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Client: Why must I make a commitment to grow and change when others are not?

Me: Your commitment is your business; it’s your yard and responsibility. Their commitment is their business; it’s their yard and responsibility and…none of your business.

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.


That’s the power of a definitive “yes” in our lives. The flip-side of this is that the moment one does not commit, Providence moves then too. We are that powerful. Our yes, our no and our no by abstention all play a role in the outcomes we set in motion.

We are always choosing some level of commitment with every decision before us and the choice is often moment-by-moment. Any successful married couple knows that the “I do” on day one is a new decision to be made each day. As in marriage, so it is in life, there’s no “yes” and then I’ll go to sleep. There’s also no “I’ll try”

I remember a time I worked with a woman who was asked by her superior to accept a project he had purchased from us. In the very first meeting, even though she technically agreed to take it on, I felt her avoidance of commitment, which in fact was a no. In my eagerness to obtain the business and in my fear of what would happen if I addressed this when there was no immediate alternative in sight, I accepted the unspoken no that was between us and moved ahead. From that point forward, Goethe was right, “A whole stream of events issued from the decision…” It was a project that was not in “flow”, was fraught with a lack of accountability and follow-through. I was frustrated but I learned a valuable lesson.

Ignoring the state of commitment, within others or us, is not helpful. And yet, I have come to see how common this is. A manager invites 10 people on a committee to an important meeting. 3 out of the 10 don’t show even though they verbally agreed to attend. Each is informed they are expected to be at 10 out of 12 meetings and several have missed 3 or more. What should be done? Many of us avoid exploring or addressing this outcome. We don’t want to put on the table, “What is your commitment to this?” and “Here’s what I expect from you. Are you willing? Here’s what I’ll assume if you don’t…”

One reason is we feel panicked if we suspect they will withdraw their commitment. Sometimes we don’t realize we’re putting pressure on the person through inauthentic enthusiasm, denial or by ignoring the cues; we act as if everyone is on board and this in turn makes others awkward exploring their commitment freely or discussing it comfortably. Our very behavior is an attempt to “make the other person commit” which is a subtle form of force.

What’s important to remember is a person’s yes means nothing without their option to choose no and our willingness to hear it. We all know what it feels like to be “held to an agreement” or to feel forced or pressured to follow-through. That’s not exactly a recipe for cooperation. And yet, it’s only from faith in the perfection of all things and in our ability to know we’re ok in all circumstances that we detach and get comfortable asking for commitment from others and accepting whatever answer we hear.

This opportunity is offered us every day. This week, I made an offer to an instructor who had incredible energy and talent. She said no to the opportunity. I would have made it difficult for her to say no if I didn’t trust her own wisdom or if I forgot to have faith in an abundant universe that can provide me an equally powerful alternative.

My own yes and no and my willingness to choose powerfully at every opportunity is reflected in the personal and business relationships I attract who are equally powerful in their choices and firm in their commitments. Goethe also wrote, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” His words speak to our own commitment; the gift we bring to every opportunity life presents. Yes and no are equally valid and honorable.

Consciously committing our own yes or no allows us the maturity and courage to be open to the yes or no of another and to explore and invite their answers fully. Then we are the committed powerful change we want to see reflected in our own experience and in the world. Practicing conscious commitment and choice, we no longer use force or manipulation with others and we allow people the dignity of their choices and honor their path. In exercising our own commitment, we inspire others to do the same.

As published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in the Women’s Journals, Aug/Sep 2007

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