I had some papers to sign regarding a new job last week, so rather than dressing for the beautiful sunny southern California heat, I put on a dress shirt and tie; in recognition of the Casual Fridays concept, I wore a sport jacket instead of a suit. I drove to Culver City to sign the papers, and then continued with my day. It was later in the afternoon, while waiting in line for a coffee, that someone asked about the lapel pins I was sporting (pictured here).
The Canadian flag pin should be self-explanatory. I am a proud Canadian, and while I do not wear it every time I wear a jacket, I wear it often enough.
The Black Belt pin I wear from time to time not to show people that I am a Black Belt, but rather because I want to embody what it means to be a Black Belt.
So what does a Black Belt mean? Some people would say that it has something to do with fighting. While a Black Belt does necessarily mean that you are a trained fighter, it really has very little to do with that. Being a Black Belt means that you strive for excellence… not only in your martial art, but in everything you do.
I earned my Black Belt ten years ago, and it was not an easy accomplishment. I remember that some students worked harder than others, but none of us were lazy, and none of us expected to get anything for free. As someone who maintains my curriculum vitae current at all times, I would imagine that within a day or two of my test, I had put it onto my CV. I know that my CV from December, 2012 lists it under the section Personal… and it is in the current CV that I used to secure my latest job.
A good CV will not list tasks; it will list accomplishments. Anyone can have a line on a CV that says ‘Part of my duties as a barista at Starbucks was to pour coffee for our customers.’ The exceptional candidate would write ‘As a barista at Starbucks, I worked with my team to create a new beverage called the Mitchoccino that was recognized by the organization with the Beverage of the Year award and is now offered in 30,000 locations worldwide.’ That is the difference between everyone else and the exceptional candidate. Of course, not all positions require the exceptional… but it has been many years since I have applied for one of those.
As with my professional accomplishments, the Black Belt is an accomplishment that might stand out to an employer. It lets them know that I am not one of the ninety percent of people who start a martial art and then quit. And if you do not think that it stands out, I can tell you that in my last series of interviews (for a job that I did get), the executive vice president who interviewed me last brought it up. I do not know if it is the first job interview I’ve had in which martial arts was mentioned, but it certainly was a factor in my getting the role.
I am not a braggart. For those of you who have known me a long time, I should qualify that as ‘I am no longer a braggart.’ I do not wear the Black Belt pin to say ‘Look what I’ve done! I can break bricks with my hand!’ I wear it for several reasons. I am extremely proud of my accomplishment, to be sure. It is also, to me, a very nice accessory. I also have a scotch whisky lapel pin with matching cuff links, and while I might wear that to a cigar event, I do not think it would have been appropriate for the job interview. With all of that said, I wear my Black Belt pin because the Black Belt espouses the concepts of excellence, success, and perseverance. Those are three important traits sought out by every employer I know.
Being a Black Belt means that I know how to learn. That is an important job skill, especially in the ever-evolving IT field. Being a senior Black Belt also means that I know how to teach. In a senior role like mine, that is also an important job skill. I suppose with the Microsoft Certified Trainer credential that might already be obvious, but it never hurts to have another tool in your belt. Being a senior Black Belt also means that you can be both assertive and humble, depending on the situation. It means you are willing to put in long hours, make sacrifices, and do whatever is needed in order to achieve your goal… and not give up.
So do I wear my Black Belt pin out of arrogance? No. Anyone who knows me will attest that I have the ability to be arrogant when needed, but that is not what I want to portray. I wear the Black Belt pin to symbolize the man I want to be, the excellence I want to achieve, and the concept of kaizen… constantly making incremental improvements. After several months of Covid lockdowns I was reminded of many of these concepts today… I posted a picture of myself on Facebook in a Taekwondo stance. My Master called me from Canada to congratulate me on my weight loss… and then after telling me I had to work on my stances, he spent half an hour teaching me, as I adjusted my feet inches and sometimes millimeters at a time in front of the mirror, taking pictures to send to him, and repeating. I received hundreds of comments on Facebook telling me how good I looked… but my Master knows I strive for perfection, and so we worked on it… a lot. Thank you everyone for telling me how great I look… and thank you Master Beis for helping me to look even better!
A Black Belt should not signify fighting ability or arrogance. It should symbolize the positive traits that every serious martial artist aspires to. Inner peace, a healthy mind in a healthy body, patience, calm… and excellence. If you understand that, then you understand the theory of what it means to me to be a Black Belt… and why I wear it proudly, not only around my waist, but on my lapel as well.