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It Starts With Irritation

mentor motivation Sep 01, 2020

by Karen Eden


I never thought that anything good could come out of being irritated — until I read up on one of my favorite gems: the pearl. I didn’t know that pearls usually aren’t perfectly round, and I didn’t know that it takes so long to create one. But what was most surprising was how something so beautiful could come out of something so irritating.

Take, for instance, the pearl of the rare and fragile Tahitian Black-Lipped Oyster. Each pearl takes up to two years to cultivate, and then only three in 100 are deemed to be of high quality. If you are fortunate enough to get a string of “high-quality” pearls, it will cost you the price of a luxury car.

Perhaps my favorite part of the pearl success story is knowing that every single pearl starts with a tiny grain of sand. The piece of sand is placed inside the mollusk. Because it’s irritating to the mollusk’s delicate insides, the animal secretes a natural liquid that forms around the grain of sand. Within a couple of years, the mollusk’s irritation becomes one of the greatest gems of all time.

The actual color of the pearl and its shape depend on its surroundings. Basically, the murkier the water, the more colorful the pearl becomes.

To me, teaching martial arts is like cultivating a pearl. If all of us martial arts instructors told the truth, we would admit to having had that one irritating student. The one you always stick with your senior students so you don’t have to deal with them. I’m laughing now, but more than once, I’ve excused myself from a private lesson so I could go back to my office and put my head down on my desk.

I had one student I thought was going to give me an aneurysm. This white belt would cuss every time he made a mistake in class. He got hurt every time we sparred. He drove me crazy with his bad Korean — mine was bad enough! Yet he came to every single class like clockwork.

Yes, he was irritating, but what I didn’t realize at the time is that he was becoming a pearl. Maybe not the perfectly round kind and maybe not the pure white kind, but a pearl nonetheless. As the years went by and his belt color changed from white to black, I realized that he had indeed become one of my most valuable students.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my own pearly journey. I just called my original instructor as I do once every so often. As proud as I know he is of me, we were laughing at what an irritating student I was while coming up the ranks. I was the one who got out of line to switch on the air conditioner when he went to answer the phone. I was the one who stopped kicking the bag when I noticed he wasn’t looking. And of course, I was the one who held up class because I wouldn’t stop asking questions.

If I were my own teacher today, I think I would have to have a closed-door conversation with myself. Yet my own instructor tolerated me (although I hope he knows I got it back 10 times over).

Bottom line: Teaching anything can be an irritating process, but there’s always the outcome to keep in mind. You see, we aren’t just teaching. We are cultivating pearls, and someday they will be pearls of great price.


To contact Karen Eden, send an email to [email protected] or visit the Facebook group “The Eden Assignment.”


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