On Commitment

Excerpted from Jonathan Field's Good Life Project emailer:

Hey there,

There’s this question that keeps coming up…

“Hey J,” I’m asked…

“I committed to doing X, but now things have changed, I realize the reasons that led me to make the commitment are no longer valid and I really loathe having to keep doing it. What do I do?”

Couple-a-thoughts here. And, as always, hold them loosely!

We all make commitments based on two things, right?

(1) what we know (haha, like we really ever know anything), and

(2) what we think we know (oy, if I had $1 for everything I thought I knew)

Once we get deeper into a commitment, two things happen...

One - a solid chunk of what we were “sure” we knew turns out to be wrong. A circumstance is not what we thought it was, a person or partner or resource isn’t what what thought. Or, gulp, we aren’t who we thought and we don’t feel the way we thought we would.

It’s like Mark Twain supposedly said, “it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (and, btw, even that quote, nobody’s entirely sure it was Twain. Oh, the #irony!).

And, two - a solid chunk of what we admitted from the get-go was a complete leap of faith, well that ends up being anywhere from a teensy bit off to profoundly, entirely, utterly, capital-letters WRONG.

Now, sometimes these things are wrong in ways that - taken as a whole - still preserve our original motivation for saying hell yes in the first place. So, we stay. We keep the commitment, because our original motivation for it remain intact, even though some of the details have shifted.

But, other times, we find ourselves in this place where reality is all...

“this is NOT what I agreed to and I NEVER would of said yes if I’d know [insert yada yada yada here] before I got started.”

And, the thing is, it’s not even about anyone being underhanded or nefarious (seriously, been wanting to use that word since like 1994). Sometimes, things just change, murkiness becomes clarity, facts become clear, circumstances evolve. In fact, the thing that may have changed most is, um, well, you, your own personal circumstance, clarity about what you want, how much time and energy you really have and what you’re willing to work or sacrifice for.

That’s all okay. Question is, when this happens, what are you going to DO about it?

As with everything, I don’t have all the answers, but here’s something to play with…

If you had to make the decision now, knowing what you know, would you still have said yes?

If the answer is no, then start working on figuring out how to exit as gracefully as possible. If you can do it with integrity, minimal disruption and effort, make it happen fast. If you were “duped” into saying yes by the misrepresentations of others, staying with something or someone out of a sense of obligation to those who’ve misled you is not a reason to remain in the game.

If others have committed resources, investment, effort and made sacrifices on the basis of your original yes, then it’ll likely take more time to figure out how to put together the pieces in a way that will let you make your exit with integrity. That may mean recruiting other resources, people or assets to step in, bring a project to place where the impact of your departure is easier to weather. Setting up and documenting systems and processes to allow someone else to step in may be a part of that process.

Now, we should also talk about another situation. The one where you’re committed to play a part in something that is really hard, shows no real possibility of getting better, but it is something you feel a certain moral, ethical or familiar obligation to stick with. We see this often with commitments to people, groups or communities in dire need, or family members in need.

If the obligation, here, comes largely from a place of shame or guilt or any other personally-destructive motivation, or if it leads you to be in a place of genuine physical or emotional harm, that’s not the reason to stay the course.

But, if it comes from a more genuine place of love, compassion, gratitude, service or even, for some, a sense of fairness, then, even if we’d really rather bow out or be doing a million other things, there’s a real reason to stay in it. At that point, our job becomes:

Making the situation as good/nourishing as it can be, Rebuilding the circumstances of our lives AROUND that commitment to allow us to be as physically and psychologically okay as we can be while we ride the wave of our commitment AND Knowing that this is a decision we’ve made to honor the commitment and all that comes with it, for reasons that are meaningful to us.

These elements are really important, because they lay the foundation for us to continue on from a place of intentionality and agency, rather than victimhood. They allow sacrifice to more readily transmute to meaning. That doesn’t necessarily make things easier, but can make them better.

Okay, sooooo, wow, that was WAAAAYYYY longer than I’d expected. Guess I had something to get out.

Thank you JF!!!!!

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