“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
Being a martial arts instructor has been one of my life’s greatest gift. Not only has it shaped nearly every aspect of who I am, but it has also allowed me to connect with, teach and learn from an incredible array of human beings. These countless people would serve not only as my teachers, students, training partners and fellow competitors; but most importantly they would become my friends and extended family. These relationships have not only supported me throughout my life, but they have done something just as important; they have given me purpose.
While many of the students I have taught, I have may not been in touch with for several years, when I do have the blessing of reconnecting with them; the result is almost always the same. Despite the years and distance that may have separated us, the reunion brings up back together quickly because of the bond of our training and the memories we created together.
One such instances recently came with a former student named Scott. I first met Scott when I was just taking over my own martial arts program as a 16-year old high school student in my small hometown in southeastern Wisconsin. The previous head instructor had left the program and I greatly feared that I would be losing my “Taekwondo home”. When I innocently asked my instructor, Grandmaster J.K.Lee, whose own school was 30 miles away, who would be taking over leadership of our local program, he looked at me intently and then said without hesitation,
I clearly remember the fear that coursed through my body when he spoke these words to me, and I am sure the incredulous look on my face may have given him cause for concern. However, he was unwavering in his support for me as I embarked on a journey that would change the course of my life. I had a purpose.
As you might imagine, several students, especially the adults, left the program when they found out that a teenager would be taking over the role as their instructor, but not Scott. A man in his early thirties, who was an art teacher at a rival high school, Scott stood by my side and continued to take classes from me – and for this, I am forever grateful. This gentleman, who could have been my high school teacher, gladly played the role of student and supported me throughout my tenure as leader of the program until I went off to college (Did I mention that program doubled in size by the time I went off to school 😊?).
But I digress……
I hadn’t seen or heard from Scott in several decades until about 6 months ago when we reconnected on Facebook. After a few messages back and forth where we caught up with each other’s lives, he asked me in a message,
“Do you remember when you were interviewed by the local newspaper?”
“Yes.” I replied, remembering the interview and article written about me and my martial arts studies just weeks before testing for my 2nd Degree Black Belt in January of 1980.
“I still have a copy of it.” Scott typed back. “Would like to have it?”
“Absolutely! Thank you.” I responded.
About a week later, a cardboard envelope with the article from the front page of my hometown paper’s sports section entitled, “Physical, mental powers combined” arrived. Neatly folded and in impeccable condition, only the slight yellowing of the paper belied its almost 40 years of existence.
Obviously, a flood of happy memories and emotions washed over me as I read the article and saw the pictures of my many students that I had not seen in many years. The picture of me leaping over two folding chairs breaking three boards with a flying kick also warmed my heart (and probably stroked my ego 😊). However, what struck me most was what I read within the article and the answers that were provided by my 16-year old self.
While there were of plenty answers focused on the physical aspects of the martial arts, the majority of answers spoke of martial arts philosophy.
“We teach a balance between physical and mental strength.”
“You must try to follow with them daily in your life (referring to the Taekwondo tenants of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit).
” It’s a lot more than fighting, it builds one’s character……..You have to instill respect.”
As I read these words, my heart swelled, and tears welled up in my eyes. It was then that it hit me. If I would be being interviewed today as my middle-aged self, I would be answering these questions in exactly the same way as I did almost four decades before as a bright-eyed teenager. The message was exactly the same. I wasn’t that I didn’t have any new material (haha). It was that it was MY message then and it is still MY message today. It is certainly the message I give when talking to martial arts students, but it is also the message I give when using martial arts as a metaphor for life when speaking to audiences and clients not within the martial arts arena.
You may be reading this and saying, “That’s great, Chris. It’s so awesome you found your purpose at such a young age. But that’s not me.”
On the contrary, I would contend that this is not necessarily the case. Several years ago, I had a teacher say to me that despite most us trying so hard to “find our life purpose,” the truth is that most, if not all of us, have actually been living our purpose for our entire lives – we are just not aware of it. We may have questions and uncertainty about how that might exactly look and the vocations or avocations with which we express them in. However, when we take a close inventory of our life up until this point, we will most likely find that our purpose, simply by how we have chosen to navigate through life, has been there along.
If you still don’t believe me, take yourself through this simple 4-step process I use with my coaching clients to identify their life purpose.
Pause for a moment and let that sink in. Have you actually been on purpose all of your life and just not been aware of it? What if you took this awareness and began to create your life, career and leadership from this prospective? What would you do differently? What risks would you take? What conversations would you have? What changes would you make in your life to truly align with your purpose.
To once again quote the wise philosopher Anonymous,
The question then becomes, what are you going to do about it?
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