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Today I want to talk about commitment. When you start your career, the logical thing to do is to be open to every invitation, to every opportunity, to every opening. This is sensible, because you are trying to establish your reputation as the kind of person that has a "can do” attitude. You want to be known as the kind of person who can solve problems, and be useful. This quality is what makes you valuable in the marketplace. This quality is what makes you appealing to people who would like to expand their project teams. This quality is what will attract work to you.
Once you've established your reputation, this is no longer such a good approach. You will likely be more in control of your schedule, your commitments, and your projects. In order to make progress in your professional life, you will want to complete projects that are meaningful to you. The only way you're going to be able to do this is if your calendar isn't fractured by old commitments.
Now some of these commitments are going to be genuinely useful, but others will have been made months ago, and now they are upon you suddenly, and they no longer seem so attractive. The question you have to ask yourself is why you made these commitments in the first place. The likelihood is that at the time of making the commitment, your calendar months away from the day of commitment looked empty, and the new commitment seemed like it would just be a drop in the ocean of your far away empty calendar. And it just felt good to say “yes”. But before long, many of these commitments dot your calendar, filling it like ominous, immovable islands. And then you realise that you have lost the context in which you agreed to these commitments and need to allow additional time to prepare. And as we approach the time, we can no longer use that time to work on our own projects, the things that really matter to us. And here we are committed to something that your past self used a credit card for and the debt is due today.
It can be very hard to get out of the habit of saying yes to everything, but it's essential to your success that you're very careful about what you commit to. While the commitments you've made today for some future date, that today seems so distant seem sensible, a time will come when the commitments your past self made represent a major opportunity cost. To maintain your reputation for reliability, you will have to honour these commitments. But you won't feel happy about doing so. Because you know that your time is not being used well.
My counsel to you today, then, is to be very careful about what you say yes to. A good way of evaluating the importance of an opportunity is to ask yourself whether, if this were a commitment you had to make for today, would you drop everything you're doing today, in order to honour this commitment? Would it be that exciting or useful? And if the answer to that is “no”, then you should turn down the opportunity, because your future self will thank you. What is a less than stellar opportunity today will be even less so in the future. Your calendar will remain relatively clear and you will only be saying “yes” to those opportunities that are genuinely valuable and ones in which you can make a positive contribution both to the people you've committed to, but more importantly, to your own goals.