RE-Defined: DISCIPLINE

I’ve been thinking about discipline a lot. People have asked me how I accomplish things, and I never have a clear answer. I think I do now. Discipline.

In 2009, I quit a school instructional coaching job so that I could focus on finishing my dissertation.

“Who do you know that can actually make themselves sit for hours during the day to write?” my very good friend had asked when I shared my decision.

“I can,” I replied.

And that’s what I did. While Dwight was at work and the girls were at school, I analyzed data and wrote eight hours a day for nine months. I know my friend’s comment wasn’t a judgment against what she perceived me to be able to do or not do. It was more about what many people cannot and will not do…discipline themselves to achieve a goal.

But I want to be clear. I didn’t magically wake up with a spirit of commitment towards projects. It was taught.

typewriterYears ago, when people typed things on typewriters, I had a fifth-grade report due on Haile Selassie and Ethiopia. I’d made several mistakes and had to use that awful liquid paper/correction fluid stuff to cover it up and re-type words. It was a bumpy sludge of a mess.

My English major mother peered through her glasses to see how it was going.

“Kathy,” she started, “you’re going to have to re-type this paper. You can’t turn in something that looks like this. Your work is a reflection of you.”

I didn’t say anything back to her. In 1983, children simply sat there and seethed with anger and did what they were told. Or at least that’s what I learned to do.

I sat at that brown dining room table for hours. I wasn’t allowed to watch television until I finished. I ended up re-typing that essay three times, well past The Love Boat and Fantasy Island…and well past my bedtime. But it was done properly. What’s more is because of my mother’s correction I’d learned self-discipline. I’d learned the importance of focusing on one task (typing) and ignoring others (television). I learned to sit quietly and perfect something until it was “right.”

Today, being disciplined has served me well. I function within a distraction-based society by turning my phone over when I’m working and turning it off altogether while I’m sleeping. I’ve learned to take social media breaks when I’m indulging too much, so that offscreen life and people can take precedence. More importantly, I still practice sitting quietly and focusing on the day’s project until it’s complete.

Thirty-something years ago, I typed and re-typed those words through ten-year-old, tear-filled eyes. Now, I’m grateful for that early lesson because I see it as having shaped a positive and useful trait: discipline.

What about you? Do you have a positive superpower that you attribute learning from your parents’ rules? Are you disciplined? Do you want to be more disciplined? Feel free to share below.

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