Beyond motivation

In my ongoing pursuit of “dad excellence,” I’ve been reading Jocko Willink’s Way of the Warrior Kid. Navy Seal Jake is spending the summer transforming his wimpy nephew into a warrior—inside and out. One of the book’s major lessons is the difference between motivation and self-discipline.

“Motivation is a feeling,” Uncle Jake says. “You might feel motivated to do something and you might not. The thing that keeps you on course…is discipline.” What happens when we go beyond motivation?

Fighting for a foreign land

With Uncle Jake’s powerful lesson in mind, my thoughts shifted to a group of 200,000 warriors who fought during both world wars for a country that was not their own. They were known as tirailleurs sénégalais, an infantry unit of riflemen. One of these men was Abdoulaye N’Diaye.

In the “War to end all Wars,” which we now call World War 1, these riflemen were recruited—sometimes under the threat of losing their land if they didn’t comply—and shipped to Europe to shore up the Western Front. Though poorly trained and ill-equipped, they faced their enemy in a war between European colonial powers.

Abdoulaye died in 1998 as the last surviving tirailleur from Senegal. He was 104 or 109 years old. Abdoulaye was a volunteer in every sense of the word. When the French drafted his father and uncle, he offered himself in their place. As a wrestler at the time, Abdoulaye was strong and in prime shape. The French accepted his offer.

Abdoulaye Ndiaye, tirailleur sénégalais, veteran of the First World War in his village of  Thiowor at 104 or 109 years old in 1998. Image credit: (SEYLLOU DIALLO / AFP)
Abdoulaye Ndiaye, tirailleur sénégalais, veteran of the First World War in his village of Thiowor at 104 or 109 years old in 1998. Image credit: (SEYLLOU DIALLO / AFP)

Beyond motivation

Doubtless, Aboudlaye was motivated by love for his relatives but he also displayed an extraordinary amount of self-discipline in pushing past the natural urge to stay away from the Front and going toward danger. This discipline showed itself again when he was wounded in combat and presumed dead. After waiting for the enemy to leave, Abdoulaye rejoined his unit instead of attempting to desert.

The cost of service

Over 30,000 tirailleurs would give their lives for France during the bloodiest human conflict to that time. Tens of thousands more would do the same during World War 2. Nameless, marginalized, men like Abdoulaye faced their enemy with a discipline that remained when whatever motivation they may have felt would have long since disappeared.

As I look again at the cover of Willink’s book, I see a boy who’s dangling from a pull-up bar. He’s insecure. Afraid. Intimidated by his perceived weaknesses. My thoughts turn again to Uncle Jake, who also teaches that “Discipline equals freedom.”

Today, Senegal is an independent nation. Abdoulaye was posthumously awarded the French “Legion of Honor.” And, while there is much work that needs to be done, reflecting on what has been accomplished is also important.

History’s blueprint

History offers a blueprint, a lens for seeing humanity, as we make our own life choices. If we followed Uncle Jake’s advice, and the example of Abdoulaye N’Diaye, we set the stage to achieve more than we ever thought possible.

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