Commitment is a rare quality. Always has been and always will be. One main reason? Commitment, though simple, is far from easy. It will test us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Often, it’s hard to see the benefits and so we rationalize quitting.
Today, I’d like to parse this concept. Commitment is one of those buzz words that pepper inspirational quotes, but um, yeah…
HOW, exactly do we DO this commitment thing? Better still, how do we NOT do it? Because, as I like to say, ‘Persistence can look a lot like stupid.’
If I have committed to climbing Mt. Everest, but I keep scaling the side of Mt. Shasta, then I’m not committed…I’m apparently VERY bad at geography since I’m climbing the WRONG MOUNTAIN!
I’m pretty sure most of us have had times in our lives that we threw everything we had into something, only to wake up one day and realize we were ON THE WRONG MOUNTAIN.
There’s Power in the Pause
I tend to be a person of extremes. Yes, yes, I know *shock face.* This can be a good thing. When I set my mind to something I will work until half dead to accomplish my goal(s). This has served me well in some areas. In others?
Not so much.
I’ve historically been guilty of all-or-nothing thinking. It’s why I was such a dedicated blogger for so many years. I blogged literally no matter what, arguably to the point of being ridiculous.
One such occasion? I’d been up until three in the morning by my favorite aunt’s bedside until she finally passed away. With only a couple hours of sleep, I willed myself into my chair and posted a blog about editing…only to make a major typo IN THE TITLE because I was so exhausted.
See? I told y’all persistence can look a lot like stupid 😀 .
I know WHY I did this. Most of my younger years I had ZERO self-discipline. The moment I wasn’t the best or became bored or didn’t have a giant cheer squad telling me I was a super-mega-genius? I quit. I constantly flitted from one shiny to another.
In short? I was a flake.
As to that blog I bungled? I was afraid NOT to post, terrified I’d somehow jinx myself. I’d miss ONE blog and suddenly fall back into all those old bad habits.
Seems silly now. Not so much back then.
Yeah, yeah, I now know it would have served me better to lighten the hell up. But I’d started blogging to learn how to show up not matter what my feelings said. I knew if I was ever going to make it as an author (or anything) I HAD to learn self-discipline and commitment.
Here we are. I’ve been blogging now almost 14 years. This past year, however, has tested my priorities. I couldn’t do EVERYTHING, though I very much tried to.
When you commit to everything, you commit to nothing.
I’m an author, FIRST.
Hard lesson to learn. Though I’ve not been blogging as much, I’ve never stopped writing. As a professional? Gotta do the paid work first. As I’ve already mentioned, I stepped out of my comfort zone to do something new—ghostwriting.
It didn’t take long to realize that I simply couldn’t research, do interviews, learn to mimic another person’s voice, get words on the page AND do all the other activities I’ve enjoyed for so many years.
In short, I had to be committed to the client, to the book…all the way to THE END, regardless what happened. Oh and what DIDN’T happen? Oy vay!
In the eight months it took for me to finish the manuscript:
- I caught COVID, and it took three months to even feel somewhat human again
- Had to have our roof replaced
- Someone knocked over our mailbox and it had to be completely rebuilt
- House was struck by lightning, frying refrigerator and AC/heating unit which all had to be replaced
- Laptop crapped out and had to buy a new one
- Mom and Father in Law both had major abdominal surgery the same week
It was like every time I staggered to my feet from one hit, I was upright just in time for the next. But, years of training kept me going. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of simply showing up day after day. We don’t have to make major accomplishments all the time. The small wins add up if we simply stay at it.
Granted, with all the other ‘stuff’ happening, I had to pare down my commitment list to the bare essentials, or essential. Finish the book.
Commitment isn’t a Straight Line
Life is, well…life. Sometimes, we’ll have to set aside one commitment for another. When Spawn was a baby, I had different priorities than I do now. Back then? Mostly keeping him alive. Now, homeschooling…and mostly keeping me alive 😛 .
As much as I’ve missed doing the familiar, being forced to narrow/prune/reprioritize my commitments showed me there’s power in the pause. Sometimes we need a break. We need to do something different, get our bearings, ask if we still really want whatever it was we set out to achieve.
Make sure that, if we want to scale Mt. Everest that we’re at least in the right country.
Admittedly I have a perfectionist, control-freak, Type A+ personality (A+ because I did the extra credit unlike those other slackers 😛 ). This is a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to commitment.
Commitment is messy, unpredictable, and will test everything you have.
To keep with my mountain-climbing analogy, how successful would I be if I set out up Mt. Everest at top speed and tried to maintain a breakneck pace all the way up?
***Hint: I used the word ‘breakneck.’
First of all, that would be impossible because of the nature of the terrain. Some places, I need to stop, assess, make sure of my gear, that I have a firm footing, that I am even on track up the path that leads to the summit.
The same can be said when we commit to anything worthwhile whether it’s writing a book, running a business, working out, parenting, being in a relationship, etc. It’s all uncharted territory that has ups and downs, and can change at any moment (for better or worse), even commitments that seem simple enough to keep.
I’ve learned that we need to first test ourselves to even have an idea of our limits. Yet, even once that’s done, never underestimate what your commitments might actually demand.
***As a note, though, most people underestimate what they are TRULY capable of. You can do more much more than you likely realize.
Failure is a Great Teacher
Strangely enough, much of what learning to do involves learning what not to do.
Back in my college years, I was an avid outdoors person. Loved camping, mountain-biking, canoeing, etc. Anyway, I was in Durango, Colorado and agreed to do a ‘beginner’s climb’ up the side of this almost vertical rock face.
Note I said almost vertical. It had just enough of an angle that I could use pressure to grip my way up with fingertips and my tiptoes.
In my mind, it was a climb for BEGINNERS. It wasn’t THAT big of a deal. Only about a hundred or so feet up. I’d done some bouldering and indoor climbing, so was pretty confident this would be a piece of cake.
Y’all sensing my first mistake?
It was all fun and games until just as I was almost to the top, a foothold I believed was solid gave way right as I was reaching for the next handhold…which also gave way.
***Just anticipate when $#@! goes wrong, it will likely not be one single thing.
Then? I have no idea what happened other than my dumb @$$ slid so fast down the side of this rock I’m shocked I didn’t catch fire.
The only thing that saved me was a safety rope. That and God loves children and idiots. I know because I’ve tested both.
***Gives nod to Mark Twain.
Fortunately, this mishap only cost me my favorite shirt and jeans (shredded) and more than a few layers of skin.
What does this have to do with commitment?
First, commitments, even seemingly simple and straightforward ones, can serve up large helpings of failure. There will be times where everything is going as we planned…until it isn’t. Even when we think we’ve taken all precautions, all the steps and thought everything through, there is always the unexpected.
***Refer to my list above.
Secondly, we can’t control everything, and can only control ourselves and what we do when we fall.
As for my climb?
After sliding down the rock face, I chatted with Jesus while I waited for my guide to make his way down to me. He (not Jesus) kindly offered to help me make my way to the bottom, because the base of the cliff was certainly was a lot closer than the top. Not to mention I was scraped up pretty badly.
Though tempting, I politely declined, gathered what was left of my pride and started back up until I made it to the top…then NEVER went climbing again.
Which brings me to another point about commitment. Sometimes a failure is a good indication whether to stay or to move on.
I’d had my adventure and survived it, but I didn’t love rock-climbing enough to ever go through that again.
I can’t say that about writing. No, I was determined to go pro, no matter what.
I’ve failed and failed and failed and failed, but with every failure, I’ve learned. Not only have I learned how to be better at my craft and my business, I’ve also learned that no matter how much I bleed? I LOVE writing enough to keep going no matter what. Writing has taught me to embrace ‘The SUCK’ and to LOVE being miserable.
You read correctly. For the serious artist, the committed artist, it’s imperative to learn to be miserable. To even take a sort of bizarre pride in it.
If you’ve not yet read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, I strongly recommend it. Though most of my copies are dog-eared and tattered, one of my favorite sections is How to Be Miserable.
Pressfield talks about his brief stint in the United States Marine Corps.
There is a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful. The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist.
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Pressfield colorfully details the perverse satisfaction Marines derive from being more miserable than any other branch of service, from colder chow to higher casualty rates.
What does this have to do with the artist? Marines have such love for and commitment to their beloved Corps that they take pride out of the hells they endure. Same for the committed artist.
As a professional author for many years, I can promise that you’re signing up for a life of self-doubt, hardship, ridicule, rejection, uncertainty, and mind-wrecking, soul-crushing work.
There will be highs and wins (maybe), but like climbing that mountain?
98% of what you’ll do will test your commitment every single step.
Can you finish a book? Finish a book people will actually PAY to read? Can you build a brand, run a small business, understand marketing, and keep up with all the metrics and algorithms and the myriad of changes that happen seemingly by the second?
In a digital world where computing capacity has increased a trillion times since the 1950s, we humans are still trying to keep up with that puny lump of gray matter in between our ears.
Think you can keep up? Probably not. But we don’t embrace the suck because we’re certain we’ll ‘win’ or ‘have a good time.’ That’s the realm of the amateur and amateurs don’t require commitment.
As Pressfield says, ‘The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.’
Commitment IS Uncertainty
Commitment is not a straight smooth, paved road with clear signs. There are no pitstops where some higher power, magical being posts some Things You Need to Do NEXT list.
Now wouldn’t THAT be awesome?
Certainty is a luxury that doesn’t exist. In my professional career I’ve gone from resume writer to copy writer to technical writer to screenplay writer to blogger to content editor to teacher to speaker to non-fiction author to novelist to ghostwriter. On and on, round and round, back and forth.
I turned pro right as we entered the digital age. An industry that had not changed in over a century suddenly began crumbling away. Commitment means we have to be flexible, learn to stick and move. Be willing to make hard sacrifices.
Like spending months writing a book that will never bear my name.
In the end, I’d like to circle back to where we began. It becomes easier to commit when we learn discernment. Commitment means we put skin in the game long enough to say we gave our best, then we can decide whether or not to remain dedicated.
Commitment is NOT a suicide pact.
Often learning what’s worthy of our life’s blood, sweat and work only comes after a process of figuring out what isn’t. Give yourselves permission to explore and maybe even *GASP* have a little fun.
Back in January, I refused to mention N** Y*** Res***tions. What can I say? 2020 was a biter. But maybe, since commitment is one of those long-term things, we could endeavor to make…New Decade Resolutions?
***Yes, I was one of those nerds who spent half my time on social media last January correcting people that 2021 actually was the first year of the new decade.
Besides, maybe New Decade Resolutions make more sense since those BIG goals take a lot of time. There will be many years where we believe we’re tilting at windmills, then BAM! It’s like the stone mason striking a large piece of granite over and over and over. It only SEEMS to crack open all at once, but it wasn’t that singular strike that did the trick. Rather, the few hundred before it in the same spot.
Anyway, as you venture out into this strange new world, remember…
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
What Are Your Thoughts?
I LOVE hearing from you! Are you like me and never understood self-discipline? I would try to change all my behavior and priorities in a day/week/month and then throw up my hands the moment I backslid.
Do you fall into all or nothing thinking? It’s okay. Even after many years training, I still have to be super careful.
Do you keep starting new projects and never finish? Even if they are ‘bad’? Find yourself almost to the finish line and gas out? When I was writing this last book, I almost had a nervous breakdown the week before I finished. I was certain it was all crap and I had to start over and was completely and utterly out of my depth.
It happens even to the best of us.
For the record, the book was far from crap and my client’s agent is over the moon! Great news for me, but how close I came to throwing in the towel, certain I was a talentless hack. Commitment to FINISH was the only way I found out any different. That I wasn’t a talentless hack at all, but quite the opposite.
Do you find yourself freezing with self-doubt? I love hearing from you. What are YOUR stories?