President Dwight Eisenhower was raised on a Kansas farm, and he never forgot the lessons he learned there. He's said to have told the following story in response to a tough question from the press.

"An old farmer had a cow that we wanted to buy," Eisenhower recalled, "so we went to visit him and asked about the cow's pedigree.

"The old farmer didn't know what the word 'pedigree' meant, so we asked him about the cow's butterfat production. His answer was that he didn't have the foggiest idea. Finally we asked him if he knew how many pounds of milk the cow produced each year.

"The farmer shook his head and said, 'I don't know. But she's an honest cow, and she'll give you all the milk she has!'

"Well," Ike concluded, "I'm like that cow. I'll give you everything I have."

Eisenhower didn't just want to get by. He was committed to do his best. You can see when people are committed to a project or cause; they refuse to settle for anything less than their best. They are willing to learn and work hard.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie said people fall into three basic categories: Those who did not do all their duty, those who only professed to do their duty and those who did their duty plus a little more.

If you make a commitment, you need to see it through. No slacking off, no excuses. Commitment must start from the inside out. Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do, long after the mood you said it in has left you.

"Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision and gives us the right stuff to turn our dreams into reality," said James Womack, founder and chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Some might be tempted to back off those dreams when the going gets tough — which it often does. But being truly committed provides the motivation to persevere, another word that is important in seeing projects and dreams through to the finish.

Commitment is a prerequisite of success. Commitment is the state of being bound — emotionally, intellectually, or both — to a course of action. Commitment starts with a choice and is sustained by dedication and perseverance. Actions speak louder than words.

Lou Holtz, the Hall of Fame college football coach, believes there are four things any person or organization needs to be successful.

"First," he says, "you have to make a commitment to excellence. Second is complete attention to detail. The third thing is to have sound fundamentals, and the fourth requirement is discipline."

I will add another essential element of commitment: confidence in your ability to succeed. Ask any successful entrepreneur how often they questioned their judgment, their sanity. I'd wager that any who were truly committed had some moments of uncertainty. But they believed in their potential. As I've preached so many times, it's important to believe in yourself, even when no one else does.

I'm not sure how people can be totally satisfied with themselves if they are not committed to doing their very best. Sure, there are going to be failures, but that's no excuse for not trying your hardest. You can't hold back because of fear of failure.

I firmly believe that all human success is the result of persistent commitment. Not luck, not just being in the right place at the right time. Commitment is a decision that is easier to make than to see through. Commitment is what keeps you forging ahead once the initial glow has faded.

We'll go back to the barnyard for some perspective. A chicken and a pig were talking about commitment.

The chicken said, "I'm committed to giving eggs every morning."

The pig said, "Giving eggs isn't commitment, it's participation. Giving ham is total commitment."

Mackay's Moral: Motivation is what gets you started. Commitment is what keeps you going.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail