Updated date:

Lessons of Discipline

Robert Odell has traveled and come in contact with various cultures, gaining invaluable life experiences along the way.


Discipline Is an Art

Discipline can be described as the ability to obey rules or an established code of behavior. This is done through training by an individual, training by an organized institution, or even by using punishment to correct disobedience. More importantly, discipline can be described as avoiding temporary gratification in order to secure a deeper, more meaningful, and extended reward at a later time. For that reason, discipline can be construed as an art of overcoming, in which, the main obstacle to overcome is one's self.

Inundated with Lessons

As a child growing up, I was inundated with lessons of discipline. My father, an Air force veteran, instilled the art of discipline into my younger siblings and me at an early age. The words “yes sir” and “yes ma’am” became the bedrock of every conversation with our parents, or any adult for that matter. As time went on, I discovered that discipline had a plethora of coaches, trainers, teachers, and drill sergeants; and valuable life lessons could be gleaned from each one.

Senior Privilege

In my last year of high school, due to senior privilege, I was the only student on our street that was still going to Westwood High. In order to satisfy a citywide desegregation amendment, all of the other students in the neighborhood had been bused to another school. In the mornings, all underclass teens, including my brother and sister, would get on the school bus, which stopped in front of our house. I, with trumpet case in one hand and a satchel full of books in the other, would start out walking to nearby Westwood High.

Terrible Ego Thrashing

I was surprised to discover that, at Westwood, in order to graduate, all students were required to take R.OT.C. (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) training. At the school in Arizona, where I transferred from, after the freshman year, the marching band fulfilled the requirement for R.O.T.C. The requirement for physical education was also fulfilled by marching band involvement. I tried desperately to explain to the counselors at Westwood that I had already met the requirement for R.O.T.C. It was to no avail. I definitely had to take first year R.O.T.C. Instantly I was demoted from a senior about to graduate status, to greenhorn freshman status. Needless to say, my ego endured a terrible thrashing. I ended up having to say “yes sir” and “no sir” to guys the same age as I was. It would not have seemed so bad if I were a freshman and those fellows were older than me.

Despite my bruised ego, the R.O.T.C. experience had positive consequences.

Despite my bruised ego, the R.O.T.C. experience had positive consequences.

Positive Consequences

Despite my bruised ego, positive consequences came about as a result of my participation in R.O.T.C. I learned that the art of discipline could lead to less stressful circumstances and greater rewards if used tactfully, not only with parents or adults, but also with anyone, no matter what the age, especially if they held a position superior to yours.

Because of the R.O.T.C. class and because I was not an extremely talkative individual, many students did not know if I was a freshman taking senior classes, or a senior doing something weird. The situation gave me an aura of mystery. In a way I kind of liked it. I ended up being in the R.O.T.C. band, which was lead by a classmate who was a senior. The bandleader turned out to be a good friend and stayed in contact with me for many years after we graduated.

First Job

Another lesson in the art of discipline came when I acquired my first form of employment. During the summer, right before my senior year, I started my very first job. It was at Big Star, a nearby grocery store. I remember my father taking me to the store and talking to the manager. Somehow my father always seemed to have the right connections. The manager asked me to start work that same week. Once hired, I usually worked on weekends and a few days during the week after school. During that time, I was earning the most money I had ever had in my life. Up until then, I was only used to having a few dollars every now and then. Suddenly, I was making more in an hour than I used to have in a week. I remember my brother jokingly say, “Are you going to frame the first dollar you make?”

One of my first responsibilities was to sweep the sidewalk, outside, in front of the store.

One of my first responsibilities was to sweep the sidewalk, outside, in front of the store.

Heed Requests

I was surprised at how easy the job was and how quickly I caught on to everything. Although I never did learn how to operate the cash register, I did learn to stock shelves, handle stock, bag grocery and many other miscellaneous things. One of my first responsibilities was to sweep the sidewalk, outside, in front of the store. The idea of sweeping outside seemed kind of silly to me. I could understand why you would want to sweep the inside but why the outside? When I stopped working there and noticed things lying around in an unsightly way in front of the store, I then understood why I had swept the outside. I realized that having the discipline to heed the requests of someone in charge would usually lead to good results in the end.

Temporary Sacrifice

For me, the job at the grocery store was a temporary sacrifice for a larger reward. I was learning to avoid the temporary gratification of not working at all in order to secure finances that could help me to achieve a deeper, more meaningful, and extended reward at a later time. I believed that, what I considered, my days of manual labor would not last very long. I thought that I would go to college, get a good degree, and end up working in a big air-conditioned office somewhere. I motivated myself even further by wanting to be rich and married by the time I reached thirty!

Saving Money

My father wanted my younger brother and me to learn to save and handle money. In order to do that, he opened up a savings account for us at First Tennessee Bank. We were told that we could put whatever we wanted in the account, but we had to split everything equally (interest and all). He also encouraged us to save something out of every check, that we earned, and to give our mother something out of every paycheck as well. That act of discipline taught me the benefits of sharing, responsibility, and that nothing in life is free. My father stated that if we were staying anywhere else we would have to pay rent. What I gave my mother was not a whole lot, but it did teach responsibility. That lesson proved to be a great help in life.

My father wanted my younger brother and me to learn to save and handle money.  In order to do that, he opened up a savings account for us at First Tennessee Bank.

My father wanted my younger brother and me to learn to save and handle money. In order to do that, he opened up a savings account for us at First Tennessee Bank.

My brother and I were amazed at how quickly our savings grew. I knew I was going to college and the job at Big Star was only temporary. Those thoughts helped me to have the discipline to keep going and stay in good spirits even when I did not feel like going to work.

Do What Is Right

Right before I went to college, and a little before my 18th birthday, my father took me downtown to register for The Selective Service System (some called it the draft). My father made it clear to me that I was to be a classified 1-H (student). He said if anything were to happen, I would be in the last group to go. My father, a twenty-year veteran, was taking his son to register. He had the discipline to do what was right at the time, even though he did not particularly like the thought of his son being in a situation that could lead to him going off to fight in a war.

To be honest, I was kind of waiting for that “long talk” that fathers and sons were supposed to have (I believe I got that idea from watching television shows like My Three Sons). Well, my father wasn’t the mushy type but he did have a look in his eyes. I believe the look said, “Son I am proud of you.” There was no “ long talk” but there was “that look.” Not long after that I was off to college. Another chapter in my life was about to begin and more lessons in the art of discipline would follow.

© 2019 Robert Odell Jr


Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on May 28, 2019:

Thank you Siyabonga. I am glad that you enjoyed the article. I believe that one of the reasons for our existence is to help our fellow man. I applaud your desire to learn and share good things with others.


Thank you Robert for this beautiful article , i enjoyed it the lesson is very helpful and fruitful if followed and practised. Discipline is one of the basics in any undertaking in life , you s have taught me and left me with something to think about and share with others. Thank you .

Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on May 27, 2019:

Thank you Elijah for reading the article and for sharing your experiences with discipline. Self-discipline is definitely one of the most important forms of discipline that we, on this earth, should constantly strive to cultivate.

Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on May 27, 2019:

Robert, There is another side to discipline, self-discipline, where one follows external discipling while always seeking to see the opposite side of it which sometimes cause one to break their punished and/or rewarded discipline. From a very early childhood, about 7, I desired to live as free as a deer therefore I needed to know what that required. For that I had to study the other animals.

However, I was never disciplined enough to say e money because I didn't believe animals needed money and at 74 I still am not money disciplined. As a working child since 8 or 9 years old I always used my money to benefit the family with just a scrapping for what I wanted.

I spent 5 years and 7 days in the Air Force, and was busted for disobeying a student leader while in Tech School to become an air craft mechanic. I made E-4 Sgt. but was discharged as an E-1.

After the military I worked many different jobs but once I learned them I needed something to learn so I was often changing jobs, some is less than a month. Finally went through what is called New Birth by Christians except I actually went through something I call a conception, almost 3 years of gestating and finally giving up everything to become a wondering nomad where I finally learned self-discipline.

What this life has taught me, including looking back at the punishments I obtained as a child, is self-discipline requires one to never reject the desired nor the undesired but accept them both equally. That I've found were the teachings of all sages, the Christ, the Buddha and all others who supposed to have ascended. MLK was one who didn't ascend as well and John the Baptizer but they were still willing to accepts the desired as well as the undesired. So, think on these things, they may b come useful someday soon.

Related Articles