A few hours ago, I was under the extremely thick and warm comforter my mother had bought for the family admitting to myself that it was the worst attempt at avoiding a commitment. That didn’t get me to crawl out from under the comforter, of course; it just made me accept that I’m an utterly ridiculous person who bit off more than she can chew.
Outside, by the porch, one of my aunts stood with a friend who has just started a business and is looking for someone who can help him develop content for it. I had promised my aunt that I'd try to help with it, a fact that I had forgotten due to the avalanche of projects that my clients had rained upon me over the last week and the fact that one of our numerous family pets died (I had to play therapist to the children). I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, I had twenty more articles to copyedit, and I couldn’t bear to break my aunt’s heart.
It was that last thought that finally dragged me away from the soft, safe darkness under the comforter. I had made a commitment, and I had to honor it. I just had to remember that it was yet another lesson in committing to too much.
Some People Are Just Serial Committers
There are many people like me out there—people who take every offer they make seriously, simply due to the fact that they don’t want to be accused of breaking promises and that the world at large expects us to commit to a whole lot of stuff. Refusing to commit or breaking a commitment either brands us as failures or scum, people who are culturally prone to being lynched. Some folks can handle being considered unreliable; but nice people and achievers can’t really bear it. We define ourselves through our accomplishments and merits as seen by others.
It’s one of the reasons why I invested in a VoIP phone service for my freelancing, actually. I didn’t want to be a financial burden to anyone in the household, but I also still wanted to offer 24/7 emergency contact details for my clients. I say yes to almost every little thing they ask of me and, for the most part, I tend to agree to many of the clients’ terms in every project I work on. It’s because I’m committed to giving them what they need. And I’m the same way with family and friends.
It can be pretty overwhelming, which is why I occasionally have nervous breakdowns that prompt me to hide under the blankets.
Commitment Can Turn Into Unwanted ObligationsThe issue with commitments is, of course, that they can turn into obligations. There is a difference between the two, and that difference is important if you want to understand a person’s willingness to do something for someone.
Simply put, a commitment is something that you volunteered to do because you honestly want to do it. An obligation, on the other hand, is something you are compelled to do because there seems to be no other choice. More often than not, the things that I “commit” to turn into obligations I find difficult to handle. The worst part is that when I initially offer to do something for people, I genuinely want to help. It only becomes problematic when I realize that many of those commitments are expected to be fulfilled within a certain time frame, and that what each entails is more than what I had assumed.
Before I know it, the sense of accomplishment I expected to feel either turns into bitter resentment or a crippling fear that everyone I love and respect in my life will be disappointed in me forever. It’s something that happens time and time again, but I really can’t seem to shake falling into this trap—no matter how meticulously I arrange my schedule.
Prioritization Can Make Commitment Less Burdensome
It’s not until I had a conversation with my pragmatic husband after my aunt’s visit that I realized what I needed to do: I needed to be more clear in terms of my priorities. My big problem, he pointed out, was that I thought of every task in my life as “high priority”. I never really think about which activity is more important than others. I really don’t consider the things I value before I volunteer to do some things in other people’s terms. “Things like this can drive you insane,” he stated firmly.
I recalled the comforter incident and realized he was right. This needed to end, once and for all.
So, with my husband’s help, I set up a “Priorities Chart” that will help me manage my commitments more effectively. We started by figuring out which parts of my life I find most important (we agreed that the number one priority should be my own sanity), and then what actions can be sorted into each priority. Any task that cannot be sorted under a particular priority gets put into our metaphorical trash bin. The sheer number of things I realized I had “committed” to that I didn’t really care for was a little bit terrifying, especially since I then had the uncomfortable task of reneging on certain promises.
But after it was all done, I felt overwhelming relief. The desire to hide under bed clothing had subsided. The burden of commitment has been lifted. And all I need to do is keep practicing my prioritization skills.