When addressing troops during Operation Desert Storm, General Normal Schwarzkopf made an iconic statement: “Shined shoes save lives.”
In making that statement Gen. Schwarzkopf was not referring to the military requirement of perfection in appearance, but rather to the indisputable need for the unwavering discipline necessary to develop habits void of exceptions.
Revered by many as being one of the greatest military generals of all time, Norman Schwarzkopf was legendary for the enormously high standards he imposed on all, while always holding himself to an even higher standard.
His statement, “shined shoes save lives” was his way of convincing his troops that the unblinking discipline necessary to never go out without ensuring your shoes are shined is the same discipline needed to master the rigors of training so that in times of battle you will not forfeit your life to a careless mistake.
Everyday life allows us the opportunity to correct our mistakes, but in war there are no second chances.
I have always defined discipline to mean doing what we know we should be doing when we really don’t feel like doing it, or not doing what we know we shouldn’t be doing when we really feel like doing it. General Schwartzkopf’s powerful quote is a forceful reminder that strict discipline leaves us being better prepared. As the Scouts tell us, “Be Prepared” is a lifelong investment that yields great returns.
Let’s be honest, we have all mastered discipline. It’s just that sometimes the “mastery” means repeatedly not doing what we know we should be doing because we just don’t feel like doing it. Or conversely, doing what we know we shouldn’t be doing for the simple reason that it gives us some form of instant gratification.
General Schwarzkopf’s words remind me of a conversation many years ago with a man who weighed over 500 pounds. He had struggled with his weight for as long as he could remember and was asking for help.
When I asked him how he had found himself in his current circumstances, he looked at me with the saddest smile I have ever seen, and with the most self-deprecating tone I have ever heard, said, “discipline.”
It’s About Keeping Your Word
Always shining your shoes means keeping every promise and commitment you have ever made to yourself and repeatedly pushing yourself harder and further than ever before regardless of the temporary pain and discomfort this brings.
It means never allowing your emotions to get in the way of your greatness and it means that you fully understand that each and every time you make an exception, each and every time you skip doing what you have committed to do and each and every time you delude yourself into thinking you will make it up tomorrow, you are training yourself for the next exception, and then the one after it.
It takes courage to push through pain and courage is the forerunner to discipline.
If, as Rudyard Kipling told us, “you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …”
And if you vow to never again let yourself down
And if you never leave home with your shoes unshined.
You will have made General Schwarzkopf proud.
And yourself even prouder.
Till we read again.