Each Day, One More Bite Off the ELEPHANT!

By Elisabeth Clay

I have established that I do not approach life like most people. The joke when I was growing up was, Lis was not happy unless trying to eat an elephant. I guess from the earliest family stories, I have always attempted to do more, do it bigger, and go beyond what I should be able to do. The one thing my mom learned was that if she let me try, even if I would fail, I was an easy child. If she reigned me in, I would become frustrated. I was never bad, but I always expected to be able to do more. Maybe having older siblings (the closest one in age to me was five years older) had an impact. Also, maybe the fact that my siblings were driven athletes and my sister was also driven in academics. Evidently, I wanted to do what they were doing. But regardless of all of this, I believe that the stubbornness and persistence (the Finnish call sisu) has served me well. 

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Back to the opening statement…  

Question: “How do you eat an elephant?” 
Answer: “One bite at a time. 

Like anything in life, that elephant represents the big goals. Those things that seem to be impossible to do, to complete, to master; those are your elephant. So, you look for the elephant you want to eat. Do not let the size, toughness, or difficulty be a deterrent. Go for the ultimate goal. Remember that each day, each attempt, each thought about that goal is a bite. Each of those bring you closer and closer to fruition.  

When I was about two years into training, I sat down with the purple belt who was my coach most of the time. He asked me what my goals were, so I went home and thought about it. Then I added years so that I would not get made fun of for being too ambitious or unrealistic. When I went the next day, he still chuckled at what I want to accomplish by what age. He gave me his idea of a “realistic” goal and added even more years.  

I Was Heartbroken…

I decided at that moment I would not only reach the goals on my time frame, but I would train hard enough to beat my original ideal goals. Let me tell you, I DID! I won ADCC west coast trails at 16. I have not won all the titles I would like to have, but I have beaten every goal I set for myself so far. And you know what, even if I had not, I never let someone else’s voice stop me. That was the most important goal I could have achieved. I am still eating that elephant. I have so much more to eat, but I will do all in MY POWER to keep eating at that elephant. 

Do I Think I am Special?

Not at all. I am not particularly talented. I did not have the best coaching, especially early on. As I trained at other schools I had many bad habits to fix. I had to find the style and mentality that worked for me. This is why I STRESS, find the professors that fit you. The ones who see your potential even as a hobbyist. You are capable of so much more that you think. Train; train hard. Train like each day you will fight the most difficult opponent you can imagine. If you set your eyes low and train for that, then that is all you will achieve. So, go find your people and together that lion pride will get you where you need to be. Loyalty is paramount, but synergy is the ultimate ultimate. In your early stages of training, do not feel bad about moving around so that by the time you are in your upper belts you have your group, your family, your pride. The professor guides you to which bite to bite off, the team helps you get to the bite and you do the work to bite it off and chew it up. Each component leads to being able to eat the elephant. 

I never said every day you will want to take on that elephant, but when you remember your goal and look back at all you have accomplished then you will see the value in hard work, dedication, persistence and excellence in vision. Some days you may backtrack, you may not even get bite of the elephant. Stop and analyze why (once you are no longer upset, for the lack of progress, that is). Then rest and go back the next training session and figure out how to fix it. 

My mom always said you can quit any time… except when you are sucking. That has stuck with me. I know that I can quit as soon as I fix what I was/am doing wrong. But you know what, once I have/had fixed the problem, I love what I was doing too much to quit.  

Whatever you want to accomplish in life, you can do it. Become your lion or lioness! 

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