How to face icky reality in one simple step


Sometimes, I think the gods that watch our lives get just plain bored and decide to fling in a few dozen curveballs at the least opportune moments.

You know what I mean I’ll bet!  Ever have a passion that you utterly adore beyond any human comprehension, and then whammo, your ability to excel at it is simply taken away?

Well, for me, get this…it’s something both as simple and as complex as adult karate sparring. 

I know, I know – weird, eh, for a 40-something mother of 4 to say?

Every single time I step outside of my 1st person experiences and watch myself from a distance, I have to laugh bemusedly.  You see, long long ago, back before the earth’s crust cooled….I never really did martial arts.  I only began it almost 3 years ago and discovered, much to my surprise…that I loved it. 

One of my senseis understood it well back then, and said I was merely making up for lost time.  Over the past few years, I’ve written tons about it as well including:

As you can see, martial arts became a big thing for me.

Well.  Enter last August. 

Last August, I had learned that my ankle problem is unfixable and that some time, be it tomorrow/next week/next month/next year/next decade/etc., it will simply collapse in a heap.  And (I’m not proud of this, but it happened), I gave into my fear regarding my future health and basically stopped all martial arts (just sat on the sidelines and watched).

What was that, 4-5 months ago?

Last week, I finally had a huge talking to with myself…and said to myself, okay self, self-pity sucks, there are handicapped people who do martial arts, it’s time to return.  And I did!

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that last Tuesday, it was driven home full-force to me that I’m no longer capable of making good on my promise to myself and my senseis a few years ago – that of truly earning a black belt because of 100% perfect physical condition. 

Now, to many folk….that’s really a trivial thing.  And intellectually, I can understand that as well; a black belt is a black belt no matter how it’s earned.

But….I had decades before of viewing myself as handicapped, and then for 2 glorious years, broke free of that…only to realize now my true physical limitations.

In other words, what I so desperately desired…was no longer feasible for me.

I wanted to cry.

Something so deeply personal is something I don’t share with many folks (I only talked about it with my husband who understands it intellectually and validates my emotions about it.  He can witness my journey but not relate to it).   So…I ended up having to make peace with it myself.

In other words, I had to face icky reality and boiled down the process to one easy step.

And here it is.

Life happens. 

  • It might not happen as you want.
  • It might not happen as you had hoped.
  • But that doesn’t make a freakin’ difference whatsoever.

The tide won’t hide just because you shake your fist at the ocean and scream, don’t you dare come in!

When you are blindsided by reality, you have two choices.  You can turn it to your benefit or you can simply crawl away and die inside.

To be honest, I wanted to die inside when I was dealing with this.  I didn’t want to accept my reality.

So I sat there in my fluffy blue 21 year old LL Bean housecoat that was given to me by my parents when I got my first job at Bell Labs and simply stared at the screen…and asked myself, just whom am I honoring with my despair?

Myself?  Hell no, I’m an incredible person and deserve only the best. 

My kids?  They see Mom give up.  I don’t think so.

My senseis?  They always have good words for encouragement, so not there either.

I wasn’t honoring anybody or anything. 

And that’s definitely NOT walking the walk I always talk to my kids.

What’s the upshot of this story?

Yesterday I participated in adult self-defense class…and made certain to modify everything I did so as to not aggravate my physical condition…but still learn to the best of my abilities.  I got to do the "punch thru the heavy bag to the other person’s spleen" conditioning and bloodied my knuckles – I remember looking at them and saying, ah hah!  The kid still has it in her!  🙂


So, I’ve made peace with myself.  I’ll never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever become the martial artist I had once dreamed.

Never.  Ever.

You heard it here first.  Barbara Ling will never attain the goal she had set for herself those years ago. It’s a physical impossibility.

But that doesn’t mean I cannot excel to the best of my own ability…and modify my goal to what I CAN achieve.

Going thru the above realization was one of the most painful character-building things I’ve done to date.

And because I’ve now experienced it, I can guide my kids/friends in the future, should they encounter such challenges too.

Everything happens for a reason.  I will confess, sometimes I really truly just wish these delightful life lessons would happen to someone else besides me; they’re really draining!  I’ve done my time, I’ve done my piece…sometimes I wonder just when will it stop.

And then I realize, it never will. 

My life, like yours, is fraught with challenges, be they physical, mental, emotional, relating to love, relating to work, relating to living the life you desire. 

And honestly, that’s really the only way TO live life. 

You take what comes at you and you make it work to the best of your own abilities.  You take responsibility for your actions, you take ownership for your feelings, you take control of how you choose to react.

In other words, you don’t rely on anyone else and you don’t count on anyone else (after all, for all you know – your best friend might not understand or might not get your email or whatever, so they’re not there for you).

You face it naked and alone. 

And then you give yourself permission to be the very best….you CAN be.  It might be tough to accept; but you gain a hell of a lot of inner strength once you manage that impossibility.

Take it from someone who knows.


Barbara Ling



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