The Dance Between Discipline & Self-Forgiveness

Recently I saw a successful female entrepreneur launch a program to help other entrepreneurs wanting to grow their businesses. I like this female entrepreneur for the way she talks about being a human, a woman, an entrepreneur. But in the launch of this program, she used one word that stood out from the others and that didn’t resonate with me.

That word was discipline.

She was promising that she was going to show the entrepreneurs in the program how to be more disciplined, among other things.

My reaction to this word was interesting because I consider discipline to be a very close and old companion. Discipline has been there with me from the youngest ages, when I was encouraged to show up to dance class even on my most tired and achy days.

Upon reflection, I realized that I am angry at discipline for the way it’s not always there for me. Discipline is there when I say I will get up at 7am every morning, but if I get up at 9am instead, discipline makes me feel guilty for how I woke up late. Or when I have a very productive day of work but don’t exercise like I had promised myself I would, discipline leaves me feeling like shit despite my good day of work.

Discipline is very hungry for attention, constantly tugging at my clothes, saying “Look at me, look at me, look at me!” But I realized that I’ve been turning my eyes away from him in the last few years.

I’m afraid to take discipline out of my life completely. I worry I would become a lazy bum without him. My dreams are even greater than before: I’m dreaming of touching people’s hearts and nurturing them at scale. How would I get there without discipline?

But I’ve had this growing sense that I don’t want him tugging at me all the time, especially when he’s not needed. And I’ve been noting that I work, even on my most “undisciplined” days. I work because there is an inherent reward in working. I work because I sleep better after a day of creating. I am burning with a desire to bring meaningful solutions to the world. Even when there seems to be no discipline around, I am advancing, at a fast speed, sometimes despite myself.

So I’ve been asking myself which other companions are needed. If I value getting as much sleep as I need, if I value accepting my humanity, if I don’t want to be stricken with guilt and shame when I fall short of my own extremely high standards, who else can I turn to?

And in came, self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness doesn’t demand my attention all the time; she isn’t annoying. She is there, sitting by the window, letting me know she will welcome me if I decide to talk her up.

When I do talk her up, she is shy at first. She knows she is new around here. She talks more with her soft eyes than her words. When she speaks, she says things like “It’s okay that you slept an additional two hours, maybe you needed it.” or “That day you didn’t exercise, I sensed that you were so deep into what you were writing that maybe you didn’t want to leave it?”

Self-forgiveness and I are becoming better friends as time goes by. When I get stuck, which is often, I am ignoring discipline and turning to her. We even gossip about discipline sometimes, rolling our eyes, pointing to how he loves bossing me around.

I don’t know if you had this as a kid, but my parents were often as different as black and white, and starting at a very young age, I knew which one to go to for which question. I’d get permission from my mom for an expensive school trip, and I’d tell my dad about my new boyfriend. Then I’d go to the other and say “But dad/mom approves?! Why don’t you approve?”

My swap between parents based on matters made my parents feel used and manipulated, but I was sure it was necessary for my survival. And I’m sure my dance between discipline and self-forgiveness today, some 20 years later, is just as necessary.

Discipline brings in the fire but is never enough on his own. I need self-forgiveness to come in and forgive me, as often as 10 times a day, so that I can continue without losing heart, and without losing speed.