From the extremely messy desk of John C. Gail,
Last we left off, almost two months ago, I wrote to you about the value of being exactly who you say you are, how it garners respect and appreciation, and how it makes one a better leader.
I’d like to continue the trend of leadership qualities today by touching on a universally respected and revered quality: discipline, commonly dubbed self-control or restraint.
Throughout history, the men who could control their desires for the sake of a greater cause were hailed as strong, resilient, and, for lack of a better word, manly. At the same time, those who gave in to their hedonistic impulses saw their own demise from the rose-colored shades that they insisted on wearing. Before I get into the extremely rich benefits of self-control that you’ll see not only in your personal life, but in your professional life as well, let’s take a quick swing through history to see how disciplined some of the world’s most famous leaders were.
The Best Leaders of Others are Leaders of Themselves:
-Benjamin Franklin- In his autobiography, he listed “temperance,” with respect not only to alcohol but to all vices, as the most important virtue to him.
-George W. Bush- His Chief of Staff, Andy Card, said that Bush was “the most disciplined person I have ever met: He’s disciplined in his exercise, his worship, and how he runs his White House.”
-Frederick Douglass- Once said that given ordinary ability and opportunity, the one word that differentiates success from mediocrity is work. His life portrayed that principle to an immaculate degree.
-Ray Kroc- Had diabetes and arthritis at 53 years old, but pushed through it and, six years later, purchased the McDonalds franchise that we now know today. Did I mention that he was missing his thyroid and his gall bladder at the time?
-Jesus Christ- Depending on your religious views, he could have mobilized His followers and resisted arrest, or smote all of those who were trying to arrest Him. Despite his ability to resist arrest and crucifixion in some capacity, He felt as though he had a duty to fulfil, and calmly looked death in the face for that cause.
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt- The first and only (so far) disabled person to serve as President of the United States. As his physical state weakened, he developed the mental fortitude and grit to compensate for it. He also served twice as many terms as any President before him (the Constitution limited terms afterward).
-Harry Reid- The son of a miner and alcoholic, Reid was from a small town in Nevada that was unrecognizable to most people. Despite this, he played well with the hand he was dealt and ended up finishing law school at The George Washington University, working as a security guard at night to offset the costs. After practicing law, Reid was elected to the Nevada State Assembly, then the Office of Lieutenant Governor, then the Office of Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, then the House of Representatives, then the Senate. Reid worked his way up the leadership ranks of the US Senate and served as the Senate Majority Leader for a time.
-Abraham Lincoln- Truly defined grit and discipline. Here’s a brief timeline of his life:
- 1816 His family was evicted.
- 1818 Mother died.
- 1831 Failed in business.
- 1832 Lost bid for state legislature.
- l832 Lost his job – wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in; rejected from law school.
- 1833 By the end of the year, he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.
- 1834 Ran for state legislature again and won.
- 1835 His wife-to-be died.
- 1836 Had a total nervous breakdown and was bedridden for six months.
- 1838 Sought role as Speaker of the State Legislature – defeated.
- 1840 Defeated in efforts to become elector.
- 1843 Lost run for Congress.
- 1846 Ran for Congress again and won.
- 1848 Ran for re-election to Congress and lost.
- 1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state and was rejected.
- 1854 Ran for Senate and lost.
- 1856 Wanted the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention and got fewer than 100 votes.
- 1858 Ran for U.S. Senate again, 0 for 2.
- 1860 Elected president of the United States.
Now that you know the company in which you’ll find yourself once you start actively developing your discipline, here are a few more reasons why it’s worth the time:
- Having self-control keeps you from harmful vices, such as drugs, alcohol, and pornography, than can disrupt your life if overused.
- Having self-control is a rare trait in this day and age, and many people rightfully recognize it as worthy of respect.
- Being able to make a plan and stick to it will cut a lot of crap out of your life and give you time for the meaningful stuff.
- Having self-control keeps you from making rash, emotional decisions that you may regret later. It promotes calculated risk taking and acting in your own, long-term, best interest.
“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.” -Harry S. Truman
Choosing and pursuing a life of restraint and discipline isn’t easy, but the payout is immense, relative to the hedonistic pursuits of many in this day and age. The thing that helped me get started was a chart of Benjamin Franklin’s Virtues, as outlined in his autobiography. Learn them, live them, love them. Don’t expect perfection, but pursue improvement in these departments and you’ll be well on your way to a life of self-control. A brief description of each virtue follows:
- Temperance. “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
- Silence. “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
- Order. “Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
- Resolution. “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
- Frugality. “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
- Industry. “Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
- Sincerity. “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
- Justice. “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
- Moderation. “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
- Cleanliness. “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
- Tranquillity. “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
- Chastity. “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
- Humility. “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
I consider it a safe contention to make that if each of these virtues is pursued in one’s life, they will not only see benefits in their private lives, but in their public lives as well. People seek a leader who chases something greater than himself, and is willing to sacrifice what is commonly accepted as “luxury” or “pleasures” to live in that pursuit. There is a reason why “narcissist” tends to be a frowned-upon trait. Development of discipline creates that constant, outward-looking attitude that fosters self-improvement internally, as well as respect, loyalty, and acclaim from others.
Pardon my current infrequent posting, and thank you for reading this in full.
In hopes that we interact further,
John C. Gail