When I was training in Toronto with Olaf Schneider, the first thing I noticed was how disciplined he was. Every day, without fail, Olaf takes a break from the canvas to go work out for an hour. He credits it with keeping his energy and focus levels high. After spending the week in his studio and accompanying him on these exercise expeditions, I would completely agree. I’d usually be soaked with sweat, and mentally complaining the entire time, but the endorphins and subsequent focus was worth the exertion.
Over the past three years, I have lost a fair amount of the discipline that I’d developed while living and working in Toronto. In the city, I worked a 9-5pm job, trained for a Half Ironman on the side, and maintained an anonymous personal finance blog that had started to gain some serious traction. I lost a minimum of an hour per day just to commuting, and yet somehow managed to squeeze everything in.
All of that changed when I went backpacking from April to July, 2013. For four months, I went wherever I wanted, stayed as long as I felt, and went through the slow and organic process of self-discovery through late nights, early mornings, and the cliché walks on the beach. There was no need for discipline. Instead, I just wandered.
Going back to school in North Bay after feeling the full weight of adulthood in the big city was exciting. Depending on my Bachelor of Education class schedule, I could sleep in, or simply do a few hours of school and head home to watch Game of Thrones. Of course, there were the 12 weeks I spent as a student teacher in Toronto, where I’d be out the door by 7am to get my hour-long commute underway, but when I returned to North Bay I’d relax into being a Lululemon-wearing, Tim’s-drinking student. I got my exercise by exploring nearby trails, but rarely visited the gym.
It got worse when I started my Master of Education. Despite being in the same city as my university, the entirety of my classes were online. I could’ve done my entire degree in my pyjamas and no one would’ve been the wiser. I allowed this to torpedo the last remaining dregs of my discipline; sure, I painted, but sometimes it was out of loneliness and boredom. I often felt unproductive and housebound, yet lacked the motivation to do anything about it.
Fast forward to now. I’m busier than I’ve been in a very long time. I am working both full and part time, and am being trained as a volunteer for the local sexual assault crisis centre. I’m in the final stages of preparing my studio space for use and teaching, and I’m healthier than I was when I was doing endurance sports, thanks to an improvement of diet and a renewed commitment to the gym and training. And even though I’m running around like a madwoman, I’m happy.
That’s right. I’m not chasing it. It’s not some weird, elusive state of being that will only be achieved when I obtain X material good, or have the Y experience, or Z happens in my career.
Sure, I have challenges in my work, and there are many days when I come home exhausted, cranky, and irritable. But I’m at peace with being a supply teacher for next year. I like the flexibility it offers and the opportunities I can create for myself when I’m not working. I’m excited about the possibilities that will evolve out of my new studio space. I’m optimistic about building a sustainable career as an artist. I delight in being able to volunteer and contribute to my community and its people. I like my apartment. I love my fiancé.
It’s not mindset alone. I’ve noticed that on the days that I drag myself out of bed early to hit the gym before spending 11 hours between my full time teaching job and part time piano teaching job, I have a higher degree of energy. If I was disciplined enough the night before, I’ll have my healthy lunch packed and ready to go. Between ensuring I’m eating healthy, exercising, sleeping enough, and mapping out everything I need in advance, I can essentially run on autopilot while also feeling like a boss for being able to accomplish so much in a day.
I feel happiest and the most satisfied when I’m accomplishing challenging tasks. I love the feeling of finishing a painting, or completing a race, or teaching a lesson that was out of my comfort zone. Basically, I like to spend as much time as possible fulfilling the upper echelons of both Bloom’s Taxonomy and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Funnily enough, before I got into the habit of being more disciplined, the bottom end of these pyramids completely disinterested me. Cooking for myself? Boring. Cleaning? Bah, I’ve got more important things to do. Even my friendships would tend to suffer; many of my friends can attest to my vanishing act that occurs whenever I get busy on projects. Now you see me, now you don’t.
I’m happy to say that I’m getting better at taking care of my basic needs. From a mechanical perspective, it simply makes sense to take care of the machine that’s carting your brain from place to place. But it isn’t easy to set aside time for basic body and relationship maintenance when there are other commitments constantly tapping your shoulder and demanding your attention. Who has time for healthy eating when you’re hauling butt to get from A to B? Just grab some take-out and mow down as quick as you can.
My housekeeping also isn’t nearly as strong as it could be; I frequently get frustrated by my less-than-sparkling home after a long day, but I often collapse into the couch and watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of fixing the problem. Never mind that an extra 10 minutes of tidying would make a world of difference on my mood when I woke up. Once I’m even more settled into my routines I’ll be working in designated housekeeping time. Being in a tidy home makes me happy. It’s worth investing the time in.
My commitments forced discipline back into a central role in my life, but my god, it’s been wonderful. I’m actively working on so many dreams at once; my dreams of having my own studio, my dream of being a teacher, my dream of being so fit that I could reasonably expect to join the cast of Buffy (nerd alert, but come on, who wouldn’t want to be a vampire slayer?!). If that means getting up early, extra meal planning, more trips to the gym, and ignoring that needling voice that whispers, wouldn’t it be more fun to just veg and watch Netflix? so be it. I have the exact same amount of hours in my day as so many of my heroes who are out there living the dream.
With discipline, I’ll keep living my dreams too.