As you may recall from history, the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes landed in Veracruz, Mexico in 1519 with a small army of 600 men with dreams of conquering the mighty Aztec empire. Many of his men were afraid and filled with doubts in the face of so daunting a mission, so Cortes made the decision to burn their ships. With retreat now impossible and no place to go except forward to face their enemy, his men were properly motivated and fully committed to fulfill their mission.
In my professional life, I often deal with the challenge of commitment through the experiences of my clients and have certainly had my own numerous encounters with it over my career. Being fully committed means being “all in” and can include examples such as how we approach big strategic decisions, how much effort we are willing to contribute to a project, leaving our job for a new one or even starting a new business. It is important to mention that commitment can obviously pertain to more personal aspects of life as well, such as getting married, buying a home, exercise, our prayer lives, eating better or dropping bad habits.
When I launched Serviam Partners over eight years ago, I had to overcome my own risk aversion to be fully committed and “burn my ships”. I could not fail as my family was depending on me, so I put everything I had into ensuring my business would be successful…there was no going back. The same is true of the Leadership Foundry, which I co-founded with Brandon Smith over three years ago. We started small and carefully refined our model, feeling confident it would be successful. After lots of committed effort, we are thrilled to see this fast-growing business we love continue to thrive.
As much as I believe in the power of full commitment, I also recognize that good contingency planning and cultivating multiple options is also prudent and important in business and life. This may even be true of most of the decisions we make on any given day. But, as I hope you will agree, there are going to be critical moments in our lives where we need to be 100% committed and hold nothing back. The ships may have to be burned in these critical moments and we can’t hedge our bets. What gets in the way? I will suggest there is one primary obstacle (that surpasses all other obstacles). That obstacle is a thought…the thought that if things don’t work out we always have an escape plan to fall back on. Knowing we have an escape plan will prevent us from giving every ounce of effort needed for true success, achieving difficult goals or making meaningful changes in our lives.
What can we do to grow our commitment muscles and more readily embrace our “Veracruz moments”? Here are four ideas:
- Accountability partners can help keep us on track and encourage us. Find someone who will not let you off the hook for giving less than a total effort and full commitment to whatever you are trying to do.
- Don’t struggle in silence. If faced with “Veracruz moments”, ask for help. Get advice from trusted friends and mentors. Do your homework. Don’t face these big decisions alone. Chances are, someone you know has been through something similar in their own lives and can offer invaluable insights and perspectives.
- Make bold public goals. I have often found this to be a useful mind trick to help me accomplish big goals or projects. Here is a humorous example: Every week at the bottom of the posts in my Simplify blog post series, I share the title of the next post that will come out the following week. Most of the time, this new post is not yet written and I am highly motivated to write it to honor my weekly public announcement (commitment). Simple trick, but it works for me.
- Be clear about the worthiness of the outcome you seek. Having a clear understanding of the worthiness or nobility of the outcomes we desire in any area of our lives can often properly motivate us to be all in. For example, I may not want to exercise just for me, but I will definitely commit to it to be around a long time for the sake of my family. You may be nervous about taking ownership of a new project at work, but know the project will fail unless you lead it.
If you agree that being all in at the appropriate times is important, what are the fruits of this total commitment? What can we expect? Here are three positive outcomes I have observed in the lives of others and in my own experience:
- We have clarity of purpose. We are single-minded about the goal(s) and we are fully aware of why we are making the effort. Also, the hoped-for outcome and the hard work connected to our commitment level exist in relative harmony.
- We are focused, efficient and more effective. When we are all in, we are more efficiently applying our energy and resources towards a single effort versus hedging our bets on multiple efforts.
- Being fully committed is the fastest path to success. We will obviously reach our goal faster if we give it all we’ve got and not hedge our bets, but this can also be scary. Take a moment and reflect: Does the success I hope to attain or goal I want to achieve outweigh my fear of the commitment level necessary to get there? This will bring you to the “Veracruz moment” of decision.
I strongly suspect that you have been considering how committed you are to a host of areas in your business and personal life as you have been reading this newest post in the Simplify series. I know I did as I wrote it. Perhaps you are faced with “Veracruz moments” right now and are unsure of what to do. Many of us may delay important decisions, put off pursuing our dreams or avoid risk out of caution, raw fear or other reasons. Maybe, as I shared earlier, we need to face these critical moments and consider abandoning our escape plans. Consider carefully if you are ready to go all in regarding a big decision in your life and be 100% committed.
It may be time to burn the ships.