I have two beautiful sons and instilling a healthy work ethic in them has become my life's obsession. Both of my boys, like most children, are real active and love sports. They have played t-ball, baseball and basketball. A couple of years ago, they decided that they wanted to start Taekwondo.
Many of their friends were taking lessons and it intrigued them. The difference between most sports and karate is that most sports are played during a finite season, with a beginning and clearly visible and reachable finish.
However, karate has many features different levels of achievement, which are denoted by belt color. The amount of time to attain a new level is dependent on the commitment and progress of the individual. So, when I gave my boys the go-ahead, it came with a stern caveat that they would not be allowed to quit until they'd reached highest level: the black belt.
In traditional karate, the belt and its color have significant meaning. The karate belt's color indicates the rank of the person wearing it. Karate belt colors tend to progress from lightest to darkest, with white as the almost universal starting color, and either red or black being the final belt. In Taekwondo, a common belt progression is white, yellow, green, blue, red, and black, with different "degrees" demarking achievements betweens belts.
So we explained to our sons that starting karate meant a pledge to earn a black belt-which is a minimum two-year commitment. At the age of five, two years is over 40% of your time on earth! But they both agreed and started their trek towards the black belt.
As karate became more physically intense, one of my sons became increasingly resistant about going to practice. He would say his stomach hurt, or that his head hurt, and he would ultimately shed tears. In spite of his antics, I reminded him of his commitment, and marched him out the door to practice. He would cry all the way to practice, but I did not allow him to quit!
Recently, on a Saturday morning, I awakened to the happiest little boy I had seen in a long time. He was signing, skipping and just plain giddy. I asked, "Son why are you so happy?"
"It's my last day of karate, daddy! Today I test for my Black belt!", he responded. He skipped into the gym and began testing: he punched and kicked his opponents and broke the board with his hand and foot. When he finished, he was absolutely elated. After the test, his instructor called us over and explained to us that the judges thought he could have done better and didn't pass him.
I looked over as disappointment rolled over my little man's face and tears filled his eyes. His mom tried to console him, told him that it would be okay, that other kids before him had failed a test, but they eventually received their black belts.
I approached my son and explained to him that although other people had failed in their quest to get their black belt, this was about him and that he had failed. I said, "On Monday you know where you will be after school? He asked, "Where?" I said, "At karate, because Mackie men", and he finished the statement, "Finish what they start!" I said, "Yes, Let's Go Home!" Wiping his eyes, he walked alongside me and his mom, knowing that quitting was not an option!!
Many of us know people who are eager, energetic starters: folks who are always jumping from thing to thing, always claiming that whatever's new is better... and that it's going to stick. They start businesses, begin writing books, join clubs, quickly jump into relationships, or jump from job to job. As soon as they get down the road and the excitement wanes... they quit!
So many people these days seem to be looking for an exit-a new road means not having to drive all the way down the one you started on. People are quitting jobs without a backup plan, kids are dropping out of school, and teachers (especially within their first five years) are quitting the profession in record numbers.
We recently witnessed former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin quit her elected position of Governor. More people are getting divorced than are staying married. Most people quit their New Year's resolution to lose weight every year, even after paying gym membership. Basketball fans have accused superstar Lebron James of quitting during the 4th quarter of big important games.
And, if you can imagine this, according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, in August 2011, 2.03 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs-these are the highest figures since November 2008! And the US joblessness rate is still hovering over 9%!
As a people, we Americans are famous for taking the initiative-but we need to work on our follow-through.
As a young man, working on my doctorate, there were many nights I thought about quitting; I was tired, I was lonely, I cried, and wanted out. My friends were out there working, making money, partying, buying houses... and there I was, still broke, struggling and studying.
Sometimes, on those long, tough nights, I would hear my dad and my other elders speak to me: they made it clear that I must continue, and I hope to make it clear to you that you must continue and commit to finishing what you start. They forged three nuggets into my psyche that I hope will help you reach the goals before you:
1. Your Word is your bond. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you are not going to do it, then don't say it. People will know you by the credibility of your word. Can I trust what you say?
2. It is always darkest right before dawn. Anything worth having will take you through challenges. It is when the challenges are the toughest that we must knuckle down and get through. It is often at these most difficult intervals that the reward is closest.
3. Quitting is a habit. Never say "it doesn't matter". I don't care if it's karate, high school football, being a candy striper or a boy scout... walking away from anything helps foster the mentality that it's okay to walk away from everything. If you don't care about giving up on these things now, what's going to stop you from walking away from school, or your marriage, or your kids—or your dreams—later?