[November 10, 2019] On a few occasions here at my leadership blog, I mentioned that as a young man, I had difficulty following orders. Several times, caring NCOs took me aside to provide me with the sage advice that good NCOs do with those in their care. ‘Get your act together’ was a common counseling point but the problem with that advice is that it is not very clear.
Leaders ensure they take the right steps to guarantee they communicate clearly. Great leaders not only communicate well but ingrain important messages when they speak. While ‘get your act together’ seems good advice, it is vague, and that is why I want to clarify what it means. This advice doesn’t apply only to those in the military but to everyone in all walks of life.
First and most important, ‘get your act together’ means adopt the responsibility due to you. Life is not about being happy or having happiness as a goal. The point of life is enabling yourself toward doing good in your family and community. Only through the pursuit of responsibility can we live properly and obtain some level of satisfaction that we have a good life.
Second, ‘get your act together’ means to build yourself into something you can respect. Life is not easy, and it requires a certain degree of sturdiness and intelligence. Our job is to “see” and to “think” and by doing so we can avoid corrupting ourselves with bias and remorse. Through our respect we can bear the difficulties of life and not lose hope. Once you respect yourself, others can then respect you.
Third (and there are more, of course, but I will stop here), ‘get your act together’ means to acknowledge that we live in a peaceful place and to humbly accept our good fortune as we look outside at war and destruction that goes on around the world. That is why we must get our own house in order, to make sure that we can care for and assist those less fortunate and be thankful for what we have.
I tell others if they cannot see where to begin, start by telling the truth. The truth is how we take the first step to finding and adopting responsibility. Make your bed in the morning (rhetorically) so that we gain just a little bit of stability; built upon more and more over time. The U.S. Military Academy1 cadet honor code is “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” This is what we mean when we say ‘get your act together.’
On a side note, happy birthday to the U.S. Marine Corps. They celebrate 244 years of honor, courage, and commitment. You might find the message from the USMC Commandant to be eye-opening (link here).