Oswald Letter

With commitment, the only way out is forward

Commitmentby Dan Oswald

A man is in a restroom standing in front of a urinal when he finds himself with a dilemma. He has somehow dropped a $5 bill into the urinal. As he is contemplating what he should do about his five bucks, another man enters the restroom. The second man quickly sees the problem and asks, “What are you going to do?”

The first man thinks it over for a minute. He then pulls his wallet out of his pocket, withdraws a $100 bill, and tosses it into the urinal! The second man stands in amazement at what he has just seen. He asks, “What are you doing? Why would you do that? You just made your problem much worse.”

The first man smiles at him and says, “Well, you don’t think I’d stick my hand in a urinal for just $5, do you?”

You may have heard this story before, but it illustrates a great point—you don’t know what you’re capable of doing until the stakes are high enough to really matter to you. That is, if you have enough invested in something—whether it be financially or emotionally—you’ll go to surprising lengths to succeed.

Commitment takes energy, both physical and emotional. That’s why so many people find it difficult to really be committed to their jobs. Let’s admit it—there are times when things get tough at work. Maybe the project you’re working on isn’t going the way you expected. Suddenly additional effort and hours are required to get the job done. What are you going to do—push through and meet your objective or throw in the towel and say that it just couldn’t be done?

Many of us try to walk that line of not committing fully to the task at hand to protect ourselves. Stay with me here. If you engage in the task only half-heartedly and it doesn’t work out, you can say that you really weren’t trying or that you really didn’t believe it would work. It’s like the $5 in the urinal—you don’t have much invested, so letting go isn’t too tough.

But if you jump in with both feet and fully commit to something and it doesn’t work out, there’s no built-in excuse, and the pain related to failure is more acute. It’s like leaving that $100 bill in the urinal—it hurts more.

The problem is that in an effort to protect ourselves from potential failure, we actually increase the likelihood that it will occur. By not fully committing to the job, we almost ensure that the results won’t be what they could be.

So how do you get fully invested in what you’re doing? How do you start acting like you have $100 in the urinal instead of $5? I think that more often than not, it means jumping in with both feet. You need to just take the plunge. We spend so much time and energy thinking about whether we should do something and what will happen if we try and fail instead of putting that time and energy into making sure we succeed.

So how do you take “the plunge”? One thing that has worked for me is “going on the record” with what I’m trying to achieve. If your word is important to you, by publicly stating what you’re going to do, you can take away the option of turning back. If you’re working on a critical project, you openly and publicly commit to a deadline. If you’re setting sales targets, you submit those targets in writing or post them where others can see them.

When you make that goal public, suddenly turning back becomes more difficult. When no one knows what you’re trying to achieve, it’s easy to give up. But when you tell the world what you’re going to do, you become more committed to achieving your goal. The fear of failure that keeps you from trying now becomes your ally because you don’t want everyone to see you fail.

You need to find ways to be fully committed to what you’re doing. You must understand what motivates you—what is going to make it hard for you to turn back—because you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when the only way out is forward.