Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in World War 2, had a letter in his pocket that no one knew he had. He had planned out the battle for storming the beaches at Normandy. To begin, he sent a letter to each man called the Order of the Day that offered great encouragement.
Some highlights for me are…
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely…I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”*
Some men were buried with this message in their hands. They treasured Eisenhower's call to action. For indeed, it is a gift to the world that they sacrificed as they did in that invasion.
The Letter Eisenhower Never Sent
Unknown to anyone but himself, Eisenhower also had another message in his pocket. His plan for what to say in case of failure. It read,
“My decision to attack at this time was backed up with the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”**
We look back at D Day and we think of it as history.
But when they decided to make history, victory was just one of the different possible outcomes.
History is uncertain until today's actions become the past.
In fact, as I watch the show The Man in the High Castle, based upon the novel by Philip Dick, I wonder just how different our world would have been. The show tries to predict what would have happened if Germany had won World War 2.
At one point the main character is in the Midwest and notices that ash is falling from the sky. The young hero asks, “what is that?” The police officer from somewhere in the Midwestern Nazi States of America says,
“Oh, its Tuesday. Today is the day the state disposes of the mentally handicapped, the terminally ill, and the Jews. You know, those who are a drain on the state.”
That could have happened. The worst could have happened.
There's No Such Thing as a Great Deed without Risk
So many people want to do great things. They want to help the child with anger issues. They want to create a program to reshape a city. They want to build a business or follow a dream. They want to raise world-changing children.
But big dreams come with big risks. No one could promise Eisenhower success. And no one can promise success to you or me.
You can only be promised uncertainty and hard work.
I tell my students who are afraid to speak publicly that the worst thing they can do is hold back. One way to make any speech cringeworthy is to hesitate.
Go all out or go home.
When you take a risk to follow a worthy dream, go all in. Use the best information available. Do all that bravery, devotion, and duty can do.
But don't halfway commit to a dream. Great achievements don't belong to the namby-pamby wishy-washy half-hearted penny in the fountain dreamers who won't get out of bed in the morning and fight for what they want.
A halfway commitment is a decision to hesitate.
And a decision to hesitate is a decision to fail.
Hesitation was deadly in Normandy. And hesitation is deadly when you're fighting for a worthwhile goal.
Great, bold dreams require courage and commitment. Sure, you could fail and perhaps if you're the leader, you might have a note in your pocket. But don't let anyone know it is there. Not if you want people to go all in and all out to accomplish a great task.
Give a worthy vision a chance by giving it all your courage, devotion to duty, and skill and by leading others to do the same. And may you be excellent and seek goals deserving of all that epic effort. For perhaps the only thing worse than hesitating when attempting a dream is to choose a dream that is ignoble, immoral, or indecent and not worthy of such heroic efforts.
*Eisenhower, Dwight. “Order of the Day” Retrieved 25 Nov 2015 <http://eisenhower.archives.gov/research/online_documents/d_day/Order_of_the_Day.pdf>
** Eisenhower, Dwight. “In Case of Failure Message. Retrieved 25 Nov 2015 <http://eisenhower.archives.gov/research/online_documents/d_day/In_Case_of_Failure_Message.pdf>
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