Empty Gallon of Milk

I floundered out of the car, my feet quickly reminding themselves how to walk after a 14-hour drive from Oklahoma to my house in Tennessee. As I fumbled to get the key into the door, I felt Joenelle (my lady friend) grab my arm and plead exasperatingly, "You have to promise not to be mad." Too exhausted to register the statement, I opened my back door. Light flooded out of my laundry room, illuminating what Joenelle thought would set me off. A few weeks back, I had left Joenelle at my house, and she'd mentioned she had some laundry to do. Over the course of the 14-hour drive, she had failed to mention that "some" was actually every piece of clothing east of the Mississippi and she, in fact, hadn't washed any of it. Instead, what was probably 60 acres of cotton, 150 spools of silk, and countless rationalizations of "This is never on sale, I can't not buy it," completely devoured my laundry room and spilled over into my kitchen.

Joe was right, I was mad. Waking up the next morning, I found myself mentally denouncing her lack of discipline. Though it happened 10 days ago and I got over it fairly quickly, I still find myself reflecting back on it: not the fact that my girlfriend made a mess of clothes, but my reaction to it. There are two lessons I've gleaned from this:

1. Simply put, don't be a hypocrite.

Replaying that experience in my head: I walked to my bedroom, internally scoffing at Joe's lack of discipline for not getting her laundry done, all the while passing a sink full of dishes and going to bed in a room that was covered in my own clothes. I even woke up the next morning to make coffee, only to find an empty gallon of milk I had left in the fridge. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! If you want to practice discipline as a leader, start with these disciplines in particular: your own.

2. Discipline is a double-edged sword and you must constantly sharpen both sides.

To clarify, in this scenario, I am not using the term "double-edged sword" in its traditional sense. I simply mean the word 'discipline' has multiple definitions (and the whole sword thing worked with the sharpen metaphor). First and foremost, a discipline is an action you do consistently to improve an area of your life. For example, a discipline I'm willing to bet every single one of our parents taught us growing up was to throw away the gallon of milk once it's empty. They taught us this discipline to help us develop a habit of cleaning up after ourselves, therefore creating some semblance of organization in the hurricane-esque world of a child.

The second way I define discipline is a value or virtue that is used to describe someone's character or way of living. I wrestled in high school (not like randomly in hallways and at as a sport on a team) and my least favorite part of that sport, but also the part I am most thankful for, was cutting weight. Let me explain. Any friend of mine that comes to my house will tell you my mom can cook. I mean that lady can COOK. Everything tastes amazing. One time she fed me chicken gizzards and I didn't even know it until she started laughing. I didn't say she was nice, I said she can cook. Anyway, you can imagine that starving myself to make weight wasn't an easy task. It took discipline. I remember eating one can of raw tuna fish with six flakes of pepper on it as my older brother devoured his baseball pitcher's "training" meal, which consisted of a rack of ribs, twice-baked potatoes, and pictures of the opposing team's cleanup hitter (the dude was weird, but successful). The point is, controlling what I consumed down to the number of ounces of water that went into my body required discipline. Four years of cutting weight for six months a year etched the word disciple on the stone of my character. It allowed me to master other disciplines in my life like reading daily, staying up on current events and habitually exercising; all of which helped me grow and develop even more as a person.

The problem is, that's gone now.

The second part of what I learned from reflecting on the laundry experience is that over the past few years, I have failed to sharpen my discipline sword. Habits like reading multiple books a month and keeping up with agricultural current events have been replaced by hours of scrolling through Instagram and playing puzzle games on my phone. Instead of making myself a meal at home like I used to every day for lunch, I drive to Taco Bell and pay $6.49 for a Cravings Box of refried beans and trash. Instead of being consistent in my journaling, prayer, and blogging, I binge Netflix and wander around the local Goodwill pretending to look at t-shirts from 5k’s I've never run. Shoot, I've even stopped throwing away the empty gallon of milk. One of the biggest compliments I have ever received came from my best friend's dad, Greg Wildhaber. He credited the success of a team I was on partly to my work ethic, publicly acclaiming my discipline and productivity. If I'm honest with myself, I don't think Greg would say those things about me now. Hard work plus consistency equals discipline. You can't just work hard every now and then, and you most definitely can't be consistently lazy, if you want to establish habits that lead to a disciplined lifestyle. Here are some questions I've started to ask myself daily to try and become a more disciplined person:

  • What habits are forming based on how I spend my time?

  • Are those habits creating a disciplined lifestyle? Or the opposite?

  • What do I need to stop doing to develop and maintain a character of discipline?

I'm at the point in life where I need to be consistently asking myself harder and harder questions, AND living up to what I want the answers to be. Maybe you're at that point too. 

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