Can You Successfully Carry a Message to Garcia?

Commitment to taking personal responsibility for creating the successful life and career you want and deserve is one of the four keys to success in my Common Sense Success System.  I discuss it in detail in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success, Star Power, I Want YOU…To Succeed, Your Success GPS and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.

Commitment to taking personal responsibility is simple really.  Success is all up to you, and me, and anyone else who wants it.  All you have to do is commit to taking personal responsibility for our own success.  I am the only one who can make me a success.  You are the only one who can make you a success.

Personal responsibility means recognizing that you are responsible for your life and the choices you make.  It means that you realize that while other people and events have an impact on your life, these people and events don’t shape your life.  When you accept personal responsibility for your life, you own up to the fact that how you react to people and events is what’s important.  And you can choose how to react to every person you meet and everything that happens to you.

The concept of personal responsibility is found in most writings on success.  Stephen Covey’s first of seven habits of highly effective people is “be proactive.”  My friend, John Miller’s book “QBQ: the Question Behind the Question” asks readers to ask questions like “what can I do to become a top performer”?  John Miller is suggesting that people take responsibility for their lives, careers and success. 

A Message to Garcia is perhaps one of the best know tracts on personal responsibility.  It is an inspirational essay written in 1899 by Elbert Hubbard that has been made into two movies. It was originally published as a filler without a title in the March, 1899 issue of Philistine magazine which edited by Mr. Hubbard.  However, it was quickly reprinted as a pamphlet and a book, translated into 37 languages, and became well-known in American popular and business culture until the middle of the twentieth century.

A Message to Garcia celebrates the initiative of a soldier who is assigned and accomplishes a daunting mission. He asked no questions, made no objections, requested no help – and he accomplished his mission. The essay asks the reader to apply this attitude to his or her own life as an avenue to success. Its “don’t ask questions, get the job done” message was often used by business leaders as a motivational message to their employees in the early part of the 20th Century.  It was given to every United States Sailor and Marine in both world wars, and often memorized by schoolchildren.

The essay is about an incident in the Spanish-American War in 1898. As the American army prepared to invade what was then the Spanish colony of Cuba, they wanted to get in touch with the leader of the Cuban insurgents: Calixto Iniguez Garcia.  Garcia had been fighting the Spanish for Cuban independence since 1868 and wanted American help. An American officer by the name of was Andrew Summers Rowan was chosen to carry a message to Garcia.  You have to remember that there was no internet, no telephones and no telegraph service to Cuba in those days.  Someone had to hand deliver the message.  Rowan succeeded in getting the message to Garcia.

Here some selected excerpts from A Message to Garcia.

“IN ALL THIS CUBAN BUSINESS there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion. When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba—no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

“What to do!

“Someone said to the President, “There is a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

“Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia—are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

“The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, ‘Where is he?’

“By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing – ‘Carry a message to Garcia’ …

“My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the boss is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off,” nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks will be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village—in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed and needed badly—the man who can ‘Carry a Message to Garcia’.”

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people commit to taking personal responsibility for their lives and careers.  You demonstrate your commitment to creating the successful life and career you want and deserve by being willing to do the things necessary to succeed.  You also have to set high goals — and then do whatever it takes to achieve them.   Finally, stuff happens; as you go through life you will encounter many problems and setbacks.  You need to react positively to the negative stuff and negative people in your life and move forward toward your goals.  112 years ago Elbert Hubbard published an essay called “A Message to Garcia.”  I find it to be a great commentary on the importance of committing to taking personal responsibility for your life and career.  If you want a copy of “A Message to Garcia,” send an email to Bud@BudBilanich.com with the words “Message to Garcia” in the subject line.  I’ll send you a .pdf right away.

That’s my take on “A Message to Garcia” and the importance of committing to taking personal responsibility for your life and career.  Have you read “A Message to Garcia?”  What did you think?  Please tell us in a comment.  I’d really love to receive comments from people who have read this essay.  It would be great if you would share your thoughts about it with all of us.  As always, thanks for reading.

Bud

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Comments

  1. MIchael Montero says:

    I am 46 years old, an attorney by vocation, an athlete and a high school soccer coach, among other things.

    My father asked me to read A Message to Garcia when I started my first job out of law school. Periodically, over the years, he would ask me “when did you last read AMTG?” if it had been a while, he would ask me to read it again. He did the same with all his children.

    I adopted the story and its lessons and have used the story a lot over the past several years. In large part, as homage to my dad who died 3 years ago. It was important to him, and I know he’d get a kick out of how I have become the “poster child” for disseminating the story and its lessons to others.

    When my various assistants’ work fell below an acceptable level, I would ask them to read it and then we would discuss the lessons and morals. It always had an immediate impact and their work product improved tremendously overnight.

    My sister is teaching a basic studies course at a local community college. I encouraged her to use AMTG as her first homework assignment by simply writing “A Message to Garcia” on the blackboard, with the following instructions: 1) Describe the facts of the story; 2) Describe the lessons or morals of the story. When the students asked “is that in the text book?” “where can I find it?” or any other inane questions, her response was, “you have all the information you need – it’s due next Monday…” This to me is one of the lessons that stands out – resourcefulness, and the one that I identify with the most. If you think about any problem or situation and apply yourself you can solve it – usually on your own. Too often we give up too easily when a task becomes difficult.

    I read most of her college students’ papers and really enjoyed reading those who GOT IT. Many did; many didn’t.

    I just finished my first season as an assistant high school soccer coach. The head coach thought it was a great idea to give the written assignment to our players. The instructions to the players included those listed above, plus a few others including: 3)Describe how you apply these lessons in your overall life; 4)Describe how the lessons or morals apply in connection with being a member of this team (addressing yourself individually, and addressing your teammates or the group as a whole). Again, very gratifying to read those who GOT IT.

    All but one player turned in the assignment, which amazed the head coach. He expected a lot of resistance, and while there was some, I believe that it – the assignment – is the best thing we did for these kids. The one player who has yet to turn it in promised to do so in the next couple days.

    We will have a year-end dinner with the kids and parents in a few weeks. In addition to the typical sports team awards (MVP, most improved, etc.)we are thinking about giving out a “Rowan Award” which will likely go to a kid who barely got to play, but who displayed initiative, discipline and a willingness to do anything for the betterment of the team wihtout ever challenging or resisting the coaching staff. Rowan personified.

  2. Michael:
    Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment.
    I love the idea of using A Message to Garcia as a writing assignment.
    I think your sister nailed it with her assignment and then you improved on it.
    I’d apreciate it if you would let me know the story of the kid who wins the Rowan award.
    I will feature him and the award on this blog.
    All the best,
    Bud

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