Solomon on Business, Part II: Commitments
“ONE MINUTE!” The man’s voice boomed as I made my way into the hotel conference room with my fellow workshop attendees. And then, sixty seconds later, the voice sounded again: “TIME! If you are not sitting in your chair, remain standing.”
For the better part of an hour, the trainer grilled the unfortunate souls who had been left standing about why they didn’t keep their commitment. You see, we had all agreed to be sitting in our chairs when the lunch break was over, and not all of us were. We had broken a commitment.
It seemed such a trivial matter at first. It’s not like anyone was an hour late, or even five minutes. We were in the conference room, headed in the general direction of our chairs. We kept the spirit of the commitment, right? The mind races to come up with excuses and justifications, to minimize the matter, or avoid it altogether. But the conclusion is inescapable: we said we would do something, and we didn’t.
It was a stark and vivid illustration that shattered my image of myself as trustworthy. I thought I was pretty good about keeping my commitments. I was almost always on time for appointments. And only once in my life had I ever just not showed up without calling anyone (and that was because I fell asleep in the middle of the day after pulling an all-nighter the night before).
But pretty good isn’t good enough. This was a difficult lesson for me, and it’s easy to dismiss as legalistic or neurotic. But I’d like to invite you to imagine how your life would be different if you had never broken a single commitment–not even one. What would that look like?
Start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. Imagine that you kept every single one of them. You quit smoking. You got to your ideal weight. You learned French. You found more time to spend with your wife and children. That big, creative project you had always wanted to tackle–the novel you wanted to write, the business you wanted to start–you finished it. And people make commitments to better themselves all the time, not just on New Year’s Day. If I had kept all mine from the past year or so, I’d know Classical Hebrew, I’d be training regularly in jiu jitsu and crossfit, and I would have started this blog months ago.
Is the picture of who you would be if you had kept all your commitments starting to come into focus? Think about procrastination. Procrastination is a broken commitment. How many thousands of times in the course of a year do we see that something needs to be done, agree in our own mind to do it, and then put it off? Imagine if you had never procrastinated. You’d probably move through more projects in a month than most of us do in a year or more. You would have had a vast array of experiences that remain in other people’s incubators for most of their lives.
This series is about business, so how would your professional life be different? How deeply would your boss trust you if you had been on time to every single appointment, and delivered on every single promise you had ever made? And if you have employees of your own, how would their attitudes toward you and their work be different if you had never broken a commitment to them? How would your customers view someone with that kind of honor?
And of course, we make commitments to other people too. How would our relationships be different if we had never broken a commitment to anyone? There are the big commitments, like marriage vows. And then there are the seemingly small commitments, spoken and unspoken, that can be just as damaging when they are broken. Missing a child’s baseball game or piano recital. Calling someone back. Staying in touch with old friends. Being less critical of a loved one.
I think it’s safe to say that each one of us would have a radically different life today if we had kept every single one of our commitments. We’d be healthier, happier, more productive, more fulfilled, and have more and better relationships with everyone. The difference between your current life and how your life would be if you kept all your commitments, I’m going to call the “commitment gap.”
And here’s why keeping promises/commitments, no matter how insignificant they may seem, is important: every time you break a promise, you weaken your honor and devalue your word. People start to trust you less when you don’t call them back. When you resolve to do 50 pushups every morning and then quit on day 3, you start to view yourself as weak and ineffectual. The commitment gap widens.
If, on the other hand, you cultivate an iron-clad sense of honor that will not allow you to break a promise, not even once, the commitment gap disappears. People will trust you like you’ve never been trusted before. And personal change becomes easier.
Commitments may be the closest thing to magic words that we have. For the man of iron-clad honor, a promise is almost like a spell to bring about a desired result. When he makes that promise that he knows he must keep, it summons up from within him a resourcefulness, ingenuity, and genius that can move mountains. Once he commits, nothing is beyond his grasp.
That is the power of commitment. And that’s the man I’m striving to be–in my business, in my self-discipline, and in all my relationships.
Thinking about how life would be different if we kept our commitments can be painful, but pain is often necessary to spur us to become better. In closing, think back to the picture of that person you would be had you kept your commitments again. And rather than thinking of that vision as a missed opportunity, think of it as a new possibility.
A trustworthy man, who can find? Proverbs 20:6