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Citizen Lars

Tap-Dancing Discipline


The dust-covered tap-dancing trophy on my desk is a reminder.
You should never give up except when you should quit.
Let me explain.

When I was eight, my friend began tap-dancing lessons.
I suspect he was drafted because his sister was taking ballet.
Somehow, I got drafted too.
Our parents conspired to store all the kids in one place.
Anyway, I didn’t enjoy it and was relieved after our final recital.

They gave my friend a trophy, but not me. I wanted one, too.
I needed perfect attendance, yet I had missed one class, the first.
No misses while signed up, but because I joined one class late, too bad.
Damn it.

I signed on for another round.

My final recital climaxed with a somersault.
I rolled and jumped into a split-like touch-the-toes-mid-air move.
Solo. No big deal.

I got my trophy and promptly quit tap-dancing for life.
I keep it as a reminder: persistence and discipline always win.
Never give up! Right?

Not so fast.
In the years since I’ve learned discipline requires a little soft-shoe.

During college, my discipline was a hindrance.
I knew I hated attending classes.
But I kept trying, tweaking my courses, adjusting majors, transferring around.
I knew I didn’t want any part of it.
As in burning with a desire to leave.
As in overjoyed when I finally bailed.

Discipline, determination, and persistence are useful but can be abused.
Those traits help you get to work, even when you don’t want to.
But it can be dangerous to ignore your desires, to tell your heart to be quiet.
You may end up powering through an activity you don’t like and don’t need.

We shouldn’t avoid a task that requires effort or must be done.
But if we dread doing it, that’s a sign.
We need to scrutinize that friction.
Is it time to give up, or stay focused on the greater goal?
Must we continue? Is there another way?
How badly do we want or need the end result?

The fix is knowing yourself.
Never give up.
But sometimes it’s okay to quit.