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What the Karate Kid taught me about perfecting your craft

25 May Posted by in Business | 4 comments

I love showing my young son all the movies that inspired me as a kid – Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire.  I’m sad to say he’s not as excited about them as I once was. He did not appreciate sitting through Gone With The Wind and then having to watch me act out the scene where Scarlett digs up a carrot  and cries to the heavens, “As Gawd is my witness, I will never go hungry again!”  He did not like singing “She’s a Maniac” for me while I put on my leg warmers and danced on a kitchen chair waiting for him to pour a bucket of water over me. And he most certainly did not like it when I slicked back his hair and dressed him up for Halloween in a letter sweater and rolled up jeans and taught him all the words to “You’re the One that I Want” so he could sing it to me while I walked down the street beside him wearing a skin tight unitard with high-heels and a cigarette dangling out of my mouth. Do you know how hard it is to find a plus-sized unitard?

But I hit a home run last night when I forced him to watch Karate Kid. From the  moment that movie started none of us took our eyes off the screen, except for when we  had to hit “pause” and see if we could stand on the coffee table with our arms out and one leg up like a bird- which is how I got this bruise on my wrist from where I underestimated the distance from the top of my hand to the ceiling fan. And the other time we had to pause it and explain to my son that he would not get jumped by a group of mean boys if rode his bike to school – unless he wore the sweater Nana knitted him for Christmas. And when we had to pause it to explain to him what that boy was “rolling” in the bathroom stall – that those are drugs (you whisper the word “drugs” for effect) and if he ever saw anybody with one of those he should run as fast as he could because just looking at it will make you go blind. And, no, that’s not why Grandpaw can’t see so good. But I digress – on to my point.

Remember the scene where Mr. Miagi makes Danielson wash every car on the lot? And then sand the deck that ran the length of his backyard? And then paint the fence? And then paint the house? Who doesn’t remember the infamous words whispered by Mr. Miagi, “wax on – wax off”? That kid worked for days, from sun up to sun down, without ever even throwing that first punch he was so anxiously awaiting – only to find that his hard work had actually been teaching him the most crucial elements of Karate – and without that tedious work he would never have won the tournament. (Sorry to spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it, but you know the kid always wins in those kinds of movies.)

We watched in amazement that a kid would have to wash a whole parking lot full of cars, or paint that fence that was like three miles long – front AND back! It occurred to me that I had never in my entire life had to do a project that tedious, nor had my son. Not only that, but I’m not sure I would ever even consider doing that myself, or asking my son to do that either. In fact, there weren’t too many things in my life that I was willing to work that hard to accomplish – and up until this point, my son has been rewarded for tasks that could be accomplished in thirty minutes.  And it occurred to me that the world we live in is so focused on getting things fast, that most of us aren’t willing to achieve our goals if it requires more effort than we are comfortable with. Sports being the exception – because it still remains true that those who succeed will be those who work the hardest. But what about the other areas of our life? Are we willing to put in the time necessary to achieve our dreams and perfect our craft?

I’m a motivational speaker and I see this play out in my business. Everybody wants the dream, but they want a quick and easy path to get there. They want to make one phone call (usually not even that) to get a good client to pay them good money to come speak. They don’t want to hear that they have to give a hundred speeches before they can start charging. They don’t want to hear that they have to do it for free before they can start making thousands. They don’t want to hear that they have to write, and write, and write, and then write some more. They don’t want to hear that this could take years, lessons, coaches, studying. They don’t want to hear that they have to practice, and then practice again, and then practice again – and then make it better, and better, and better. And just when it’s good enough, it’s no longer good enough. They don’t want to be the one still standing in the basketball court after everybody else has gone home, still practicing their jump shot. They want it now. And yet they don’t understand, or even notice, why others are blowing them away on the platform. The better speakers aren’t just genetically better (okay, maybe a little) but are better because they PRACTICE their craft – and not just a little bit, but a lot – over and over, day after day, wax on, wax off.

The Karate Kid reminded that if I want to reach my goals and dreams, I’d better be prepared to wash some cars. Just like Mr. Miagi said, “You either stand to the left, or you stand to the right, but there is no standing in the middle in Karate.”  You either go for it, or you don’t. Going at it just a little is waste of time and energy, and will put you in middle – the last place you want to be as a keynote speaker.

I’m taking this advice to heart because I have been guilty of expecting award-winning results without putting in the time necessary to get them. I’m expecting to win the tournament without painting the fence. Next time I find myself doing that, I will remember Danielson standing up there alone on that post on the beach, practicing his pose for hours. And I will remember that nothing good comes easy.

So get up a little earlier.  Stay up a little later. Push yourself a little further. Remember that you will always get out of it what you put into it.  I have made a new goal for myself: From now on I will always try to be better than the last speech I gave. And I won’t be afraid to work to get there.

What will you do to reach your dream?

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  1. rude boy05-25-10

    Thanks for a awesome post and interesting comments. I found this post while searching for some lyrics. Thanks for sharing this post.

  2. Andy Silver05-25-10

    Kelly Swanson is a great speaker, heart-felt and very believable. This story about the lessons from the Karate Kid is perfect for me to share with my family.

  3. Janet Harllee05-29-10

    Kelly, you always inspire me. Thank you. It is hard work but worth it.

  4. Lara06-02-10

    This is great. Thanks for the motivation to keep moving forward. Oh, and, what about Footloose?! Come on!

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