Keep the Bar Raised

Competence and likeability are hallmarks of great leaders. I have no illusions of being a great leader. I do not even want to lead. Only someone who does not know or understand me would assume that I would want to take on a leadership role. If I found myself in that position in the past, it was often because of necessity. I stepped up when I had to, but I did not seek to be in that role. I may be confident about my competence. But I know myself enough to realize that I am not easy to like. I come on too strong for some people who do not know me. I speak my mind and tell it like it is which not many appreciate, especially from a woman. Men displaying similar traits are often perceived as assertive or commanding while women are labeled as bitches or bossy.

I have no trouble accepting whatever people throw my way. But I cannot lower the bar just to be likeable. This is a real challenge in groups where the measure of being a good member seems to be a person’s capacity to be like everyone else. I see the value of getting along with everyone. But not at the expense of putting indirect or unspoken pressure on others who may live by their own standards.

I have been trying to reign in my outspokenness given my current environment. I have made major adjustments and swallowed my pride in several occasions – far too many for me to count. All these so I could continue practicing Kendo. There are times though that I come to the brink of giving up. Because I find it hard to be myself without being misunderstood.

People have different reasons for practicing a sport or martial art. I have trained in different sports and martial arts over the years with the following motivation:

  • To have fun (read: experience the joy found in playing a sport)
  • To constantly challenge myself
  • To get out of my comfort zone
  • To learn the life-lessons sport offers
  • To develop discipline and cultivate an athlete’s mindset
  • To earn the trust and respect of people I look up to (i.e. the athletes who exemplify the traits I admire, coaches, trainers, sport administrators, etc.)
  • To find role models to emulate
  • To build friendships with people I meet along the way

It is a continuous process for me regardless of whatever field of sport or martial arts I choose to practice. Training for me is a sacred time. I do not want to lose focus by talking unnecessarily. Unfortunately, some people seem to take it as arrogance. Superficial perceptions get tiring sometimes, especially when I opt not to defend myself anymore.

Kendo is all about respect. I have to admit though that it is not easy for me feel genuine respect for people who do not even show respect. I am still trying to understand it in kendo’s context. I think it is easy to give it to anyone including those who disrespect us. But the ones who inspire deep respect in me are those whose words and actions are aligned.

I learned that some members in our club misconstrued some of my behaviors during training as disinterest. They think I do not care about junior members’ welfare and progress because of my hesitation to correct or give feedback. But nothing could be farther from the truth. I care too much.

The reasons I choose to stay quiet and refrain from correcting anyone could be all or any of these:

  • I have been burned by some junior members before. Some can be quite selective on who they choose to listen to. And I did not seem to be in that list. I do not want to repeat the experience.
  • I observe attitude and behaviors towards training first before doing what I think is appropriate
  • I choose not to give feedback or teach anyone who displays unwillingness to listen. For me, it is not about accepting what I say. What is more important is the ability to listen.
  • I do not like teaching anyone anything that I cannot even do correctly
  • I prefer to let my actions speak in training

It is not easy to train when expectations put a lot of pressure for me to lower the bar. It is like being inadvertently forced into making a choice to let go of my personal standards just to be more likeable. I can make compromises, but not at the expense of the things I uphold. So in a time when I feel demotivated yet again in kendo, I remind myself to remember this: Keep the bar raised.

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