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Gisele Bundchen Reveals That Discipline is the Key to a Meaningful Life

Everything in life starts with a dream. But first the dream needs to be clearly defined and, more important, you need to understand why you want it. At fourteen, and at twenty, and at twenty- seven, I never said to myself, “My goal is to be a great model.” Rather, my emphasis was to be the best at what I do, which means giving my best.

Honestly, I could have been in any number of professions! Still, whatever I ended up doing, I knew I would have to be the best at it. Not the best compared with others, but the best version of myself. In my experience, clearly defining what you want gives you direction and the inner fire that can motivate you. Maybe you’re a B student who wants to get As. Or maybe you want to be good at sports. A terrific wife and mother. Successful at your job. A great human being. Maybe you want to work out regularly or meditate every day. Then be very clear with yourself up front. How will reaching your goals serve a larger purpose? Why does it matter to you? What are you willing to do to come closer to achieving your goals? What do you need to get there?

It’s also important to set reasonable expectations. I know from personal experience the danger of setting the bar too high and, if you do, how easy it is when you come up short to start criticizing yourself or feeling like a failure, when the truth is that you weren’t being realistic. Once you’re clear about what you want to achieve, next is focus— taking the many small actions to propel yourself forward. This is where the hard-work part comes in. What will it take for you to reach that goal? Do you need to change your daily routine or eliminate

certain behaviors, or even some people, from your life? If you’re a B student who wants to get all As, it might mean that you start getting up an hour earlier to study, or ask for extra help from your teacher, or form a study group. You might also look for a mentor or role model who can show you the way.

The third step is dedication. This means staying on track over the long haul, and giving yourself credit for what you’ve done well, but also concentrating on those areas where you need improvement. How are you practicing? How are you measuring your own progress? Are you focusing on what you already do well, or are you also stretching yourself by targeting the things you may be less good at, and then trying some problem- solving? In my experience, hard work and dedication aren’t the same thing. Dedication includes a commitment to a specific goal or ideal. A lot of people work incredibly hard, but some don’t stick with the steps needed to achieve what it is they really want. You may set a number of goals for yourself, but without dedication they won’t become realized. Who has a better chance of becoming a successful musician: the pianist who practices an hour a day or the one who practices four hours a day?

Dedication means putting in the time towards what you want, and love, the areas where you want to achieve excellence. Dedication says, I’m going to keep on going, no matter what. Without dedication, you’re less likely to see the benefits of all your hard work. If focus means saying yes to hard work dedication means saying no to distraction— to the activities and even the people pulling you in different directions or pushing you to give up. Be honest with yourself: What do you accomplish in a day? Is your time consumed by answering texts and emails? Are you making progress or just getting caught up? I kept putting one foot in front of the next, even when I was teased by my schoolmates, or felt homesick at age fourteen, or was rejected. I moved forward, one casting after another. Of course there were times when I missed my parents and my sisters terribly, but even though those moments were painful and distracting, they were only temporary visitors. They came and they went. At the same time, I wanted— I needed— to show myself that I could do what I set out to accomplish.

The fourth step, humility, is especially important to me. If you’re clear, focused, and dedicated, and you end up succeeding at what you set out to do, you might believe you deserve special treatment. Well, you don’t! Most people don’t have an easy road to the top of any profession. We all face challenges along the way that force us to grow and learn. I know I am no exception. When any level of success is reached, that’s the time to reflect on all your challenges. Yes, you may be unusual. Your skills and talents may make you stand out. You may work, as I do, in a public profession. Good for you! But, to my mind, the moment you start thinking you’re better than anyone else, your achievements don’t matter very much. You fall to the bottom rung of the ladder. But if you have humility, you achieve something more important than worldly success: you become a lifelong learner. Humility allows you to grow from your mistakes, to know that everyone and every experience can teach you something. In my experience, it opens the doors to a bigger, more meaningful life.

At the end of the day, how different are we from one another? We’re all students in the “School of Life” on this earth. Our campus is a tiny blue dot floating in space. And who are we, really, in the face of all this immensity?

Reprinted from “Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life” by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, Gisele Bundchen.


This essay was featured in the Nov. 1th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.