As a certified Generation grannY, I’m a big fan of discipline. It teaches youths to not be bratty little twits.
eating inhaling the best Mexican Scramble I’ve ever had (Blue Moon Cafe in Baltimore is the bee’s knees, y’all), I recently listened to my friend explain the difficulty she experienced while dating an ex who was extremely smart, creative, and passionate, yet lacked basic discipline. We both lamented over willy-nilly people who have all the potential in the world, but never actually accomplish anything because they can’t create any sort of order in their lives. If you can’t crack down and do the “not pretty” parts of a project, career, etc., then what’s the point of being talented or brilliant? Without the ability to hone things into a productive outcome, do those gifts even matter?
Most people who are extremely smart and gifted, but can’t create a place to release their energy, are rather depressed and manic beings. For example, someone might be book smart and excel during school-age years, but if they have coddling parents who don’t help them believe in their independence or push them to get their hands dirty, they become incapable of basic survival skills. Their potential can easily turn into narcissism as they think, “My parents/friends/significant other will always take care of me financially and emotionally, because all that matters is that I’m smart and creative, and therefore important.” Then, that lack of responsibility makes them feel like lost buoys at sea, bobbing in the water and serving no real purpose. Structure, obligation, and doing things that aren’t “fun” or “feel scary” are absolute musts when it comes to cultivating brilliant minds successfully.
On some level, I can relate to smart/creative types who get so caught up in their “art” or “theories” or whatever that they never actually accomplish anything, and instead become burdensome to their families or society. When I was working a part-time waitressing job and living at home during the year after college, I was more unhappy with myself than I’d been in a long time. Even though I had a purpose and end goal in that period of my life (to wait tables for a year before moving to NYC in order to gain experience and thus be hirable at a restaurant in The City while I pursued Broadway), I still lacked routine and direction. I felt restless and frankly a little ashamed of what I was doing with my life. I knew I was made to do so much more, which made me sad and insecure.
Even though I knew I wanted a change, I didn’t take the leap to follow through on my plan to move until my mother pushed me out of the nest. I was getting swept up in “preparing myself to do something big with my vocal career,” that I was becoming complacent in my unhappiness, and not motivated to actually do something. Finally, she said “You’ve got 2 weeks to find a place and move to New York.” I was frustrated with such a short timeline, but my mother certainly taught me to take her seriously over the years, so you better believe I was on a bus to NYC exactly two weeks later.
Two years after that push from my mom, I found myself in a similar– yet different– dilemma of being complacent and unhappy, claiming to be focused on my career goals, but knowing deep down that my passions had shifted and I was not actually pursuing music seriously anymore. I was waiting tables in Times Square and aimlessly hoping to become happier, or for a “big break” to fall into my lap. I knew I had what it takes, after all! But, no. I fell into the trap that so many starving artists fall into, believing the “what could be” potential of my talent was more important than actually leading the life that would bring me greater daily happiness.
I was extremely proud of who I was in New York for a while, but that had a lot to do with the simple fact that I was taking care of myself. I was waiting tables, living on my own, and completely independent (well…minus my cell phone bill). That was some solid discipline. But once the novelty of being independent wore off, I knew that I was still not quite on track with what I wanted and needed in life.
I had to swallow my pride and remember that daily happiness and success through an avenue other than my voice was way more important than half-pursuing a dream that everyone believed would come true for me. I’d been told for 20 years by strangers, friends, family, and even important figures in the industry that I was a “special” talent and voice that would undoubtedly “make it” if I tried. Accepting that that wasn’t the best path for me on a practical level was pretty humbling.
When we choose to ignore the fact that our worlds are kind of falling apart in sheer determination to make ourselves “great,” those blinders are actually making us incredibly self-centered, depressed, and unproductive. We stop valuing the little things we have to do to be functional humans, like perhaps holding a job that isn’t ideal, but pays the rent. Or developing other skills that are more practical for a fulfilling life.
I’m not a mom, but I’d like to think I’ll be the kind of mother mine was— which was to always help me be confident in my abilities, yet know that sometimes you have to do things that aren’t exactly “worthy” of your talents for the sake of responsibility. Or perhaps those “not fun” things are what it takes to eventually, down the road, align your abilities with your career. Hard work breeds success, and hard work isn’t always glamorous.
To me, discipline can come in three different packages as an adult:
1. Discipline means doing things you don’t want to do on the way to your greater goal.
2. Discipline means following through with your plans– not just spouting out all the ways you want to be great, but actually taking steps to get there. (Not just assuming things will fall in your lap because “you have what it takes.”)
3. Discipline means being realistic with yourself about what you actually want out of life, and having the humility, bravery, and determination to actually change your course.
In my journey from Broadway Wannabe–> Nine-to-fiver–> Blogger, I went through all of those different stages of discipline. I was disciplined by taking care of myself when I was in New York, disciplined by being realistic with what I wanted and moving away from The City, disciplined in a 9-5 by working hard at something even when it wasn’t something I enjoyed, and disciplined now as a blogger to build self-motivated routine into my daily work life. The times I was most unhappy in my journey of life is when I was refusing to be disciplined in my decisions and actions.
The beauty of discipline is self-esteem. When you wake up early, workout, shower, go to a job, cook dinner, and get to bed early, you feel like Queen of the World. At least I do. My days don’t always look like that, but I’m definitely the most proud of who I am when they do. On a grander scale, we will find a deeps sense of pride when we structure our lives in a way that garners real results.
Routine, determination, and tangible goals– not wistful declarations of lofty thoughts– breed satisfaction, which in turn makes us work harder, which in turn makes us more proud of ourselves. That positive snowball effect is how we truly achieve great things in life. We don’t achieve great things by sitting around and hoping that our gifts in and of themselves are enough to be recognized. No, that’s just a recipe for narcissism and discontent.
The last little thing I want to say about discipline is that it’s often hand-in-hand with other forms of confidence-building. Discipline gives you confidence, but so does a little risk-taking and independence. By the time I was 12 years old, I was training 1,500 lb animals (horses) that would fling me off once in a while, step on my feet, and occasionally kick me. By age 10, I traveled through airports with only my brother all the way from Virginia to San Diego. When I was only 9, I woke myself up all by myself with my Limited Too alarm clock and got my butt to the bus stop since my parents had already left for work, and they trusted me to be responsible enough to get to school. My parents forced me to understand that I was capable of doing things on my own, as long as I was disciplined and brave.
It didn’t feel good to wake up early and pack my backpack in the moment. Sure! I would’ve happily let my parents do that for me. But I’m convinced that that level of independence as a child is part of what helps me be disciplined on my own in my adult life, and completely capable of taking care of myself at the same time as being confident in my skills and abilities. And the “scary” stuff, like getting a little beat up from horseback riding, or a little overwhelmed as I read signs as an 11-year-old in order to take a tram from Terminal A to Terminal C, helped me realize that I can do so much more than I ever thought possible.
So if you feel like you have great dreams and aspirations in your life, yet feel extremely unfulfilled or can’t seem to keep your life from falling down all around you, ask yourself these three questions that each address a form of discipline I mentioned earlier:
1. Am I actually doing the little, unsexy things it takes to eventually reach my bigger goal?
2. Am I being narcissistic and assuming things will just come to me because I’m so great? Am I ignoring any basic life necessities with the excuse of “focusing on my skills”?
3. Are my goals in life actually in line with what makes me happy as a whole, and am I being brave enough to challenge myself to shake things up if I need to?
No one will ever be perfect with discipline. It’s why 100% of us cheat on our diets, and why some days we binge watch the first two seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But as long as you’re making a conscious effort to find the balance between being confident and passionate about your abilities, while also forcing yourself to partake in the un-fun things that define responsible adulthood, then you’re on a solid track to success and happiness.