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Humility has taught me never to believe my own hype. Ego perpetuates the self-justification of bad habits and behavior that narrows my thinking and limits me in a fixed mindset. Entrenched, I know I’ll miss out on living to my full potential.
I have a small circle of people who I trust will tell me when I am not doing my best. This is important to me because it’s easy to become complacent. It is imperative for me to have that system of checks and balances, so I’m constantly growing and learning. I seek mentors who resonate with my values and inspire me by example.
On the flip side, I’ve got to look out for the haters and critics. It could be the littlest thing—a tweet, a post on Facebook, even my own stinking thinking! I am determined not to allow those negative thoughts to rent space in my head. Otherwise, I am screwed. The only way to guard myself is to stay away from negative people, places, things and actions that trigger and feed my unhealthy side.
My first stint as a martial arts school owner was in 1981, and lasted about nine months. I owned a school in Southern California where every night was fight night. Needless to say, it was short lived. I was taught from an early age that you either suffered for your art or sold out to become a “McDojo,” where it was all about the money.
Almost 20 years later, with encouragement—and a small loan—from friends and family, I opened another martial arts school in San Francisco. While my school grew, I still believed I had to suffer for my art. Five years into the business, I found myself in the emergency room, once again injured while training. This time, I had a cut above my left eye. While sparring in class, I had walked into an elbow when I threw a left hook.
I distinctly remember being asked by the friend who accompanied me to the hospital, “How long are you going to keep doing this?”
“What do you mean? I’ve done this since I was 5. Fighting is all I know.”
“You can’t win in this situation,” my friend said. “If you hurt somebody, you look bad. If they hurt you, you look even worse.”
In the days that followed, I was reminded of my friend’s question each time I looked in the mirror and saw the stitches above my eye. I realized that if I was to be successful in every aspect of my life, I needed to clearly define my purpose to create win-win situations. I never believed in the business philosophy that to win, someone must lose.
I went through this process without involving my ego—and found that my true purpose was to serve others. I wanted to take the martial arts that helped me be my best, use it to change others’ lives, and have an impact on the community. This could only happen if I checked my ego, and stopped thinking I knew everything. I learned I am not afraid of what I don’t know. It’s the things I know that sometimes cloud my vision and my capacity to learn and grow. When I stopped learning, my life and business became stagnant. And what good is stagnant water? It’s undrinkable and becomes a breeding ground for parasites.
The ego is a dangerous animal. It rationalizes and feeds that hype with self-justification, self-will and selfishness. So, it’s important to practice humility. Humility teaches me that I can always do and be better. Humility keeps me hungry for knowledge. It keeps me from believing my own hype. I am my own best friend and I am my own worst enemy. When I start believing my own lies—when I rationalize my beliefs, behavior and choices—then, guess what? I stop evolving and making the effort to better myself.
I like to think of myself as the oldest living white belt. Just as my beginning students, I put that belt on every day, with the intent to be the best version of me. This practice, of learning greater humility and not believing my own hype, have resulted in two successful martial arts schools, a consulting and mentoring service, and several prospering online businesses. I do this by living my purpose and maintaining integrity. It goes with serving people at the highest level, where everyone can win. And most importantly, I don’t believe any of the hype.