Commitment is Contagious

My understanding of commitment makes it one of the most powerful words in the English language.  Commitment is simply doing whatever is necessary, no matter what.  My brother-in-law is one of the most committed human beings on the planet, and the most committed that I know personally.  Whether it was an Ironman triathlon, successfully finishing SEALfit’s Kokoro camp, or finishing the approximately 900 mile Race across the West with a blanket propping his head up, he continually demonstrates super human commitment and inspires me to look at how committed I really am to the things I “say” I’m committed to.

The media and human development experts both understand the power of the word and use it to influence us and inspire us respectively.  Pay attention to corporate advertisements and you’ll see how overused and misunderstood the word commitment really is.  Read a leadership development book about commitment and you’ll see the door of possibility swing wide open when a person or group of people are truly committed.

Once again, I was exposed to the impact and influence that the commitment of one person can have on others.  My sister invited me and my wife to travel with her and my brother-in-law to our homeland of Norway.  Shortly after losing her husband to a drowning accident in a frozen lake, my widowed great-great-great grandmother Aase Flaaten Huso left her home and extended family to give her children a new future, a new hope, settling in Northern Iowa in the United States.  Walking the original Huso farm, seeing the lake, touching the farmhouse and furniture that still decorate the home gave me a sense of respect and admiration for this powerful, committed woman.

At the end of our trip, we flew north to Tromso, Norway to participate in a tour searching for the Northern Lights.  That morning, I had lost my appetite and didn’t feel well.  By the time I was on the plane, I had the chills and was shaking uncontrollably.  When we got to the hotel, we had an hour before we would be picked up by our tour guide.  I went to lie down while the others ate.  My wife came and got me and said it was time to go.  I got dressed and we walked a block to the designated pick up site.  Our guide Peter enthusiastically greeted us and said he had some news, that there was a 99% chance that we would not see the Northern Lights tonight based on the weather maps’ predictions.  He gave us choices:  we could reschedule for a different date, we could get a refund of our money, or we could take the chance and see if the meteorologists were wrong.

Without hesitation, my brother-in-law shouted, “I’m’ in!  Let’s do it!” followed by my sister and my wife.  This was a chance in a lifetime, and I wouldn’t let an illness get in the way, so I also responded in the affirmative.  In fact, every single person in that group agreed to go.  Not one decided to reschedule or seek a refund.  So we got in the van and went to a second pick up spot, where there were two people waiting.  Sitting in the front seat, I was privy to the conversation.  Peter got off the van and said the same thing to them that he said to us.  But they didn’t have my brother-in-law in their group.  He was back in the van.  Both declined to come with us, and so off we went on our nine hour journey.

We drove for three hours searching for the spot that would give us the best chance, eventually ending up in Finland.  Once we hit the distance point of our allotted tour time, we looked for a pullover lane and set up camp.  We built a small fire, drank hot cocoa, coffee or tea, shared stories, and stared into the sky looking for light through the thick clouds.  Nothing.  We concluded our campfire experience with an MRE, packed up and got back in the van.  We tried.  We drove as long as we “thought” we could and waited as long as we “thought” we could.

Or so we supposed.  As we returned to Norway, I could see our guide Peter still looking at weather maps, looking for any possibility.  After about an hour, he woke us, excitingly proclaiming, “Guys!  There is a spot that will give us a 50% chance of seeing the lights.  Only problem is that it’s an hour out of the way, and that will get us home at 5AM instead of our promised time of 3AM.”  Without hesitation, my brother-in-law exclaimed that he was in, followed by a seemingly unanimous agreement from the van.  So off we went.  As we arrived at that location, and exited the van, we could see the moon, and the sky showed breaks, giving us hope that we indeed would see the lights, if there was activity.

After a few minutes of staring into the clouds, Peter exclaimed, “There it is!  Do you see it?”  Not wanting to appear foolish I felt “yeah” but thought “looks like clouds to me.”  He pulled out his camera and did a long exposure to capture the light and showed us.  Indeed it was there!  He could see it through the clouds.  It looked way better on the camera than it did in person.  I hoped that wouldn’t be the extent of me seeing the lights.  So I continued to stare into the sky.  The clouds continued to break, providing more and more hope.  And then there it was, visible to the eye, the green, dancing, electric, lights!  The patience and extra effort had paid off!  These were the fruits of our commitment.

As we were getting back on the van, my sister and brother-in-law were talking to our guide, and they realized that we didn’t HAVE to be back at 5, but if we were back at 6, we could be back in time to catch our 6:25 cab ride back to the airport.  So Peter asked us if we wanted to spend another hour hunting for the lights.  “Of course!”  The next stop was the best, as we saw multiple awe inspiring manifestations of the Northern Lights.

As we loaded the van for the last time, Peter told us that he never had done anything like this before, keeping us three hours longer than our allotted time.  He also said that he had never seen the lights when the weather forecast was as bleak as it was.  As I reflected on the experience, I came to the conclusion that this was a created experience, intentionally created through the commitment of our group, inspired by the unmatched commitment of my brother-in-law.  As I consider what I am truly committed to, I am humbled at the contagious power that intention rooted in commitment can create.

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