As far as career and lifestyle go, there is seemingly little overlap between my family and I. My Granddad and Dad live in Philadelphia and sell pots; I live in New York City and write and perform comedy.
My Granddad and Dad did not get into the pot business because of their insatiable passion for garden accents; they sold pots because they needed to take care of their families. And that’s a big difference between us: I write and perform because it is what I love to do. But that difference is exactly why they worked so hard in the first place.
When the Nazis stormed into my grandfather’s town in Italy, he and his family had to live in a hole. He eventually scraped together enough money to go to America. He escaped to Ellis Island, changed his name and became a carpenter.
He later joined the army. He met my grandmother. He built his house with his own hands. He worked as a janitor. Then he sold pots.
He worked seven days a week. He worked at night. He had four children. They all went to college. Then his son, my father, met my mother, and they both worked day and night to make life for my sister and me wonderful. It was. And I am very lucky and very grateful.
Our families worked incredibly hard so that we could have better lives, so that we could pursue whatever paths we wanted. And since they provided the opportunity to dream, we have an obligation to try and make that dream come true. It is our duty to do everything in our power to uphold our ends of that bargain.
So yes, now I get to try to be a writer and performer. And you get to try to be a doctor, or a painter, or own your own store. And we are trying to keep our dreams alive just like our families wanted. And we will keep that dream alive, and we will make our ancestors proud, and we are going to achieve this through discipline.
You are going to be disciplined.
Our families were able to provide for us not because they were magical. They didn’t keep stumbling by accident into greater and greater opportunities. The people who came before us were people of rigorous discipline. The discipline of getting out of bed earlier than they wanted, working longer than they wanted, sticking to a plan.
Many people in our generation reap the rewards of the previous generation’s work with no intention of fulfilling their ends of the bargain.
Many are given gifts and choose to throw them away. Some people in our generation have been given a key but will never know what door it opens because they choose to forget the lessons of the people who came before them. They forget the power of discipline.
Do not waste this chance. What a stupid, spoiled position to take. Start working.
You are going to follow through.
When you say you are going to do something, do it. Follow it through till the end, to the best of your abilities.
You might stumble, encounter roadblocks or think there’s no way to carry on. But that’s all part of the learning process; that’s all part of getting better and growing stronger. Being able to follow things through till the end is a quality that few possess, but there is nothing as rewarding as actually accomplishing your goals.
So if you say you’re going to start saving money, start saving money. If you say you are going to write a play, write a play. Don’t tell people you’re going to do something if you have no desire to follow through.
You are going to form habits.
In order to follow through, you are going to need to create habits. You need to make discipline part of your muscle memory. Work at your goal every day.
And don’t be afraid to start small. Set achievable goals that you can accomplish. Do not set yourself up for failure.
Let's use reading as an example: You set a goal of reading a book every week this year. Out of the gate, you’ve set yourself up for disaster because you can’t go from zero to 100. And if you stumble coming out of the gate, you are more liable to give up.
Start by saying you are going to read 20 pages every day. Do it every day for a week. Then a month. Then two months. After you’ve created the habit, slowly increase the page count. Then one day, yes, maybe you will read a book a week. Can you imagine?
You are going to make sacrifices.
In order to achieve your goal, you are going to make some decisions that are not always the most fun. But you said you are going to do something, so now you are going to follow through.
You are going to have to wake up earlier. You are going to have to go to sleep later. You won’t be able to go to every party. You won't be able to attend every event. If you want to achieve your goal, you’re going to have to make sacrifices. For years.
I’m not suggesting you miss your sister’s wedding. I’m suggesting that not every Friday night requires going out, and not every Sunday requires brunch, and not every birthday party needs to be attended.
You are going to be prepared.
People want to do as little work as possible. Set yourself apart by being more prepared than anyone else. When your teacher in middle school told you the project was optional, and you didn’t do it, that was fine because that was middle school. Your dreams are not middle school. Get serious.
Put your best foot forward. For instance, when you have a meeting, you can set yourself apart by being more thoroughly prepared than the others. Have your ideas written down; be able to explain your ideas clearly (because you spent time prepping them).
The small things matter, so don’t be afraid to be impressive. You are impressive! No reason to live the world of low expectations because others people live there. Why wouldn’t you want to be your best self?
You are going to do great.
Discipline is a wonderful trait to have. It’s not always the easiest characteristic to develop, but it is the most rewarding. I am not suggesting you become a work zombie shackled to your desk. I’m not suggesting you never watch a movie.
I’m suggesting that if you’ve been given the gift of being able to follow your dreams, you have an obligation to try to achieve those dreams. Your goals should be approached with fastidiousness and dedication. Your discipline should validate the sacrifices of those who came before you.
So go for it. Get to work.