FS - Samantha McWilliams - Major Challenges

(This is description of my major challenges I put in my notebook)

It's somewhat ironic that I was the person who helped KJN Jeremy create the requirements for the 3rd Degree Candidates. When I submitted my ideas to him, I thought to myself: "this test is going to be difficult, but I totally got this." I was so wrong. Perhaps the most challenging part of this test was realizing that I may have set unrealistic expectations, and that I wasn't going to meet those expectations in the way I envisioned. The last 10 months have been the most challenging months of my life, professionally and personally, and the unexpected shaped my 3rd degree test into something I never imagined.

While the physical challenge seemed to take the least amount of effort, and caused the least amount of stress and anxiety, it was still difficult. I chose to train for and run a Tough Mudder, a 12 mile obstacle course that includes running, climbing, jumping, crawling, swimming, fire, barbed wire, water, and lots and lots and lots of mud. While I wish I would have been a bit more in shape, I completed my first Tough Mudder in Tennessee in June 2014. It was A LOT of fun, quite humid, and an experience I'll never forget. Master McWilliams and I completed it together in about 5 hours, and I was exhausted afterward. I was extremely proud of myself for making it through the tough run, and even though my plans included only completing one Tough Mudder, I ended up completing a second in Oregon on August 2014; it seems as though they are somewhat addicting.

As I said before, the physical challenge was the simplest to complete according to my original intentions for the test. The mental and spiritual/emotional challenges took shape over the course of the last 6 months, rather than being planned out and executed according to some step by step process I devised.

My goal with the mental challenge was to learn how to quilt and complete a final product before the end of the test. However, that plan took a back seat to a change in my professional position at Aim High. In April of this year, I made the decision to change from Operations Director to Community Activities Manager; the transition is still ongoing. Why was this a mental challenge? Two reasons: my skills, knowledge, and abilities as Operations Director are still needed at Aim High, and the Community Activities Manager position is a multifaceted position encompassing a wide variety responsibilities and requiring an immense amount of planning and attention to detail. Summer camp, PNO, birthday parties, monthly/annual events, fundraising & marketing events, coordination of volunteers, building partnerships and implementing outreach classes, and assisting the Executive Director with various operations tasks led to working 55-60 hours a week over the summer. While the demand of summer camp has ended, my weeks are still quite long, consistently 40+ hours, and my days consist of moving from one task to the next, constantly planning and carrying out those plans in the most efficient and professional manner possible. At the end of the day, my mental capacities are quite exhausted.

The mental exhaustion I experienced much of over the summer is most likely contributed to my struggle with the spiritual/emotional piece of my journey. Originally, I planned to explore the spiritual side of martial arts through Buddhism and Taoism, however, early in the year I was faced with a very personal situation that challenged my emotional strength and faith in people to do the right thing. While I do not feel comfortable sharing the details of this situation, I will state that it caused emotional turmoil that consisted of anger, grief, depression, and anxiety. The situation affected both my personal and professional life, and I had to fight against the desire to just give up and walk away from two very important facets of my world. Exhausted from work and under a great amount of stress, I had to recite State Management and Attitude to myself just to get up in the morning and face normal activity on more than one occasion. Throughout this struggle, I relied heavily on those two pieces of the Aim High Philosophy, and I believe without them, the result of this challenge may not have been as positive as it was. Gladly, I can say that I have moved past the emotional turmoil experienced earlier in the year, and gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of certain pieces of the intelligent curriculum taught at Aim High.

The intelligent curriculum I have learned since becoming a white belt also played a monumental role in expanding my sphere of influence. Sharing my experiences with others has been an ongoing challenge since receiving my 1st Degree Black Belt in 2009. I have always been what is commonly known as an introvert; engaging in conversation, instructing, and being around groups of people is extremely exhausting for me. However, as an Aim High Black Belt, I have been consistently challenged to share what I learn and build relationships with others, and over the years I have broadened my sphere of influence to include people throughout the Aim High and local communities, as well as people across the world.

At Aim High I play the role of an instructor; students look up to me, respect me, and listen to what I have to say. I have worked to help develop our Aim High Girls program with CGN Devon Phillips, and assisted KJN Jeremy with EVERY Fusion black belt test since my first, teaching and indirectly mentoring students as they follow their path to black belt. Outside of the Fusion Program, I have made connections with students in the Family Kicks, Warrior, and other programs, expanding my relationships and thereby sharing my knowledge. In addition, my role as a manager at Aim High has put me in position to teach and mentor employees and impart the professional knowledge I have gained over the years within the Aim High Core Values.

Outside of Aim High in Beaverton, not only have I shared what we do and why we do it with family and friends, but I have also made connections across the Portland area, and across the world. In 2013 and 2014, I assisted Master McWilliams with two different black belt tests, sharing what I have learned with his students, and learning from him and his students in return. Also in 2013, I traveled to Indonesia and spent 10 days with a group of young girls rescued from human trafficking, and the team of staff who support them. I went to them with the intention of teaching self-defense and offering empowerment training, and left with an increased understanding of humanity and a great sense of love and belonging.

Overall, my quest to expand my sphere of influence has led to more learning and deeper understanding than I thought myself capable of obtaining. It didn't take the shape of a single project, and most of it cannot be planned out piece by piece. I have discovered that it is and always will be an ongoing part of my journey as a black belt and person.

The purpose of Aim High Martial Arts is to challenge yourself physically, mentally, spiritually, and with good character. Over the last 5 years, my life has consisted of these challenges in one way or another, and the challenges become more intense and more fulfilling as time goes by. My affirmations for my tests began with "remember your goals," progressed to "there's always more to strive for," and have become "live life as a challenge." I see each black belt test as an opportunity to experience more with others, and learn more about them and myself through the challenges we face individually and together. Most importantly, I have learned that even with the best laid plans, life doesn't always happen the way we'd like it to, and it's best to follow the Taoist concept referred to by Bruce Lee: "Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it."

Posted on October 11, 2014 .