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The Mirror Reveals

lesson learned Dec 23, 2020

by Nguyen “Tom” Griggs


One of the best tools for growth is the mirror. If you have the right mindset, the mirror can help you answer two crucial questions: Who is looking back at you? And who will you become?

When I was about to take my first wife to the hospital to give birth, I thought, OK, after you leave, you’ll return with a baby. You’ll be a dad, and your life will never be the same. There were definitely some fearful emotions that day, but there was also a sense of excitement and joy. The person in the mirror was scared but filled with hope.

A few years later, I came home one Saturday to an empty house after my now ex-wife had departed with our son. I was met with a deafening silence. The furniture was gone, my family was absent and I was left to look in the mirror at the one person I blamed for what had happened. The person in the mirror was angry, hurt, resentful and lonely.

Some years later, my son and I stood in front of a mirror as we got dressed for my second wedding. He was the ring bearer, and I was humbled and joyful that someone had deemed me worthy of love and was willing to take a chance on me. That guy in the mirror was very excited, humbled and, once again, happy. Having my son standing next to me reinforced that this was the right and best thing to do.

Ironically, the joy and happiness I felt from my wedding was cut painfully short exactly one week later. My father had fallen into a coma, and his health was steadily declining. As I stood in a hospital bathroom, I had to reconcile how my life and the lives of people around me were rapidly changing.

My father’s passing would come about a month later. The human being in the mirror was now deeply hurting, confused and sad, but he understood that life is indeed a journey and journeys must end.

You must be thinking, Tom is really being a downer. Did the pandemic finally get to him?

The reason I’m sharing these stories is I hope they’ll help people understand that throughout all the things we endure as leaders in the martial arts, we always must answer to the person in the mirror. We might or might not live with a spouse, a partner or family members, but we absolutely have to live with ourselves. You may escape some truths, but you’ll never escape the truth of who you are.

The mirror does not lie; what you see is truly there. A harsh word, a thoughtless action, a moment of insensitivity can hurt others, but the mirror tells us that we have really harmed ourselves. The Indian poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar stated, “The wound made by hurting with fire will heal, but the wound created by harsh words leaves an indelible scar.”

If you aren’t happy with what you see in the mirror, don’t get a new mirror. Get a new you! When I resolved to improve who I was and learn from my past, I liked the person in the mirror. When I pick up and drop off my son at his mom’s place, I spend time talking, laughing and playing with her kids. I rediscovered the joys of hide-and-seek.

Not liking the person in the mirror meant that I needed humility, honesty and reflection to improve — and, most important, to forgive — myself.

As you continue your work on developing discipline and changing lives, I ask you to look in the mirror and examine who and what you are seeing. If you think there’s a lot to work on and improve, pick one area, one habit that you can and will change. Great leaders understand that the journey to black belt (mastery) begins when a white belt decides not to quit. Never quit when it comes to improving yourself.


Nguyen “Tom” Griggs is a professional consultant/speaker on subjects that include teams, leadership and conflict. To contact him, send an email to [email protected]

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