A story of how meeting my wife would instil in me the required discipline to change my life.
As a high school student, if I had an assignment due on Friday morning I’d start it on Thursday night. Soccer training, Age of Empires, catching up with friends, and procrastinating, all seemed like far better options.
That assignment? It would only take a few hours. It could wait.
Alarm bells would start ringing on the Wednesday night before the assignment was due, but I couldn’t miss that show on TV. Thursday would roll around, and I knew I’d get started as soon as I finished school. But I would get off the bus, walk home, and somehow find myself kicking the ball around the yard for a few hours thinking “after dinner, that’s when I’ll start.”
Dinner would come and go. Then panic would set in. “I need to get started”, I would think to myself.
“After a shower”.
And so, after said shower, I would pull my books from my bag, read the assignment brief, and realise how totally and utterly under-prepared I was.
And guess what? I would repeat the process all over again a fortnight later for the next assignment.
Fortunately, I had enough ability to get myself through school. However, my ability to do ‘enough’ allowed me to forgo other essential skills.
I never had to study. I never had to prioritise. I never had to try my hardest.
These traits didn’t stop at the end of high school either. They followed me right through university, where I failed miserably.
It’s safe to say, discipline wasn’t my strong suit.
The Turning Point
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realised I had formed a habit of not exercising discipline.
“I lived a life without cares, but also without care.”
It meant that I lived a life without cares, but also without care. I did what I wanted when I wanted. I did things when they suited me, regardless of the impact on myself or others.
This changed when I met my wife.
She had discipline. She worked full-time while completing her university studies. She prioritised and performed to the best of her ability.
This changed my perspective. I saw first-hand, someone who had the drive, desire and — most importantly — the discipline to succeed.
It also forced me to look beyond myself and to consider someone else and our life together.
I knew I couldn’t let her down.
She was the extrinsic motivation I needed to self-assess my shortcomings. By osmosis, she encouraged me to build discipline into my life.
To be fair, I never lacked work-ethic.
Throughout my career, I would work longer and harder than others. I would push myself to learn new skills. I would show initiative. I was proactive.
Outside of work, however, if the option presented itself, I would choose the path of least resistance. This often meant TV over chores. A night out, over a night of study.
I realise now that when I was accountable to someone other than myself, I would perform.
When I was accountable to myself, I would fail.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Five years ago, when my wife and I started Teach Starter, the skill of discipline reinforced further. Those days when we felt like taking the night off, we would encourage the other to continue. To exercise discipline and focus on our goal.
We were accountable to each other.
We learned early on that when the initial inspiration for an idea perishes, it is perilously easy to give up. It is at this moment you just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving toward your goal. Staying the course in those early days was the hardest part.
Having accountability to one another drove our discipline.
The work was easy. Having the discipline to work was hard.
But why was it easier for me to be accountable to someone else, yet fail miserably to hold myself accountable? Why did I need to rely on others, instead of looking within?
I’m not sure.
Over time, and with a greater appreciation for self-awareness, I have learned to hold myself accountable. I set high standards for what I expect of myself and have a vision of how I want to live my life. I know that I am in control of the decisions I make and the steps I take.
By holding myself accountable, I am committing to doing that which aligns with my goals and values.
Self-discipline is the vital skill that reinforces this commitment.
Exercising self-discipline can be particularly challenging at the best of times, and incredibly difficult when things are hard. But that’s precisely what makes it so powerful. And so rewarding.
What I have found is that when you reflect on your actions, take ownership of your circumstances, cultivate discipline and hold yourself accountable, your goals shift closer.
Five years ago, I could never have imagined where our business would be now. In the era of ‘overnight success’, it would have been easy to sit back and hope for something to happen.
Instead, we invested time and effort. Again and again.
Discipline — combined with a heavy dose of patience — wins.