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GrattitudePracticing Contagious Optimism for Positive Change
By Ace Collins
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Andrew Collins
All right reserved.
Self-discipline is one of life's most vital grattitudes. It is what we need to push us all the way to our goals, and not merely partway. The mountain climber doesn't quit until he is standing on the peak, where he forgets the struggle and danger of the climb. The marathoner pushes through the wall at the twenty-mile mark. The writer works until she can write, "The End." Disciplined individuals don't sacrifice their principles or cut corners when pursuing a goal. They finish the job and do it right. And because of their self-discipline, they don't just reach their potential; they exceed it!
Barbara Mandrell is a now legendary name in the world of entertainment, but she was just another up-and-coming wannabe when I saw her onstage for the first time in 1975. At that point, she had only two Top 10 records and no signature hits. When I purchased the ticket to that show, I wanted to see the headline act-the Statler Brothers. Yet within ten minutes of Barbara taking the stage as the opening act, I was blown away. I had never seen a performer as skilled as this tiny blonde. I expected her to sing, and she did that well, but she did so much more. She played every instrument on the stage and performed with such incredible energy, I came to the conclusion that she must have swallowed a tornado, because she was a whirlwind of rare energy. I told my new bride, "Can you imagine how long it took to refine those skills and develop this show?" I may not have known much about Barbara when I walked into the auditorium, but she had my admiration and respect when I walked out. I also couldn't wait to see her work again.
That first night I caught Barbara, she was just one of a score of pretty new faces with good voices trying to make their mark in country music, but within three years, while the others had faded into the background, she would be the defining image for an entire industry. How could someone who was still in her twenties emerge as one of the most consummate entertainers in the history of show business? Well, I can guarantee you this: luck had nothing to do with it. Barbara stood out as something new and fresh because she embraced self-discipline.
More than most people I have known, Barbara Mandrell fully understood the price of reaching her goal, and she had the self-discipline to get her there. The spark was born as she took full advantage of her parents' music store in the community of Oceanside, California. As a girl, Barbara met several well-known performers who came into the Mandrell store to purchase supplies. She listened to their stories and began to understand how much joy they received through the art of entertainment. Their tales of spotlights and stage thrilled her. She also heard these men and women talk about their hours and hours in recording studios and years spent honing their skills. Other kids might have taken these stories and been inspired to spend a few months in music lessons, but for most the practice time would have eventually tempered their dreams of fame. Yet for Barbara, who was already focused on winning every race on the playground and every contest in school, the price wasn't too scary. Even as a preteen, she saw the big picture.
Seeing the big picture is essentially the beginning of being self-disciplined and is what keeps you focused on the daily work of improving your skills. What makes one able to reach one's goal is coming to the full understanding that the little daily steps that must be taken. In Barbara's case, these small steps consisted of learning something new each day on a musical instrument. It might have been as simple as a riff, chord, or song, but moving forward each day, accomplishing small goals, was vital to reaching the big goal. So while others her age spent hours with their dolls or toys, day by day and step by step, over several years, Barbara learned how to play everything from the accordion to the steel guitar. And she just didn't learn a song or two; she drove herself to master each of those instruments.
The practice paid off, and by junior high Barbara was wowing audiences up and down the West Coast while appearing on shows that starred the icons of the age, including Red Foley and Johnny Cash. She was even featured on a West Coast television show. Fans recognized her talent, but musicians were amazed at her desire to push forward, to learn more, and to spend long hours practicing.
Self-discipline is often derailed by roadblocks, which can create insecurity, frustration, and fear. In Barbara's case, the giant roadblock landed in her path when she was just fourteen. She had been working a series of dates with country music legend Patsy Cline, who had become a second mother to her. The young performer idolized the superstar singer. After a show in Kansas City, Barbara left the tour to go back home with her parents. At about the same time, Patsy got on a plane that crashed, killing all on board. Would Barbara remain engaged in her work after losing someone who had become so close to her? Would she now choose to forgo the daily grind of practice that took her away from friends and play? Would the price Patsy paid in pursuit of her dream cause Barbara to refocus, concentrating on something other than the big picture?
Barbara never forgot the woman whom she considered a mentor, but she also didn't allow Patsy's death to stifle her own dreams. She continued to practice, continued to play dates in small venues and in front of small crowds. And, most important, thanks to her self-discipline, Barbara continued to push herself to get better each day.
More than her great voice and good looks, it was her expertise on a dozen different instruments that made her a star while she was still so young. Yet even as she began to build a legion of fans who came out to marvel at her playing everything from steel guitar to saxophone, she pushed to grow. She added new skills, such as dance and comedy. In a very real way, she was having the same kind of game-changing impact on the world of music and what was expected of entertainers in that field as Michael Jordan would soon have on the world of basketball. And both owed their success to their remarkable self-discipline.
Bowled over by her talents displayed during her live stage performances, NBC offered Barbara a chance to headline her own TV series. Strangely, it almost didn't happen.
The grattitude of true self-discipline involves more than just sacrifice. It also embraces values. Those who are doing things the right way don't cut corners or short-change their principles. They cling to their core beliefs. Barbara had always performed gospel music in her live concerts so that others could see faith in action. When the network and producers balked at her ending her television shows with gospel music, Barbara didn't trade her values for money or additional fame. She washed her hands of the deal and walked away. The powers that be called her back and allowed the religious music to be aired.
Like everything else she had done, Barbara's NBC series was a huge success-due mainly to her self-discipline. She constantly devoted extra hours each week to assure that every program in her series would reflect the same quality, energy, and values as her live performances. Her hard work was rewarded by great ratings and a loyal audience.
"The Sweetheart of Saturday Night" was on top of the world in 1984 when an auto accident nearly took her life. Her head and leg injuries were so severe that many feared she would not live through the first few days in the ICU. Certainly, most predicted she would never perform again. Yet the same drive that had made her a star drove her to overcome her injuries, and Barbara was back on the stage within a year, playing, singing, and-most remarkably-dancing. The steps on that journey were often painful, but the rewards made the pain worthwhile. And she did this by once again embracing the grattitude of self-discipline.
Though barely five feet tall, today the blue-eyed blonde stands as a musical giant who literally transformed an industry. At a time when almost every female act in the world was known as a "girl singer," she became the nation's most gifted live-stage entertainer. She sang, danced, and played a dozen different instruments. Her energy and charisma inspired a legion of young women, not just in music but in all fields. Her drive was embraced, and her vision of pushing the boundaries beyond one genre of music would pave the way for careers as varied as those of Alison Krauss, Shania Twain, and Reba McEntire. The winner of every major musical award from Grammy to Country Music Entertainer of the Year to People's Choice, almost a generation after her retirement from show business, she remains one of the most respected and revered names in the entertainment world. What made Barbara a star? In large part, it was a grattitude she embraced very early in her career-self-discipline.
Barbara demonstrates that hard work is a small price to pay for achieving an important goal. Yet for Barbara, it was never about selfish desires for fame and fortune. It was a calling. And even as she climbed to the top, Barbara bent down to lift others up. She helped other people with similar injuries recover and thrive, volunteering her time, energy, and talents. And maybe most important, by finding her own potential through her daily push to constantly improve her already incredible skills, she inspired a generation of others to follow in her example and brought great joy to millions who enjoyed her enthusiastic performances. Barbara's story tosses a bright spotlight on self-discipline and proves that this grattitude provides rewards that, when shared, make the world-and ourselves-better and brighter.
Giving Up Temptations
When I was growing up in the small, prairie community of Royal, Illinois, I had a friend, Rick Schmidt, who was tall and bright. Rick was the son of a farmer, and he was raised understanding the price and rewards of putting out effort. The Schmidt family always worked together as a team. Rick was driving a tractor and hauling hay when he was still in elementary school. He even got a city boy like me involved from time to time. Each summer, he and I were paid to cut weeds out of soybeans or bail hay. These tasks required such great effort in the hot sun that when the day was over, most of us couldn't wait to rest. I remember heading back to my house, eating supper, and spending the night lying on our couch, watching television.
Not Rick, though. As soon as the work was finished, he'd head out to the barn to give several more hours to something he dearly loved. Even on the darkest, coldest days of winter, Rick was in that barn, wearing layers of clothes, developing spin moves, fadeaway jump shots, and reverse layups. His dream was all about basketball. During these same days, most of the rest of us were inside our warm homes, spending hours involved with endeavors that had little to do with dreams or the big picture.
Without his glasses, Rick was literally blind. He also lacked speed and grace. Yet in spite of these shortcomings, or maybe because of them, he pushed each day to get better. He asked questions about the game. He sought out advice from those who understood each of the fundamental skills needed to master the game he loved. And then he worked and worked and worked. What was his driving force? What was the big picture he saw that the rest of us missed?
Rick wanted to play basketball at the highest level. That wasn't really unique. What midwestern farm kid doesn't share that dream? I spent hours thinking about making the winning basket in a big college game, but unlike others, Rick put feet to his dreams. Those feet would push him to achieving a complete focus on self-improvement. So while I shot a hundred shots a day working on my game, Rick made twice that many. He worked just as hard on ballhandling, moves around the basket, and positioning for rebounding. Rick fully grasped at an early age what few ever understand: luck doesn't really play into living dreams; rather, hard work paves the way to reaching them.
So when our high school careers were over and our tassels switched to the other side at graduation, most of us headed off to college knowing a great deal about sitcom plots. After all, we had spent many hours studying them while Rick was in the barn honing his basketball skills. Meanwhile Rick was rewarded with a full basketball scholarship to the University of Illinois, where he became a star. He would even be drafted into the American Basketball Association.
Yet Rick's success didn't stop on the court. His years spent in the barn working on his game paid off in an even bigger way. Because of his proven self-discipline, he was given a chance to work at a successful firm when his basketball career ended. His self-discipline there led to his becoming a wealthy man. And he took some of those earnings and endowed a scholarship at the University of Illinois in the name of the two hardworking, self-disciplined men who had inspired his efforts. One was his father, and the other was his first coach.
Barbara Mandrell and Rick Schmidt are role models for self-discipline. They didn't just dream dreams; they put into motion a plan to achieve those dreams. Like a runner training for a marathon, they gave up short-term enjoyment with the hope of achieving something they deemed very special. Living their dreams did more than set them apart from their peers; it also inspired countless others to follow in their paths, to give everything they had to live their dreams. And beyond just living their dreams and selfishly enjoying the fruits of their labors, Barbara and Rick then used their earnings and fame to reward others who embraced the same grattitude that had brought them incredible success.
A Musical Note
The church I attended as a teen in Muncie, Illinois, is the kind of church you would expect to be a product of the Farm Belt. The members are hardworking folks who pull their livelihoods from the land. Hence, as a group they understand self-discipline as well as any people I know. If they don't stay focused, they can't make a living.
When I was in high school, I had a church music director named Marion Minser. He worked hard to provide for his wife and two daughters, and he loved his job, but his real passion was music. Yet this slightly built, dark-haired man had never had a day of musical training. He couldn't read a single note from a songbook. He didn't even play a musical instrument. Thus, while a normal director would spend a few moments going over a new piece of music to learn it, Marion would devote days to this same task.
To get ready for each rehearsal, Marion, who sang by ear, had to first memorize all the parts of the choral specials-something that required hours of practice and took away a great deal of his personal time. Once he had memorized the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass lines, he had to teach all those parts to a volunteer choir that was often musically challenged. Week after week, Marion had to find a way to create a joyful noise from mouths that often could barely carry a tune. Year after year Marion persisted, and the music he created blessed thousands. All that time, he provided his services for free, giving his full effort in order to provide our church with a more beautiful worship experience. He never complained about the work. Never lamented giving up hours of his free time each week. And the smile on his face after each of our specials proved to me that Marion received a deep gratitude from his job. Yet his self-discipline used for his volunteer job was just the beginning of this man's devotion to what he felt was a calling.
During the week, Marion worked as a television repairman. He was always sensitive to any customer who couldn't afford to pay, and he reduced the cost of his labor. Thus, thanks in large part to the services he literally gave away and the time he spent working on his nonpaying job at church, Marion and his family lived in a very small home. As the state of their house deteriorated and the family grew, they faced a need for another bedroom and a more modern kitchen. Marion borrowed the funds to build the addition. Around the same time, our church was meeting in a school and working to raise the money to build a new facility. After much prayer, Marion gave the money for his home addition to the church building fund. Like the hours he gave to the choir, this was a sacrifice he wanted to make for the sake of something he believed was greater in value. Something he felt called to do. A dream that he saw was worth his sacrifice.
Excerpted from Grattitude by Ace Collins Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Collins. Excerpted by permission.
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