“If you don’t have discipline you won’t succeed, no matter how smart you are.” 

Mr. Peter Sangawe, Mount Kilimanjaro School, Moshi, Tanzania
Rupal Ramesh Shah

Mr. Peter Sangawe was my physics teacher at Mount Kilimanjaro School, Tanzania, where I spent a majority of my childhood. He was one of the stricter teachers. He was super-organized, conscientious about time, appreciative of the hardest working students, and full of high expectations for all. I recall that some of the young boys in our class pushed his buttons. They would come late to class, submit incomplete assignments, or simply not pay attention. However, despite interruptions, Mr. Sangawe never lost focus on what he had to do. He remained disciplined in his engagement with our class and the students. 

On my last trip back to Mount Kilimanjaro School in 2014, I met Mr. Sangawe again. This time, he was the headmaster of the school. It was an emotional and happy moment for us. Both of us had grown and moved on from the 1990s, and we had taken different paths, yet I could see and appreciate that Mr. Sangawe’s disciplined life had rewarded him with a satisfying career.

My parents led our family by example, and their life was also very disciplined. Dad worked hard to support the family. I don’t remember ever seeing him stay at home because he was sick or just wanted to lie around in bed. Mom was the same. Her work ethic and ability to follow through on what she started was impeccable. Without a doubt, it was their tenacious ability to persevere and follow through that brought our family to the U.S.A. years ago. No matter how difficult immigration was in the 1990s, and no matter how many hurdles they had to overcome, my parents had enough discipline to follow through.

As the leader of a small nonprofit organization, discipline is one of the qualities that I look for when hiring. Individuals with discipline are usually able to navigate through challenging circumstances. They can use the resources they have, no matter how limited they are, to solve problems. Even when projects change, or don’t seem to go their way, they are able to move things forward from start to finish.

We have all witnessed what happens when there is a lack of discipline. For example, when politicians and governmental leaders lack discipline, it negatively impacts their own people. Those who are already vulnerable in society often become more marginalized under undisciplined leadership. A lack of discipline in the workplace affects teams and leads to compromised or poor outcomes. At home, it causes disruption and unnecessary stress.

From living in different countries and cultures, I have learned that some cultures follow strict rituals and practices, such as religious prayers. In others, meal times are sacred, and all shops and businesses close to observe that time. In yet others, people wear uniforms at school and in the workplace. During my life, I have learned that those who are brilliant are able to avail themselves of opportunities readily, but those who work hard – who have a disciplined mindset – are able to do the same so long as they are focused and follow through on their commitments.

What I didn’t fully understand as a student in Moshi is that the secret to success is discipline. And while I confess that my least favorite subject, to this day, is physics, Mr. Sangawe is one of the most memorable educators I have known.

Rupal Ramesh Shah is a third-generation Tanzanian who grew up in an ethnically Indian family in the town of Moshi, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a teenager.