Best practices shared by Judo Master and Chief International Litigation Expert, Rodolfo (Rudy) Rivera
When a reporter asked Thomas Edison, “How did it feel to fail 10,000 times? Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 10, 000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 10, 000 steps. “
Although we strive for perfection, no one ever gets there. Perfection is subjective and each person has his or her own view as to what constitutes perfection.
Perfectionism has been considered a form of OCD. There are those who have an overwhelming fever of making mistakes; an intense need for things to be perfect or done right. Perfectionists seem to analyze and analyze before making a decision. The reality of life is that nothing is ever perfect. The need to over analyze is what causes paralysis or even worse, the self-fulling prophecy which can often lead to chaos and failure in a person’s life.
Here is a news flash. There is no such thing as perfection. The most that anyone can do is the best they can under the circumstances with what they know. You make more mistakes when you take a long time to decide on a matter than if you were to decide quickly and swiftly. Do not confuse this last statement to mean that you make decisions from the hip without proper analysis. Moving quickly does not imply a lack of preparation. A surgeon does not operate without x-rays or tests, but when an emergency occurs she must be able to operate within a matter of hours.
Take everything into consideration, analyze and then decide. I have learned from my experience as a trial attorney that things can go from bad to worse during a trial. Decisions have to be made at the drop of a hat because there is no time. You are in the middle of the trial with 12 jurors sitting there looking at you.
Trying to be perfect can also lead to negative thoughts and a lack of action. How often have you heard the expression, “If it is not perfect, I am not going to do it.” People who expect perfection are afraid of failure. It can be a devastating fear. People who are successful have failed one or more times in their lives. A classic example is Abraham Lincoln who is considered by many as one of the greatest American Presidents. He is remembered for what he did as President of the United States and not for the failures he suffered before. Lincoln’s life was far from perfect, but despite that he achieved incredible success.
1832: Lost his job and was defeated for state legislator
1833: Failed in Business
1835: Sweetheart died
1836: Had a nervous breakdown
1838: Defeated for speaker of the Illinois state legislature
1843: Defeated for nomination for Congress
1848: Did not get renominated
1849: Rejected for land officer
1856: Defeated for nomination for Vice President
1858: Again defeated for U.S. Senate
1860: Elected President of the United States
When you reach your goal, no matter what it is, others will focus on your success and not on the failures that occurred before.
THE JUDO AFFECT
Toughness is often confused with being mean, aggressive, and physically strong. Nothing is farther from the truth. It is often the strong and aggressive who fail. You are probably wondering what this has to do with Judo. The definition of Judo is “the gentle way.” It is hard to believe when you see to judo fighters in a tournament that there is nothing gentle about it. You throw someone to the ground as hard as you can or you can defeat the opponent with chokes or arm bars. The premise behind Judo is that you use your opponents force against him. What if someone is charging at you? You can either crash into him head on or you can step aside and deflect. Rather than using all of your force against him, you can bring him to you more and use his energy against him. These are lessons I learned from a lifetime of competitive Judo.
First, you need the mental discipline to control your emotions and control your movements. Judo fighters practice and practice before they can properly execute a throw while sparing. Practice and preparation always makes you stronger. When you confront a personal crisis it is important to be as calm as you can be before reacting. Play out sceneries in your mind. Verbalize your response ahead of time. It is only after that when you react. Deflect the anger and negative energy of others, but control your anger when you do. As strong as the pine tree is, it can be broken by the strong winds of a hurricane. However, a willow tree that bends with the wind will not break.
Jigoro Kano espoused a well known principle. In an argument, you may silence your opponent by pressing an advantage of strength, wealth, or education. But you cannot really convince him. Though he is no longer saying anything, in his heart he still keeps to his opinion. The only way to make him change is to speak quietly and reasonably. When he understands that you are not trying to defeat him, but only to find the truth, he will listen to you and perhaps accept what you tell him.
Life and Judo have a lot in common. You can be gentle, yet disciplined, and still be mentally tough.
THE EMOTIONAL COMPONENT
You cannot discuss mental toughness without including the emotional element. Until robots take over the world, human beings are a mix and match of intellect and emotion. It is difficult to make a decision without there being some type of emotional component attached. Emotions can range from calm, rage, frustration, fear and insecurity. Part of mental toughness is preventing these emotions from interfering with decisions you need to make in life. My mother once said, “Never argue with a fool in public because you never know which of the two is the fool.” It is impossible to eliminate any type of emotion from your thought process. However, it is possible to control those emotions so that you are making decisions based upon a particular thought process of which the emotional component is just one element. To act strictly on emotion is not always the best way to make a decision.
Part of mental toughness is being able to harness the energy of your emotions, your inner voice, your gut reaction, your intuition as an integral part of making a decision. Those decisions based strictly on emotion usually result in disaster. It has often been said no decision should be made in the heat of anger because anger prevents you from thinking objectively.
I’ve heard many people say, “I am just an emotional person.” That is okay. Emotional people can also be mentally tough.
IT IS NOT WHEN YOU START, BUT WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU START
Diego is the youngest of my four children. He has played soccer since kindergarten. He is an incredible athlete. As he reached high school he became disillusioned with soccer, the coaches— well need I say more? He had to be forced to go to practice and wanted to quite a number of times. I told him he could quit after the season but he had to participate in some type of sport or get a job. Out of the blue during his sophomore year he says, “Dad, I think I would like to wrestle. “ My first thought was that he was body snatched. At the same time I was elated because I wrestled in high school and college as well as earned a black belt in Judo. Needless to say I was thrilled. I said go for it and I will support you in any way I can. When I asked him why, he said that he was tired of soccer and tired of losing because of other team members. If he won or lost, it had to be because of him. He wanted to be the master of his success.
I thought to myself. I wish he would have done this earlier. In fact, I mentioned this to his coach who said, “It is not when you start, It is what you do when you start.” These are some of the most profound words I have heard in a long time.
Diego became focused with wrestling. He woke up every day thinking how to become better at the sport. He exercised at 5:00 a.m., worked out after school, and lifted weights among other physical activities. Notwithstanding, he continued to maintain his good grades. In the evenings I would show him moves that I still remembered. We practiced two or three nights per week in the family room. I have sore knees and ankles to show for it.
Out of the blue, he became buff, much tougher and stronger. Working out every day paid off for him. I told his coach that he was working out after practice. The coach said, “You don’t have to tell me. It shows.”
Ok, let me get to the point. Diego said “Dad, I am going to qualify for the state wrestling tournament.”
His win-loss record was 17 and 14. At the district tournament something incredible happened. He was losing and within the last minute of the match he pinned his opponent. The next match was also exciting. He was losing and again pinned his opponent. As I am screaming with joy, the coach looks up at me in the bleachers and says Diego just qualified for State. He reached his goal for that year. There were only three wrestlers from his team who qualified for State.
To make a long story short, he did not place in the State tournament. As we sat in the bleachers together, Diego said, “Dad, next year I will be standing on that podium.” The day after the State tournament he started working even harder.
A determined mind can move mountains. It was that determined mind that caused a 17 year old boy to qualify for the State tournament. Nothing was going to stop him. In his mind, he did not fail. He reached his goal. The goal for next year is to stand with the other place holders.
The profound lesson in this chapter is, “It is not when you start, but what you do when you start.” Once you set a goal, a dream or objective, the next step is to start. This can be a painful process especially at the beginning. When you start, it gets easier every day. You will see progress. Eventually you will get to your goal.
WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR PASSION
Almost every self-help book will tell you that you must have a passion for what you do. Passion is the motivating factor for many successful people. Passion can receive its stimulus from many sources but it can only come from inside. For whatever reason Diego lost his passion for soccer but he developed a new passion for wrestling. It is ok to change course.
Many people ask, “What happens when the passion you once had dies; when that spark is no longer there?” That is the time when you need to start at the beginning. What was it that sparked the passion at the beginning? Ask yourself the the following questions:
- What motivated me?
- Why did I choose this path?
- When did it stop being fun?
- Do I really want to stop?
- Has something else caught my passion?
You are passionate when you wake up every morning looking forward to what you are going to do that day. When you wake up in angst, thinking, oh boy, another day in the salt mines; you lost your passion. Sometimes it is good just to take a break. Stop doing it for a while. Take time to reflect. You might miss it or something else can come along that will reignite your passion.
Whatever you do, do not make excuses. Be honest. If you lose interest, just admit it. Do not say you lost your passion because of some other external factor, spouse, children. It is easy to make up excuses for not doing something. It is harder to admit to yourself that you just do not want to do it anymore.
NOTHING LEARNED IS EVER WASTED
Nothing learned is ever wasted. How many times have you heard I don’t have any experience with that. I don’t know how to do that. That is not my specialty. Life is a combination of learning experiences. That education in those life experiences are cumulative.
I was a solo practitioner for 25 years. I handled everything from traffic tickets, divorces, immigration, criminal defense, civil litigation and immigration. Out of the blue I am contacted by a Fortune 500 title insurance company to help build its international operations. What did I know about title insurance? Nothing. I said that to the person who was interviewing me. He said we can teach you title insurance but we are more interested in the skills that you have now. The skills that you acquired during your private practice.
I went from being a solo practitioner to managing multimillion dollar litigation in overseas jurisdictions. Because of my past experience, I was tasked with managing the company’s immigration. I was also given a number of other projects. Knowing nothing about title insurance was not an impediment. It was my knowledge of international legal systems and my ability to quickly organize and execute that provided value to the company. I’ve been with the same company for 15 years.
Take the example of a stay at home spouse who stays at home, managing the household until the children are old enough not to need supervision or are off to college. He or she may think I have no skills. In reality it is the toughest job in the world. You acquire skills like managing a budget, conflict resolution, event planning, etc. Those are skills that can be used in any professional setting. That person will also have maturity that perhaps others will not have.
Do not look at the time that you spent at home as wasted. If you do, you will feel like you have this huge gap in your life that you cannot fill. You will always be at a disadvantage. You always feel like you are behind the eight ball. If you say to yourself, I have all the skills that I learned while at home you will be ahead of most. You will most likely be a more valuable employee. There are many examples of stay-at-home moms and dads who have accelerated in the workplace.
Rodolfo (Rudy) Rivera, is a well-decorated Chief International Counsel for for a Fortune 500 Company for the past 15 years; as well as a Board Member of the Association of Corporate Counsel. He sits on the Board of Communities in Schools in Jacksonville, Florida. CIS provides after school programs for kids who are underserved in the community and with a high drop out rate and seeks to increase high school graduation rates. Rudy is a frequent guest speaker and lecturer on managing litigation, litigating in multicultural jurisdictions, and managing outside counsel.