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Starting over for grownups

Rocky DiRico, a 10th degree black belt in Kenpo karate, started competing after age 35 and went on to over 700 first place finishes and 100 grand championship wins, making him the most awarded senior competitor in the history of sport karate. He, and my own joyful/humbling/frustrating/wonderful experience coming back to karate training as an adult learner, inspired this post. He is pictured here with his wife, Shihan Wendy DiRico.

Rocky DiRico, now a 10th degree black belt in Kenpo karate, started his karate training after age 35 and went on to over 700 first place finishes and 100 grand championship wins. He, and my own experience coming back to karate as an adult learner, inspired this post.

Rocky DiRico, now a 10th degree black belt in Kenpo karate, started his karate training after age 35 and went on to over 700 first place finishes and 100 grand championship wins. He, and my own experience coming back to karate as an adult learner, inspired this post.

 One of the things I most admire about children is that they're not afraid to fall down on their butts when they try something new.

They'll just keep trying new approaches, sometimes clever, sometimes awkward, to achieve what they want. No one expects children to be particularly good at anything. Figuring out how to pull life's strings is what childhood is all about, and kids, on the whole, think its really fun to learn new things. They grow creatively when they try to solve problems, and at least in the first few years, don't care how they are perceived while trying out new ideas.

Karate blog-9431
Karate blog-9431

Fast forward to adulthood and self-awareness and the need for basic competency in front of others. We've spent most of our formative years training to do something, whether it is singing, acting, or accountancy. Adults are proud of the skills we've gained and these are generally the ones we use in front of company (unless it's karaoke, and then, all bets are off as there's generally alcohol involved). Starting something new as an adult feels especially awkward, because our brains aren't as malleable, we're resistant to change, and don't want to look silly or incapable in front of others as we figure out our next new skill.

So what happens when we're forced to change and learn something new? Either because of circumstance, or because we're stifled and need to do something differently, the game changes and it's time to upgrade our skills. With the exception of some open-minded, driven, and adventurous souls, most adults react by feeling uncomfortable, perhaps even a bit scared. Some of us even get paralyzed, and don't know what to do next. So we sit and grind our wheels, using our energy to feel anxious, rather than harnessing the angst into something productive. We tend to cling to what we know, even though it is time to grow or change. Do any of these sound familiar?

- I want to start a new project that's different than my current work but I'm not sure where to start - I have an idea, but I just need motivation - I'm afraid I'm going to look like an idiot trying something new

So what should you do to kick yourself out of your paralysis? Shakespeare would say, "To thine own self be true." The ancient Greeks would say, "Know thyself". Francis Bacon would say, "Knowledge is power." And Nike would say, "Just do it."

When you don't know where to start in a new endeavor (career, project, hobby), start with your interests and daydreams, perhaps even document your current problems. Did you daydream about being an astronaut as a kid? Take a night course in astronomy, create a beautiful portrait series of local astronomy professors in the moonlight, or get a second-hand telescope and start a basic blog about your own discoveries as a new star seeker.

What are your favorite holidays and celebrations? What is on your bucket list, and you always hoped to do someday? Combine those interests into a new project. For example, if you're a autumn-loving, adrenaline-seeking photographer feeling stale, do a skydiving shoot on Halloween with models in full costume at sunset - mix, match, see what happens. Juxtaposition is your friend; combine bits of who you are to create something no one has seen before.

But most important is the mental game of getting out of our own way. I have a few suggestions from back when I worked in vocational psychology, which I'll write in layperson's terms so you don't fall asleep at your computer.

1. Write a worry journal

The basis of cognitive psychology is, "You are what you think." I'd add, "If it's on paper, it's not in your noggin." Write down all your worst fears, then counter each fear with a more positive likely scenario. E.g.:

Negative thought I will never learn how to use off-camera lighting because I'm not technical

Rational thought I can learn how to use off-camera lighting by taking a workshop that is aimed at lighting for beginners

2. Talk to a friend

Sometimes you need a sympathetic friend to kindly listen to you, and then kick you in the behind once you've unloaded your concerns. Better yet, create an accountability partnership so you both have someone to check in with about your new ventures.

Karate blog-2368
Karate blog-2368

3. Find a mentor

For some people, it really helps to find an advisor who has more knowledge and experience. Some mentors are volunteer professional contacts, others are coaches, and another source of great advisors are mental health professionals, for when you're truly feeling stuck. I currently advise a few photographers looking for both technical advice, portfolio reviews, and accountability - it can be a useful tool in your professional arsenal to get unstuck. But for many, all that is needed is someone who they meet with on a regular basis who has more experience than they do.

4. Let go of perfect

It's better to do something, anything, and get it out there than to create the most perfect creation that never sees the light of day. This is when you bring out the Nike slogan!

5. Make a date

Mark in your calendar the date you are going to have accomplished your goal of a new skill. Tell your accountability buddy.

6. Reward yourself

Whether it's a big box of chocolate, a marathon tv-watching session, or a weekend trip, make sure you promise and deliver a big reward for getting out of your comfort zone.

Regret, parenthood, and career

"Have you ever regretted having children? I'm wrapped up in my work right now, and I feel pretty good about my life; I like having "me" time occasionally. But if I don't have kids, will I regret it later? I don't want to be alone when I get old. What's the right choice?"

Parenthood path-5490

Regret is a hot button. Parenthood, likewise. Put them together, it's explosive, and everyone has an opinion.

As a former therapist, who has currently hung up her shingle to be a commercial/editorial portrait photographer full-time, I still sometimes still get asked the BIG questions. I even spoke about navigating through work/family snags at the Inspire photography conference last year, and have mentored those in the arts as well as those in technology careers, pulling on both my mental health therapist and career counseling background.

Several folks I'm spoken with about potential parenthood have given me the feedback that my thoughts on this topic have been helpful. So, today I'm posting my personal .02  in the hopes it will be useful for those who might be debating if and how to juggle intense careers with the possibility of eventually hearing the pitter-patter (ha, mostly clomp-clomp) of little feet. Because I am of the female persuasion, most of what I write is from a woman's perspective, but I believe there's a lot in here that also will relate to men. Enjoy, and let me know if you found this post helpful.

Finding your path, parenthood or no
Finding your path, parenthood or no

- The right choice (e.g. right-for-you choice), to have or to not have kids, or how many to have, is based solely on you and your circumstances - not what others think or what you feel pressured to do by your friends, your family, or society-at-large. There is no right answer, only your answer. This bears repeating ad nauseum. Knowing yourself, and your spouse, if applicable, and your resources (time, support, energy, goals, financial situation), and sitting with that knowledge for awhile without judgement can be helpful when trying to figure out whether creating a family is right for you. You don't need to make a decision immediately - consider waiting for some clarity, instead.

- It is neither selfish nor unselfish to choose to be childfree or child-full. Human beings bring beautiful things into this world. Unfortunately, this world also has more than enough people, many of who desperately need more than they have. Does the world need more artists, inventors, visionaries? Yes. Is the world being stripped of resources because there are too many people? Yes. Does all of this really matter when making your own personal decision? That's up to you.

- Liking having personal time isn’t selfish; it’s healthy. Those of us who live in the US (the only country I can really significantly speak to personally) live in a strange culture where mothers are supposed to sacrifice all their time to care for others, mostly because we don’t have enough institutional help and support so that we can take time for ourselves. And most of us live in small nuclear families away from the support of an extended family. But it can be done with careful planning and family/friend support. This situation doesn't appear to be the same for my family in Argentina and Europe - there seems to be more acceptance/support for woman to have a life outside of motherhood. Motherhood/parenthood in those areas seems to be just one aspect of a personality, rather than being a Mom with a capital M.

- It is really hard to make a decision if you’re not sure about having a family, and sadly, everyone and their mother has an opinion if you’re a woman of child-bearing age. But it’s not their life. They’re not paying for childcare and college, they’re not going to be there on sleepless nights when you all have stomach flu and you’re trying to figure out who gets the last bucket.

- We will all ultimately die alone. Please don’t make the relatively short period at the end of life the sole justification as to whether you want to bring another life into the world (unless this works for you and/or your spouse, see disclaimer above).

- If you lose a child, whether it is an only child, or one of many, no one is going to replace that child. It is going to hurt, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent or ameliorate that pain except having loving souls around you to be there for you as you mourn. If you have any control over the number of kids you have, have the number that is right for you.

- Friends can be as close as family, conversely, family is no guarantee of love. But if you’re a person in a happy family situation who wants to be there, it can feel like there is love flowing through your veins. However, being in the midst of a bad family situation can feel beyond lonely.

- There’s no guarantee in life. Make good friends, be a good friend. Ultimately, love, whether romantic, familial, or platonic, is one thing that makes life worth living, in all of its beautiful permutations. #steppingoffthesoapbox

P.S. As for me, no regrets.

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