Topic: Self-Discipline and Freedom

Ivy & Quill - Topic: Self-Discipline and Freedom

A long, shrill whistle jolts me awake. As the other raucous sounds—the harsh bellows of strict officers and the heavy thuds of boots stomping in unison—precede my alarm clock, I jump to my feet and mechanically start making my bed. After I tuck in the sheets and compulsively smoothen the blanket, I sit by the windowsill and observe the scene below. 

Hundreds of uniformed soldiers stand in perfect lines. Backs straight, eyes forward, expressions stoic, their legs march up and down like disconnected limbs. After the morning processions, these soldiers run eight miles, train combat and weaponry skills, and perform a variety of menial tasks, such as scrubbing the barracks, before they are allowed a monochrome lunch of rice and noodles. 

Observing these soldiers on a daily basis instilled in me a disdain for rules and routine. I pitied them for having to eat the same, insipid meals. Perhaps they were lucky to only have 4-minute eating windows – their brains wouldn’t have time to process the grimness of their reality. I didn’t understand why these men had to live under such austere conditions. What if they never made it back home from a hypothetical war? Didn’t they deserve at least some luxuries now? The commanders’ rules seemed arbitrary and inhumane. 

Living in such an environment was stifling but inescapable, as my father is an army officer. Since I was little, he has disciplined me like a soldier. I called him “Sir” instead of “Daddy,” and the only three acceptable answers for a slip-up were: “Yes, Sir; No, Sir; No Excuse, Sir.” I was strictly reprimanded for slovenly bed-making or slouching. I vowed that as soon as I was old enough, I would break free from the shackles of tedious rules and instead, write my own.

***

As soon as I reached Dallas airport, I gulped my first taste of freedom. I instantly felt lighter, like a drifting balloon. Intoxicated with this newfound liberty, I began my journey in America.  

I had kept true to my word – as soon as I was seventeen, I left to study abroad. My history teacher, Mr. Lorenzo, passionately taught us through stories. This new teaching method intrigued me, but I was not prepared for it. Mr. Lorenzo didn’t provide students with packets of study material like Chinese teachers do; rather, he only put a few bullet points on each slide and said that it was our responsibility to do the assigned readings. Since he never “ordered” us to take notes, I didn’t – feeling triumphant leaning back while my classmates scribbled away. 

Unexpectedly, I failed my first exam. I lay in bed that night, thinking: Do I only need to do what my teacher assigns, or do I need self-discipline? I recalled the soldiers marching in the scorching sun. They needed discipline so they could be ready to fight for their country. As an individual blessed with newfound freedom, I had to impose my own restrictions in order to fight for future opportunities. 

Subsequently, I adjusted my attitude. Dismissing the idea that “rules are made to be broken,” I realized that perhaps they exist for legitimate reasons. In class, I became my strictest officer. I started recording each lesson, which I would transcribe afterwards. I did all of the assigned readings, even when there was no correlating assignment. I jotted notes furiously, no longer the nonchalant. Unsurprisingly, my grades skyrocketed. 

This experience taught me that my younger notions of rules were naïve. Though I still have not come to terms with every social rule, I nevertheless respect them. I have also created my own set of rules—of conduct and morality—by which I live. By following my own rules, as well as society’s, I can grow into the young lady I aspire to be. 

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