Chapter 1: Determination
“Determination is doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t feel like doing it.” That quote, by an unknown author, describes my life’s philosophy to a T. Of the eight principles we talk about in this book, determination is the one that has propelled me—and will propel you—the farthest. In fact, it is the one that fuels all the others. Determination is the only thing that will keep you going when life gets in the way and you want to give up. The drive to keep going even when you don’t feel like it is the one thing that will push you all the way to achieve the things you’ve dreamed of achieving.
One of the most crucial elements of determination is daily discipline. It’s about establishing good, solid habits you practice every day that enable you to be more efficient and productive. Daily discipline can apply to a skill you want to excel at or a task you want to master, and it involves thinking as well as doing.
Let me give you an example: When I was in junior high school, I started playing the saxophone for both the jazz band and the regular band, and I loved it. I didn’t want to just be really good; I wanted to be awesome and I wanted to master it. I knew that meant I had to practice every day, no matter what. So I received permission to take my saxophone home on the weekends to practice. Now, I was playing the tenor saxophone, which must have weighed a good ten pounds, with the case, and at 12 years old I was only about 4’6”! Believe me, it took discipline to carry that thing home and back every weekend, especially in the rain, snow, sleet, and cold in New York. I wasn’t required to do it. I could have skipped a weekend, or I could have taken it home and not practiced. It would have been so easy to give up, or to be satisfied with being “good enough.” But all of that discipline is what earned me the opportunity to participate in the Brooklyn Borough-Wide Band and to perform at Carnegie Hall. It’s what got me accepted into the New York High School of Performing Arts as an instrumental major. (We’ll talk more about that later.) Just being “good” might not have been enough to achieve that. Determination and discipline do matter!
Here’s another example. In one of my positions, I was responsible for overseeing product development for a global market. I wasn’t satisfied with just learning whether a product was right for the marketplace, which meant I needed to understand the competitive landscape, what the product’s benefits and features were, and why it was going to be beneficial to a customer and to the company. I wanted to know down to every detail what went into the formula, what role each ingredient played, and how it was tested. To me, it was about learning more so I could participate in and contribute to conversations with Research and Development and with the regulatory agencies in each country so we could get the product approved by the government. I also wanted to learn all I could because I was responsible for preparing the training materials and training the consultants and corporate trainers in each country. I could have settled for knowing just enough, but I wanted to know more than enough. I wanted to be prepared. What about you? Can you think of times when discipline paid off for you and better prepared you for a meeting, to make a critical decision, or to advance to a higher level?
Discipline really is about being prepared for the unknown and the unexpected, and that links back to fear. Many people are afraid they’ll get asked a question they can’t answer. But if you’ve had the daily discipline to continuously learn about the things you’re most unfamiliar with, then you are prepared to answer more questions, and chances are you’ll know how to find any answers you don’t have right away. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert or know everything. It does mean your preparation makes you less afraid of the unknown and the “what if’s.”
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Fear can be a huge obstacle to practicing daily discipline and not settling for just enough. You have to always be open to pushing past your fear. When you’re sitting in a room with experts, for example, sometimes the fear of asking a “dumb” question and looking incompetent is an inhibitor to learning more. And sometimes you settle for enough because you’ve convinced yourself it is enough. Can you recall occasions when you could have benefited from knowing just a little bit more?
I have to practice discipline every day. I work in a unique environment where I travel a lot, and my family has chosen to live on the West Coast while my corporate headquarters is on the East Coast. So I have made the decision to work East-Coast business hours. I have all my staff meetings at eight o’clock a.m. East-Coast time, which is five o’clock a.m. West-Coast time. Every morning I get fully dressed, including doing my hair and makeup, before 5 a.m. It would often be easy to say, “I’m tired; it’s too early,” or “I’ll just push all my meetings to later in the day.” But I don’t because I understand how important this daily discipline is. When you’ve made a choice to be disciplined about developing yourself, leading by example, and giving to yourself, you can then give back to your family and to your world. Once you’ve exercised those discipline muscles, it doesn’t hurt as much when you stretch them to give back to others.
Have you ever been given an assignment for a new role or task, or been promoted to a position you’re unfamiliar with? Practicing discipline and having the grit and determination to push through your fear of not knowing, and then figuring out what you don’t know and learning it will make you better at your job. You’ll have a bigger voice when you’re contributing in those conversations and decisions. It will amplify your impact. Ultimately, the work product or service you’re delivering will be of better quality and more effective, and it will have a more positive, lasting outcome. It starts with you.
Honestly, sometimes we have to learn things may not seem important at the time, or that we don’t think we need to know. I hated science and math in school, and yet the irony is that I ended up going to a specialized high school for science and math. In New York City, there are three such high schools where you can test for acceptance as an alternative to going to your neighborhood school. We lived in a pretty low-income, impoverished area, and my parents really wanted me to go to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, which was home to the specialized math and science curriculum. Stuyvesant not only offered academic excellence; it was also the hardest of the three schools to be admitted to. Of course, there was also the prestige it offered, because Stuyvesant was considered the number one public high school in New York. In fact, today it’s still ranked third among all high schools in the entire country, including private schools. All high-school-bound students living in New York City were eligible to take the entrance exam, and there were literally thousands trying to fill just shy of 200 spots at the time. I got into Stuyvesant, but I had to work hard with dogged persistence at those science and math exercises, along with other subjects!
To prepare for the entrance exam, I studied and took practice tests with a few of my friends from junior high school. Out of the entire junior high, we were the only four that were accepted. But I also loved performing, and I also applied to get into the High School of Performing Arts. And out of my entire junior high school, I was the only one who was accepted into that specialized school. Remember the original version of the movie Fame? Yes, the audition experience was very much like that! I was accepted for drama, vocal, and instrumental. I attribute that to my discipline to practice the saxophone on my own. In place of drama lessons, I borrowed books from the library for monologues and practiced that, as well. Singing was my passion, but I never had formal vocal training. I would record myself on cassette tape, listen to it, and critique myself; then I would correct things that didn’t sound right and practice it over and over again. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I knew I could learn; I knew I could try to be better every time. I wanted to be as prepared as I could be.
I really wanted to go to the High School of Performing Arts, but my parents sent me to Stuyvesant for math and science. It was the more practical choice. I was still determined to find ways to do what I loved, so I sang in both the gospel choir and the Renaissance choir, and I was in every musical—all while attending the most academically-challenging public high school in the city! I refused to settle for less.
I think settling for anything is an enemy to determination. Often, settling is resigning yourself to accept the circumstances despite your discontent. There’s nothing wrong with being happy where you are, and there’s nothing wrong with being content or being grateful. So when I say, “Don’t settle” please don’t think I want you to be obnoxious or materialistic. Settling, to me, is a sign that in your heart you’ve almost given in and maybe given up.
For instance, you may be in a job where you’re not really happy, but it pays the bills. You don’t really feel emotionally stimulated. You’re not getting the development or the mentorship you wish you had. Or worse, maybe you’re in a toxic environment where you’re not respected or not being utilized for your skills and strengths. You may even be in an environment where the people you work with are not a collaborative team and everyone is out for themselves. But you stay because you think, This is the best I can do. I have a good job with a good company, and it looks good on my resume. Having a good job or a fancy job title with a good company are great things, but you’ve settled. I’ve worked with women who have accepted that and said, This is my life; I might as well give in to it. This is the way it is. In many cases, it really isn’t. Just because you’ve hit a wall, it doesn’t have to be the end.
It takes a lot of inner strength to not be afraid of wanting more. Wanting more doesn’t always have to be materialistic, as people often assume. Wanting more can represent quality of life or room to grow. Wanting more might be time to nurture others. So “more” has to be clearly defined for each individual. Settling is resigning yourself to a situation, to a circumstance, or to a state of being that can lead to giving in and, sadly, giving up.
The great Olympic legend Jesse Owens once said, “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” We have a lot of big dreamers in our Princess House sales force who exhibit just that kind of determination to make their dreams become reality. Recently, I saw on our company Facebook page a post written by Jennifer Arrington, a new Consultant who lives in Florida. Jennifer had just joined the company, and her recruiter and Leader shared my national convention challenge from a week prior: “Let’s go out there and build our nationwide team to 30,000 strong!” She posted a video message: “I wanted to chime in with the challenge and I do accept. I’m looking forward to where my business is going to go.” She recorded and posted this video from the hospital, with an IV pole, while receiving chemo! I welled up with emotion and I called her a few days later to thank her for her courage and determination. Here’s a woman who is determined to keep moving on with life! She wanted to start her own business, and she didn’t let cancer be a reason to wait. I don’t think she was motivated just by the Princess House opportunity. It had to do with the fact that she was determined to live her life!
I recently became aware of yet another resilient woman, Violeta Solorzano, from Oakland, California, who has been with us for eight months and who is battling breast cancer. In spite of her illness, she’s been active every single month and has recruited five people to build her business! These two women exemplify the courage and determination it takes to move forward and make their dreams a reality in the face of fear and the unpredictable road ahead.
How about you?
Are you working to establish determination as part of your character and life? If so, let me suggest that you commit to these four things:
1. Be intentional about making daily discipline a priority in your life.
Write down the things you must practice over and over again to master.
2. Don’t settle for “enough.”
Identify, visualize, and write down what you want “more” of.
3. Push yourself to learn and grow.
What are you afraid to do or fear someone may ask of you? If it’s something you know would positively improve your professional and personal development, commit to learning it and develop a plan with measurable steps to do so.