If you’re anything like me, you like to keep your options open.

For example, when I decided to leave bioengineering to become a coach, I made sure that I had a post-doctoral research position in biology available to me as a back up, if I wanted it. When I took on a leadership role within the Handel Group® that required me to be responsible for the financial success of a division, I made sure that I had a back-up plan: Should I fail and my salary was cut, I would cut my expenses by moving to Brooklyn.

This bet hedging also extended into my relationships. When I dated men, for instance, I would often compare them to other men I knew and wonder if I could find someone better. I would still stay in the relationship, don’t get me wrong, but I would never quite commit to this being “it” because what if something better would come along? This sounds terrible to write, but that is how I used to be.

As with everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to keeping my options open.

The advantage is that I am pretty darn resilient. If something doesn’t work out, like changing my career or building a new relationship, it doesn’t impact me very deeply because I have a great second option already lined up. I am on to the next thing, ready for a new adventure, like a squirrel hopping from branch to branch. And my life HAS been quite a string of interesting and varied adventures!

But there are strong disadvantages to this mentality too. Oftentimes, to build something truly meaningful, you HAVE to commit to it whole-heartedly. As if you are going to make it work, or die trying. For example, that new leadership role within my company really required that I dig in and learn new skills and rally people to achieve our goals. That was hard. That was out of my comfort zone. That was embarrassing. That was annoying. That was scary.

So what did I do instead of stepping up? I daydreamed about my back-up plan: my Brooklyn apartment. Instead of doing the real work to figure out how to make my job succeed, I put energy into fleshing out that apartment. And then, I wasn’t fully succeeding at my job. There’s the real bummer, because my dream for my life really was to make that job succeed, not to live in Brooklyn.

There is a legend that when Cortes invaded Mexico, he sunk his ships so that his men had no back-up options: either they would conquer Mexico and make that their new home, or die trying.

There was no returning to Cuba or Europe or anywhere.

Over the past few years, I have taken a page out of Cortes’ book and am a BIG fan. For example, in my current relationship, I look at my partner as if he is my One. There are no other men on this continent; I have sunk the dating ship. What this means in practice is that, when we have a disagreement, I don’t roll my eyes and wonder if I could find someone who would agree with me more. Instead, I do the real work with my partner to figure out how we can co-design a life together that makes us both happy. And let me tell you, we have designed some great stuff. I am much happier and more in love than I ever have been before, and I wouldn’t have gotten here if I had given myself a boat ride back to the mainland.

Now, I am not saying that there isn’t a time and place for evaluating if something is right or not. Some jobs or relationships aren’t a good fit, and then it is time to leave. But I have learned that it’s first worth a whole-hearted try, living with a single-minded purpose, and deeply committing to what you have chosen. That is how you create something great.

Where in your life are you giving yourself a back-up plan? What ships should you sink? What do you need to commit to? Drop me a note and let me know!


As President of Handel Group® Life Coaching, Samantha Sutton leverages her analytical skills and deep care for others to bring Handel Group offerings to anyone who is ready for change. She leads and manages a team of twenty talented Handel coaches who teach that the path to fulfillment comes from overcoming limiting thoughts and beliefs and designing new ones that work better. Samantha has a PhD in Biological Engineering from MIT and uses her structured engineering outlook to help clients engineer better lives for themselves.

If you want to figure out the dreams you most want to commit to, register for our Design Your Life Weekend this Fall.

Photo by Lola Khalfa.