seen the video. I could tell he was hurting over it all over again. I told him that I felt bad when I saw it knowing he was going to see it. What I did not expect is when Ryan told me, “I want to make my own highlights, not be in someone else’s!” He asked if there was any possibility that he could still move to the OTC to train full-time to make a run for the team for Rio 2016. I told him I would check but before we started the ball rolling, I wanted him to think seriously about what it would mean to give up his job and life in Denver and move to the OTC. I wanted to make sure he was serious and committed and this wasn’t just a knee jerk reaction fueled by emotion. So after several conversations between Ryan, Heidi and myself, we decided to move forward and got the ball rolling. I only wish I would have been there to see his face when I texted Ryan his move in date. I wrote and told him, “Your move in date is October 1. Now it’s REAL!” He wrote back “Oh WOW!” So we talked that night at practice and a few days later he put in his notice at work, and we are having his good-bye party this weekend!
There may be those of you who think, “stepping out of your comfort zone is one thing, but quitting your job to go live in a dorm and be a full-time athlete is CRAZY!” I know that not everyone could make that decision. I couldn’t right now, I have a wife and a son, so I would have to consider them when making a decision like that. Ryan is in his early 30’s and already into his career so it was a tough decision, but he is single so this decision only affects him. It is still a hard thing to do, but you never know what is going to happen in your life, so if possible, you have to take advantage of these opportunities when they come up.
When I moved to Denver so I could train with my Paralympic coach full-time and go to the OTC a few times a week in preparation for the Sydney Games in 2000, I was just out of college so I didn’t have to give up a career, but I did have to leave a college club and the public club I had started with some friends, as well as all my family and friends. I was leaving a place where I was the top athlete in the club, so I wasn’t losing may rounds of randori, if any, to go to train at the OTC where I couldn’t throw anybody! It was a hard decision. In the end, what helped me and I believe Ryan, make the decision to move is not wanting to wonder “what if?” If Ryan stays in Denver and makes it to Rio and wins a gold medal that would be fantastic. But, if he stays in Denver and does not make it, he would always wonder if he had done absolutely everything he could have to achieve his dream. If his situation were different that answer might be yes. But for Ryan the only way that answer could be yes was to give up his job and move to the OTC. Now what if he moves to the OTC and still does not make it? That was the question I had too. I had already been to the Paralympics when I moved to Colorado, but I wanted to win gold. Again, if I had moved and did not make it, I would always be able to hold my head up and look at myself in the mirror with no regrets. I would be able to say I did everything I could have done and didn’t make it. I would still feel bad for not making it, but I would rather go for it and fall short than never try, and that is how Ryan feels too.
I will admit that as his coach, I am torn, I am so proud of him for making that very difficult decision and will be proud whether he makes it to Rio or not. Of course I hope with all my heart that he does make it, because I believe he deserves it and has the skill to make it. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone who deserves to win, always wins, but that is the nature of sport! Heidi and I and our entire club will be sorry to see him go. Ryan has been one of our most loyal and hardest working members for several years now. Along with all his own training, he has been helping us with the youth program for a few years and we will miss his help and the kids will miss him as well. Ryan has been a very important part of our club and a good friend for while so it was hard for me to set in motion the process that would take him away. But just as my Sensei did for me, I encouraged him to take the next step to help him. I know that I could have convinced him to stay just as Mrs. Lavergne could have done to me, but that would be self-serving and not what a friend or a teacher who truly cares for and wants the best for his students does.
So if after reading this, you still cannot understand why he would give up everything for something that may not work out, I have to admit that I feel a little sorry for you. Not everyone has the opportunity to give up everything to chase a dream, but if you cannot even imagine doing what Ryan is doing, it makes me wonder if you have ever had a dream that means so much that it becomes as much a need, as a dream. A need so strong that if you cannot go for it now, all you do is think about it and dream of the day when you can finally pursue it.
If you do not understand this feeling, I hope that someday you will. Pursuing my dreams has made my life so exciting! It has made all the blood, sweat, and tears completely worth it. Not only did I fulfill my dream of winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games, I was the first American to do so, and more important than that, my pursuit of my dream lead me right in the path of the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known, who is now my wife!
I don’t want you to think that I am telling you that people like Ryan, or me, or the many others who have given up safety and security to pursue a dream are unique. There are countless individuals who have given their all in the pursuit of a dream, and none of them could imagine not giving their all. Some of them reached their goals, some of came close, and some have not, but one thing they all have in common is they were courageous enough to step outside thief comfort zones repeatedly to live their dreams. The ability to do so is one of a very important attribute necessary to be a winner!
Thanks so much for reading!
Talk to you soon…