Here is a preview chapter of Ace's first release of 2010. This chapter covers Self-Discipline. Other GrATTITUDES covered are...
Gratitude 1: Self-Discipline
Gratitude 2: Growth
Gratitude 3: Courage
Gratitude 4: Humor
Gratitude 5: Tenacity
Gratitude 6: Forgiveness
Gratitude 7: Teamwork
Gratitude 8: Service
Gratitude 9: Integrity
Gratitude 10: Love
Self-discipline is one of life’s most vital grattitudes. It is what we need to push us all the way to our goals, and not merely partway. The mountain climber doesn’t quit until he is standing on the peak, where he forgets the struggle and danger of the climb. The marathoner pushes through the wall at the twenty-mile mark. The writer works until she can write, “The End.” Disciplined individuals don’t sacrifice their principles or cut corners when pursuing a goal. They finish the job and do it right. And because of their self-discipline, they don’t just reach their potential; they exceed it!
Barbara Mandrell is a now legendary name in the world of entertainment, but she was just another up-and-coming wannabe when I saw her onstage for the first time in 1975. At that point, she had only two Top 10 records and no signature hits. When I purchased the ticket to that show, I wanted to see the headline act — the Statler Brothers. Yet within ten minutes of Barbara taking the stage as the opening act, I was blown away. I had never seen a performer as skilled as this tiny blonde. I expected her to sing, and she did that well, but she did so much more. She played every instrument on the stage and performed with such incredible energy, I came to the conclusion that she must have swallowed a tornado, because she was a whirlwind of rare energy. I told my new bride, “Can you imagine how long it took to refine those skills and develop this show?” I may not have known much about Barbara when I walked into the auditorium, but she had my admiration and respect when I walked out. I also couldn’t wait to see her work again.
That first night I caught Barbara, she was just one of a score of pretty new faces with good voices trying to make their mark in country music, but within three years, while the others had faded into the background, she would be the defining image for an entire industry. How could someone who was still in her twenties emerge as one of the most consummate entertainers in the history of show business? Well, I can guarantee you this: luck had nothing to do with it. Barbara stood out as something new and fresh because she embraced self-discipline.
More than most people I have known, Barbara Mandrell fully understood the price of reaching her goal, and she had the self-discipline to get her there. The spark was born as she took full advantage of her parents’ music store in the community of Oceanside, California. As a girl, Barbara met several well-known performers who came into the Mandrell store to purchase supplies. She listened to their stories and began to understand how much joy they received through the art of entertainment. Their tales of spotlights and stage thrilled her. She also heard these men and women talk about their hours and hours in recording studios and years spent honing their skills. Other kids might have taken these stories and been inspired to spend a few months in music les- sons, but for most the practice time would have eventually tempered their dreams of fame. Yet for Barbara, who was already focused on winning every race on the playground and every contest in school, the price wasn’t too scary. Even as a preteen, she saw the big picture.
Seeing the big picture is essentially the beginning of being self-disciplined and is what keeps you focused on the daily work of improving your skills. What makes one able to reach one’s goal is coming to the full understanding that the little daily steps that must be taken. In Barbara’s case, these small steps consisted of learning something new each day on a musical instrument. It might have been as simple as a riff, chord, or song, but moving forward each day, accomplishing small goals, was vital to reaching the big goal. So while others her age spent hours with their dolls or toys, day by day and step by step, over several years, Barbara learned how to play everything from the accordion to the steel guitar. And she just didn’t learn a song or two; she drove herself to master each of those instruments. wowing audiences up and down the West Coast while appearing on shows that starred the icons of the age, including Red Foley and Johnny Cash. She was even featured on a West Coast television show. Fans recognized her talent, but musicians were amazed at her desire to push forward, to learn more, and to spend long hours practicing.
Self-discipline is often derailed by roadblocks, which can create insecurity, frustration, and fear. In Barbara’s case, the giant roadblock landed in her path when she was just four- teen. She had been working a series of dates with country music legend Patsy Cline, who had become a second mother to her. The young performer idolized the superstar singer. After a show in Kansas City, Barbara left the tour to go back home with her parents. At about the same time, Patsy got on a plane that crashed, killing all on board. Would Barbara remain engaged in her work after losing someone who had become so close to her? Would she now choose to forgo the daily grind of practice that took her away from friends and play? Would the price Patsy paid in pursuit of her dream cause Barbara to refocus, concentrating on something other than the big picture?
Barbara never forgot the woman whom she considered a mentor, but she also didn’t allow Patsy’s death to stifle her own dreams. She continued to practice, continued to play dates in small venues and in front of small crowds. And, most important, thanks to her self-discipline, Barbara continued to push herself to get better each day.
More than her great voice and good looks, it was her expertise on a dozen different instruments that made her a star while she was still so young. Yet even as she began to build a legion of fans who came out to marvel at her playing everything from steel guitar to saxophone, she pushed to grow. She added new skills, such as dance and comedy. In a very real way, she was having the same kind of game-changing impact on the world of music and what was expected of entertainers in that field as Michael Jordan would soon have on the world of basketball. And both owed their success to their remarkable self-discipline.
Bowled over by her talents displayed during her live stage performances, NBC offered Barbara a chance to headline her own TV series. Strangely, it almost didn’t happen.
The grattitude of true self-discipline involves more than just sacrifice. It also embraces values. Those who are doing things the right way don’t cut corners or short-change their principles. They cling to their core beliefs. Barbara had always performed gospel music in her live concerts so that others could see faith in action. When the network and producers balked at her ending her television shows with gospel music, Barbara didn’t trade her values for money or additional fame. She washed her hands of the deal and walked away. The powers that be called her back and allowed the religious music to be aired.
Like everything else she had done, Barbara’s NBC series was a huge success—due mainly to her self-discipline. She constantly devoted extra hours each week to assure that every program in her series would reflect the same quality, energy, and values as her live performances. Her hard work was rewarded by great ratings and a loyal audience.
“The Sweetheart of Saturday Night” was on top of the world in 1984 when an auto accident nearly took her life. Her head and leg injuries were so severe that many feared she would not live through the first few days in the ICU. Certainly, most predicted she would never perform again. Yet the same drive that had made her a star drove her to overcome her injuries, and Barbara was back on the stage within a year, playing, singing, and—most remarkably— dancing. The steps on that journey were often painful, but the rewards made the pain worthwhile. And she did this by once again embracing the grattitude of self-discipline.
Though barely five feet tall, today the blue-eyed blonde stands as a musical giant who literally transformed an industry. At a time when almost every female act in the world was known as a “girl singer,” she became the nation’s most gifted live-stage entertainer. She sang, danced, and played a dozen different instruments. Her energy and charisma inspired a legion of young women, not just in music but in all fields. Her drive was embraced, and her vision of pushing the boundaries beyond one genre of music would pave the way for careers as varied as those of Alison Kraus, Shania Twain, and Reba McEntire. The winner of every major musical award from Grammy to Country Music Entertainer of the Year to People’s Choice, almost a generation after her retirement from show business, she remains one of the most respected and revered names in the entertainment world. What made Barbara a star? In large part, it was a grattitude she embraced very early in her career — self-discipline.
Barbara demonstrates that hard work is a small price to pay for achieving an important goal. Yet for Barbara, it was never about selfish desires for fame and fortune. It was a calling. And even as she climbed to the top, Barbara bent down to lift others up. She helped other people with similar injuries recover and thrive, volunteering her time, energy, and talents. And maybe most important, by finding her own potential through her daily push to constantly improve her already incredible skills she inspired a generation of others to follow in her example and brought great joy to millions who enjoyed her enthusiastic performances. Barbara’s story tosses a bright spotlight on self-discipline and proves that this grattitude provides rewards that, when shared, make the world — and ourselves — better and brighter.
Giving Up Temptations
When I was growing up in the small, prairie community of Royal, Illinois, I had a friend, Rick Schmidt, who was tall and bright. Rick was the son of a farmer, and he was raised understanding the price and rewards of putting out effort. The Schmidt family always worked together as a team. Rick was driving a tractor and hauling hay when he was still in elementary school. He even got a city boy like me involved from time to time. Each summer, he and I were paid to cut weeds out of soybeans or bail hay. These tasks required such great effort in the hot sun that when the day was over, most of us couldn’t wait to rest. I remember heading back to my house, eating supper, and spending the night lying on our couch, watching television.
Not Rick, though. As soon as the work was finished, he’d head out to the barn to give several more hours to something he dearly loved. Even on the darkest, coldest days of winter, Rick was in that barn, wearing layers of clothes, developing spin moves, fadeaway jump shots, and reverse layups. His dream was all about basketball. During these same days, most of the rest of us were inside our warm homes, spending hours involved with endeavors that had little to do with dreams or the big picture.
Without his glasses, Rick was literally blind. He also lacked speed and grace. Yet in spite of these shortcomings, or maybe because of them, he pushed each day to get better. He asked questions about the game. He sought out advice from those who understood each of the fundamental skills needed to master the game he loved. And then he worked and worked and worked. What was his driving force? What was the big picture he saw that the rest of us missed?
Rick wanted to play basketball at the highest level. That wasn’t really unique. What midwestern farm kid doesn’t share that dream? I spent hours thinking about making the winning basket in a big college game, but unlike others, Rick put feet to his dreams. Those feet would push him to achieving a complete focus on self-improvement. So while I shot a hundred shots a day working on my game, Rick made twice that many. He worked just as hard on ballhandling, moves around the basket, and positioning for rebounding. Rick fully grasped at an early age what few ever understand: luck doesn’t really play into living dreams; rather, hard work paves the way to reaching them.
So when our high school careers were over and our tassels switched to the other side at graduation, most of us headed off to college knowing a great deal about sitcom plots. After all, we had spent many hours studying them while Rick was in the barn honing his basketball skills. Meanwhile Rick was rewarded with a full basketball scholarship to the University of Illinois, where he became a star. He would even be drafted into the American Basketball Association.
Yet Rick’s success didn’t stop on the court. His years spent in the barn working on his game paid off in an even bigger way. Because of his proven self-discipline, he was given a chance to work at a successful firm when his basket- ball career ended. His self-discipline there led to his becoming a wealthy man. And he took some of those earnings and endowed a scholarship at the University of Illinois in the name of the two hardworking, self-disciplined men who had inspired his efforts. One was his father, and the other was his first coach.
Barbara Mandrell and Rick Schmidt are role models for self-discipline. They didn’t just dream dreams; they put into motion a plan to achieve those dreams. Like a runner training for a marathon, they gave up short-term enjoyment with the hope of achieving something they deemed very special. Living their dreams did more than set them apart from their peers; it also inspired countless others to follow in their paths, to give everything they had to live their dreams. And beyond just living their dreams and selfishly enjoying the fruits of their labors, Barbara and Rick then used their earnings and fame to reward others who embraced the same grattitude that had brought them incredible success.
A Musical Note
The church I attended as a teen in Muncie, Illinois, is the kind of church you would expect to be a product of the Farm Belt. The members are hardworking folks who pull their livelihoods from the land. Hence, as a group they understand self-discipline as well as any people I know. If they don’t stay focused, they can’t make a living.
When I was in high school, I had a church music director named Marion Minser. He worked hard to provide for his wife and two daughters, and he loved his job, but his real passion was music. Yet this slightly built, dark-haired man had never had a day of musical training. He couldn’t read a single note from a songbook. He didn’t even play a musical instrument. Thus, while a normal director would spend a few moments going over a new piece of music to learn it, Marion would devote days to this same task.
To get ready for each rehearsal, Marion, who sang by ear, had to first memorize all the parts of the choral specials— something that required hours of practice and took away a great deal of his personal time. Once he had memorized the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass lines, he had to teach all those parts to a volunteer choir that was often musically challenged. Week after week, Marion had to find a way to create a joyful noise from mouths that often could barely carry a tune. Year after year Marion persisted, and the music he created blessed thousands. All that time, he provided his services for free, giving his full effort in order to provide our church with a more beautiful worship experience. He never complained about the work. Never lamented giving up hours of his free time each week. And the smile on his face after each of our specials proved to me that Marion received a deep gratitude from his job. Yet his self-discipline used for his volunteer job was just the beginning of this man’s devotion to what he felt was a calling.
During the week, Marion worked as a television repair- man. He was always sensitive to any customer who couldn’t afford to pay, and he reduced the cost of his labor. Thus, thanks in large part to the services he literally gave away and the time he spent working on his nonpaying job at church, Marion and his family lived in a very small home. As the state of their house deteriorated and the family grew, they faced a need for another bedroom and a more modern kitchen. Marion borrowed the funds to build the addition. Around the same time, our church was meeting in a school and working to raise the money to build a new facility. After much prayer, Marion gave the money for his home addition to the church building fund. Like the hours he gave to the choir, this was a sacrifice he wanted to make for the sake of something he believed was greater in value. Something he felt called to do. A dream that he saw was worth his sacrifice.
Unlike Barbara and Rick, whose passions were rewarded with monetary gains, Marion Minser never became a rich man. When he died, he still lived in the same small home he had chosen not to remodel. Yet decades later you can still see his influence in the small, white stone church he helped to build. His spirit is still there in the choir loft. People still talk about the way he lived his life and what a pro- found effect he had on the community. His self-discipline and drive to do things for others demonstrated what can be achieved when one lays aside personal desires for something greater. In our church, this grattitude created an atmosphere in which others began to give as Marion did, and everyone was better for it.
Self-Discipline Is Contagious
Those who worked with Barbara Mandrell worked harder because they knew how hard she was working. They gave more, spent more time in practice, and pushed for perfection because they saw Barbara modeling the same. They became better because of her self-discipline.
I played on basketball teams with Rick Schmidt. His teammates worked harder and practiced longer thanks to his influence. Rick’s teams won in no small part because of his self-discipline and example.
People joined the choir and gave up a couple of hours each week thanks to seeing how much Marion gave to his calling. His pushing himself caused the members to push harder as well.
Yet why are those three examples so important to me? How have they impacted my life?
Though not writers, this self-disciplined trio — Barbara, Rick, and Marion—have heavily influenced my career in writing. Their fingerprints are on everything I have accomplished. They have helped me focus on the big picture and understand the rewards that come with sacrifice. The self- discipline I learned from them has become one of the most important elements in my work.
Inspired by these heroes, I can undertake even the largest writing project, dragging myself into my office even on days when I don’t feel like working, breaking the project into manageable steps, working through all the editing processes, and pushing forward until the project is completed. I do so because I saw the results of effort like this in these three individuals. I am sure countless others have been equally inspired by them.
So you are embracing this grattitude for more than just yourself! Self-discipline is contagious, and once you catch it, you can’t help but pass it on.
Now that we know what self-discipline is, we must ask ourselves how badly we really want it. Our self-disciplined heroes can inspire us to change and grow, but at the end of the day we each have to decide whether we will choose to make this grattitude part of our life.
There is an old proverb found in some African desert tribes that says, “Many have a thirst, but few want to pay the price to get to the water.” In the case of the Maasai, that price is often having to walk forty miles to a watering hole, filling up a huge jug, and then carrying it back to the village.
Opportunity knocks, but success waits for a person to complete a task. It is a proven fact that those who only dream of success rarely achieve it. If we are self-disciplined, we will not only reach our potential; we will expand that potential.
But we won’t get there all at once. Grattitudes are journeys. Barbara Mandrell might have had the drive to master a dozen different instruments, but she didn’t do it overnight. It never works that way. Self-discipline is a series of steps, not one big leap.
At the beginning of the National Football League sea- son, every team and player in the league wants to win the Super Bowl. Yet championships are won one game at a time.
Like Rick Schmidt, self-disciplined players and teams will focus on improving each day and mastering new skills consistently, keeping their eyes on the goal.
The grattitude of self-discipline is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Reaching the goal takes not only a vision for the big picture but also an appreciation for the small snapshots that will come together along the way to form that picture. In Barbara’s case it was mastering new skills on an instrument, in Rick’s case it was working on new moves in basketball, and in Marion’s case it was learning new songs he could teach others. In my case it is developing a new idea and sharing it through a book.
What about you? What do you really want? What will you have to sacrifice to get it? I am sure Marion, Barbara, and Rick would tell you that giving up the things they gave up—the television shows, the hours on the couch doing nothing, the time talking on the telephone — was worth it. In my case, the years of barely making ends meet, of having to substitute teach and officiate basketball games, of not building our dream home or going on vacations, now seems like the best of times. Why? Because the dream has been realized, and therefore the journey to get there is something to celebrate.
But what if all the self-discipline leaves you short of your goal? What if you don’t quite make it? Odds are that your growth experience as a person and the self-worth you have created through your efforts will give you a positive and happy outlook on life. You will recognize what you have gained in your journey and feel better for it. You will know your potential and never have to regret not giving the effort!
I know of very few old folks who say, “Gosh, I wish had been less self-disciplined.” Most of the sages I have met say they wish they had developed that grattitude much earlier in life.
On the other hand, I can name countless folks who are bright, creative, and wellmeaning. They have great plans and big dreams. The one thing they lack is self-discipline. As an example, I have seen several of my friends tackle the restoration of a car. They want to do a first-rate job, so they begin by taking the automobile completely apart. Then either boredom, frustration, or a desire to do something else sets in, and they go in a new direction. Years later they sell the car in pieces and talk about how they wished they had stuck with the job and finished the project. Finishing the job and reaching your goals while expanding your potential beyond expectations is the real reward of self-discipline.
Next Steps toward a Grattitude of Self-Discipline
I can see it in your eyes: you’re ready to make the grattitude of self-discipline part of your life. We know it won’t happen overnight, and we know it won’t be easy — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get started! There are some concrete steps you can take that will begin to grow your self-discipline.
Write down the name of the five most disciplined people you know.
List what they have accomplished by using their self- discipline, and list what they have had to sacrifice. Were those sacrifices worth it?
Now, using the positive influences you have just listed as your guides, set a goal for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big goal, but it does need to be life-changing in some way. It might be exercise, diet, Bible study, charity work, or prayer. It could involve productivity at work, a new job, more education, or being a better parent.
Once you have latched onto your new goal, list the temptations you will have to avoid to achieve it. By keeping those temptations in front of you and being honest about them, you’ll make them less likely to sneak up and derail your progress. Everyone is tempted, but daily self-discipline can help us continue toward the goal.
Finally, list the steps or disciplines you will need to embrace to achieve your goal. For Rick Schmidt, it was sinking one hundred jump shots every day, while for Jesus’ disciples it was likely telling the gospel to at least one new person a day. Your steps or plans will be a road map you can follow toward your goal.
A Final Thought
Rick Schmidt once told me that the key to his shooting was seeing the shot go in before he released it. I know that Barbara Mandrell pictured her audience’s reaction to her music even as she practiced all by herself. Marion heard the final choral performance before he taught his choir members a song and as he patiently memorized each part. As you work, picture the final result. Keep that image in your mind, and your efforts will not seem as taxing, and the trek will become much shorter. Change won’t happen all at once or overnight, but with self-discipline you can become stronger each day.