• Matt Powell

The Hamster Wheel

Do you ever hear yourself giving advice to other people and then realise you should listen more to the same advice yourself?


Back in September 2019 I was sat with other parents watching our son’s football practice on a Friday night. One of the Mums was really upset as her Father had recently been diagnosed with terminal Cancer. Consequently, my friend was struggling and wanting to take some time off from work.


I asked her what was stopping her taking unpaid leave, to which she replied that they were saving for a trip to Disneyworld. She had promised her kids they would go, and they simply couldn’t afford to go if she forfeit her salary.


I reflected briefly and then asked her, ‘would you enjoy the holiday if you knew it had cost you precious time with your Dad?'


‘No’ she replied with a look of contemplation and acceptance.

‘Then you MUST take the time off from work’ I repeated.


Thankfully my friend took my advice as her father sadly passed away within a couple of months. During her break she spent precious time with him.


After our conversation I did some thinking and soon resigned from my role as a Sales Director to spend time supporting my own Father and concentrate on Karate. This again proved precious, and time well spent.


We are now approaching two years since I stepped away from the fast paced, high-pressure sales environment I had become accustomed to, and I am much happier for it. In-fact it is hard to believe that so much time has passed by so quickly.


Recently my good friend Gav decided to take a leap of faith and step out into the world of self-employment and its apparent freedom and rich variety of pressures. As we chatted while walking the kids around the shoreline, we started to talk about work patterns, boundaries, targets and expectations.


Once again, I heard myself deploying advice and strategy that I should pay attention to.


During lockdown I focused tirelessly on maintaining the interest and passion of the members of my Karate clubs. It was clear to me that I needed to be present for my students in various ways. If only to constantly remind them of our shared passion for Karate and keep them engaged for when we could eventually return to training.


I quickly found myself in a routine of Zoom teaching, Session planning, Blog creation and Social Media interaction. The focus was on communication, and I was driven by the desire to keep the clubs alive.


The mission was simple in intention but grew in complexity. Especially when I started supporting other clubs in our association and guests from around the country who joined us for online training. Somehow I managed to work within boundaries and afford myself plenty of downtime for contemplation and planning.


Ironically, since May when Adults returned to training, I have somewhat lost control of my schedule. I have been fortunate that my clubs have grown since lockdown. Supported by my Assistant instructors and existing students we have attracted new likeminded people to join us and suddenly I am busy ….. very busy!


However, as I have written about before. Busyness does not equate to happiness!


When I worked in Sales, I used to joke with my colleagues that we were in a Hamster Wheel that we simply had to keep turning. We were metaphorically running at great pace to maintain the status-quo, we were not actually going anywhere. We were just turning the wheel! And it was crucial we stayed enthusiastic and positive while we did it!


During the past month or so I found that I was rushing to teach at different venues and suddenly I realised I was back in a Hamster wheel. Turning it as fast as I could and leveraging my enthusiasm for fuel. But, I’m 42 and my fuel isn’t finite!


So, once again it has been time to heed my own advice. I recently took a break from other commitments and only taught karate for three weeks. I rebooted and set myself clearer boundaries once again.


  • What days and times do I want to work.

  • How many students do I want to teach?

  • How far am I willing to travel….. etc etc.


Once again I feel more balanced and content.


The last couple of weeks I have supported a student of mine with some extra classes to help prepare him for his imminent Black Belt Grading. The extra time has been an absolute joy. After years of supporting my teaching, I have been able to spend time fine tuning his performance.


These are the experiences I wish to thoroughly embrace as a teacher.


I have realised you cannot do so if you are simply too busy to be present.


We are approaching our first Black Belt grading for nearly two years, and I am excited and a little trepidatious. It feels like a significant step towards ‘normality’. But I am sure everyone will do well.


So, to my students and friends in karate, I urge you to take a moment to reflect on your training and schedule.


If you find yourself supporting and advising others take a moment to consider your own advice.


Maybe you need a break or to redefine your goals.


You may be overwhelmed or going through the motions.


Karate like life should be fun ….. Don’t just turn the wheel!

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