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Michael Santos

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Mario Andretti, the famous race car driver, wrote about the power of commitment. “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal—a commitment to excellence—that will enable you to attain the success you seek.

Fables of war give us stories that reveal the importance of commitment. Although I don’t recall the author, I remember reading about a conqueror from the ancient world. The leader’s ships landed at the enemy’s shore. After the warriors disembarked, the commander ordered his chief to burn all the ships. 

The leader wanted his soldiers to see that they would fight and win or die. They committed themselves by ensuring there wouldn’t be an exit plan.

After starting a lengthy prison term, I felt as if I were in a war of my own. My enemy was not another person but the predicament I had to conquer. 

I made a 100% commitment to succeed. We all have to gauge our commitment. When we make such a commitment, we start by understanding what success means. 

We don’t all define success in the same way. As a young man, I understood that I would be in prison for 26 years if nothing changed. I also realized that the longer a person stayed in prison, the less likely that person would succeed upon release. 

Society has a preconceived idea about the character and abilities of a person that spent time in prison. As a result, fewer opportunities would open. 

With fewer opportunities, people getting out of prison would be more vulnerable to legal problems. High recidivism rates disturbed me, as they should trouble all justice-impacted people. Statistics showed that more than six out of every ten people returned to confinement after release.

I made a 100% commitment to prepare for success. Like a general that burned his ships, I cut ties to any activity and person that could threaten my prospects for success. I kept journals to measure progress every day. I stayed intentional about developing skills that could help me overcome the war I had with recidivism rates. 

This strategy required that I document a solid plan to help me overcome. I anticipated the people that would influence my future. At some point, a probation officer would affect how much liberty I had. An employer would determine whether my prison term should block me from a job or a career path. A lender may use my criminal history to gauge whether to provide me with capital.

By understanding these challenges, I could prepare. I concentrated on

fundamentals, like communication and critical thinking skills. Documenting all my decisions would help me build a chronology. 

By creating a record, I anticipated that I would overcome people’s objections or preconceived notions about my level of commitment. That strategy helped me to build confidence and self-esteem. Commitment enabled me to gauge the opportunity costs associated with every decision.

During the final decade of my imprisonment, I taught many classes in the prisons that held me. I’d always ask the men in the room how many would return to prison after release. 

Not a single hand went up. 

With further questioning and prompting, one person would inevitably say, “I’m going to try to do the right thing when I get out. But if things don’t work out, I’m going to do what a man has to do.” 

In my mind, such a statement reflected the opposite of a 100% commitment to success. That mindset contributed to high rates of failure for people who emerge from prison.

  • How would you gauge your commitment to success?
  • What actions are you taking to show your dedication?
  • In what ways will your commitment level influence how others respond to you?
  • In what ways do your daily activities reveal your commitment to excellence?
  • What makes the decisions you’ve made over the past month part of your methodical plan to prepare for success?

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