Discipline = Freedom

“Don’t rely on motivation; rely on discipline.”
-Jocko Willink

When I moved to Uganda in 2013, Hope Smiles Uganda was a newborn, newly thrust into the world. Not really able to do much… Dependent on others for the resources we needed to survive…. Everyday our senses were overwhelmed in every direction… We’re all familiar with newborns, right?

Now we’re like a 6-year-old. Able to do some cool stuff: walk around, learn new things, help around the house. Our parents may even rightfully brag about us on Facebook or Instagram. Likewise, we as a clinic have done—and continue to do—some pretty awesome work. We’ve seen lives transformed. But no one will confuse a 6-year-old with a full grown adult.

So the question becomes: How do we continue our maturation?

Our weekly leadership meetings over the past year have centered around the study of the book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. This book introduced a concept to our team that’s allowed us to chase after our vision with focus and purpose. That concept?

Discipline equals freedom.

Practically, this integrates into our daily lives and work in a few ways: We no longer rely on motivation to drive our work. Anyone who knows me knows I love giving motivational speeches. I’ve seen Rockyat least 100 times. I watched Friday Night Lights to decompress after finals in dental school. The downside of relying on bursts of motivation to drive ahead is that those bursts, by definition, go away. They propel us, then we stall out. Discipline, on the other hand, is a faithful friend. Armed with discipline, we enjoy when we feel motivated, but we don’t use its absence as an excuse to give anything less than our best.

Discipline allows us to lean on our habits and commitments to drive what we do. Everyone on our team has committed to increasing access to quality, compassionate dental care that transforms lives. Therefore, we rely on discipline to drive our thoughts, work habits, and heart movements to honor that commitment. We still enjoy motivation, but we lean on discipline. It keeps us moving along the path.

Discipline allows us to keep “the main thing the main thing.” Discipline manifests itself in different ways based on the experience level of each of our team members. For example, we have hired 3 new dental assistants in the past month. They need to rely on disciplined work habits to learn the names and locations of the instruments, the steps of each procedure, morning routines, and end-of-day routines. There is no other way—there is simply too much to learn! Discipline leads us to practice… and practice… and practice…which gives us the gift of skill… which allows us to unleash that skill to create transformation in the lives of our patients! No discipline, no skill, no transformation.

Meanwhile our more experienced team members are familiar with all of the basics. They don’t need to study to perform. However, they now help train our newest team members.  This takes a tremendous heart and soul discipline in remembering why we are here. Our new team members will struggle. We may (actually, we will) experience frustration as we review a fundamental we have already gone over with our fresh-faced teammate at least a dozen times! Discipline as a leader means equipping the next generation with our core values to drive the learning process, because without this next generation our vision will not be accomplished. We cannot do this alone.

Through it all, this discipline weaves our vision more deeply into the fabric of our hearts. It sustains us. It drives us closer and deeper to the love that created Hope Smiles in the first place—the love that God showed us on the cross. Sacrifice. Grace. Mercy. Using what we’ve been given to play our small role in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

That’s what we seek to share with our patients—a disciplined focus on the transformational glory of God’s love for us.

Gradi Ellis