Manage Your Expectations by Jon Penny

I originally planned on writing this article back in March or April. It seemed appropriate as it was on my mind in that season. That time of year we have two events pretty close to each other. Ninja Night and Glo-Chux.

For those of you who don’t know, Ninja Night is a guest event where students bring in a friend to train with and we do “ninja training.” We do a short basic lesson for the kids, teach them how to tie a shirt into a ninja mask, and then we do an obstacle course. The final drill is that same obstacle course in the dark. Sounds cool, right? Well it is, but there are a couple pitfalls. The first challenge is that half of the class are not karate students. This becomes evident when everyone gets fired up and we start running drills in a class that is usually fairly large. The non-student guests, while being decent kids themselves, simply don’t have the focus and self-discipline the karate students have. So inevitably it’s a lot more chaotic than the same size group of karate students would be. The listening skills aren’t great, their focus is questionable, and their self-discipline is usually lacking. Aaand then we turn the lights off, which is the second pitfall. It gets nuts!

The second event, Glo-chux, is a special event for Leadership students, and also one they can bring a guest to. In this class, we go over the basics of nunchuks and let them practice for a bit. We then give them a pair of glow-in-the-dark nunchuks and once again, we turn the lights out. (Geez, now that I’m writing this I do detect a theme here.) Once again, chaos seems to reign in that class.

The first time I ran these two events I was trying to keep prefect order, I was looking for outstanding focus and self-discipline, and I had a strict agenda and curriculum I felt I had to complete. After all, we’re in training, right? This is serious!

Somewhere along the way, probably while banging my head against the wall, I realized most of it didn’t matter. I had to remind myself of the really important parts. For Ninja Night, we needed to have a fun night. We wanted the guests to enjoy their introduction to the academy, and we wanted everyone to be safe. That’s it. End of story. So it really didn’t matter if focus and discipline weren’t perfect. Yes, we were planting the seed of those things to the new guests, but it wasn’t realistic to expect those kids to have perfect focus. After all, it’s our job to teach it to them, not expect them to have it on their first day!

For Glo-chux, the goals were even easier. Have fun, stay safe. I often point out that any time you have someone new working with nunchuks, they’re going to hit themselves a few times (which is why we start with foam chucks, something that wasn’t available when I was learning!) But as long as no one got hurt, no big deal! So really all I had to do was let the kids have fun and make sure they didn’t wander too close to each other in the dark.

Once I had these more realistic expectations in mind, the events became much easier and a lot less stressful. I could be more relaxed as I worked with the kids, and I could honestly smile when kids acted… well, like kids! I didn’t need them to be little karate focus machines for every second of these classes.  And the kids probably had more fun too, which in fact enhances the overall goal anyway.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves what our most important outcomes are. At times, in wanting things to be perfect, we lose perspective. These are just two examples where I started to let my ideas of what is “supposed to” happen get in the way of what needs to happen.

I’ve had this idea for an article in the back of my mind for months. More recently, I cleaned all the floors and carpets at the school, something I wrote about in April. The moment I was finished with stripping, waxing, and buffing the tile floors, I saw the results. I wasn’t happy. I saw several mistakes that frustrated me, in fact I got a little angry. And then I took a deep breath and reminded myself to manage my own expectations. No, the floors weren’t perfect, but it’s been 25 years since I’ve done that job. It makes sense that I wouldn’t be as good as I was then. (And I probably wasn’t even as good as I remember!) Were the floors cleaner? Definitely! Better? Yes! Perfect? Get over it. You can try again in a few months.

Do me a favor though, don’t point out the flaws to me. I’m not yet perfect at managing my own expectations either.

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