I knew an older man who declared one should stick to one’s commitments, no matter what. Always one to be suspicious of such blanket statements, I hit him with, “What if you discover you made a bad choice to begin with?”
“Doesn’t matter! You made a commitment, you stick with it. You take a job, you don’t quit it.”
“Ah,” I said, “but what if that job is sucking the lifeblood out of you?”
“Stick with it!”
“Even if it’s hurting your marriage or your family?”
He wavered a bit before repeating dogmatically, “Stick to your commitments!”
Sensing he was losing heart, I, being the snot that I am, pressed on with, “What if you discover what your committed to is involved in, say, human trafficking? Or porn production? Or steals money from little old ladies over the phone?”
He suddenly became interested in a table of desserts.
Knowing when to shift one’s commitment is a tricky thing. Sometimes we make a decision that we think is the best, and for the time being it is.
But then situations change, and we need to change with it. Commitment to a job, or a cause, or a group is important, but it isn’t always the end-all, be-all.
I have several friends, late thirties to mid forties, all making career changes and going to back to school. They’ve ended previous careers that spanned twenty years, and are hoping to engage in new ones—business, nursing, education—for the next twenty.
This behavior of changing one’s commitments is, contrary to what your grandmother may say, not flaky.
Our parents and grandparents came from generations where you chose one job and stuck to it for the rest of your life.
Never mind that it caused you stress or hardship.
Never mind that the hours were bad for raising a family.
Never mind that you felt your soul shrinking a little more each day.
You made a commitment, you stick to it! So what if the business is failing, fail with it! (I actually heard someone say that once about a faltering family business. Instead of closing it, the business tragically and unnecessarily took down the entire family instead.)
Some years ago I edited a dissertation written by a doctoral candidate evaluating why people change jobs. He interviewed dozens of “long-timers” in a factory who were frustrated with the disloyalty of younger employees. In their eyes, anyone on the job for less than ten years was still a new kid. They were shocked that many employees were there for maybe only two years, then “up and decided to get an education! The nerve! Thinking he was better than us, to go back to college?” Another complaint was, “Every time her baby gets a fever or an earache, she takes a sick day. Just give the baby some medicine, drop her off at daycare, and get back to work!”
I was as astonished at their utter devotion to their workplace above personal growth or family; they believed the employees owed all loyalty and allegiance to the company, first and foremost.
What they failed to realize was that you can always be replaced in a job, no matter how important you think you are. But no one can replace you as a spouse or parent.
The highest commitment has to be to one’s family and one’s principles, and those need to be the principles that ring truest to you.
Commitment is certainly a noble trait, but there’s something to be said for knowing when to “give up.” Each of my friends on new career paths gave up a job which has been filled by someone else eager for it, leaving everyone happier and re-committed to something better.
Last weekend my coworker’s daughter, in her 40s, graduated from a vocational nursing program with highest honors. She said to her mother, “I should have done this sooner, but I didn’t realize that I could.”
“True,” her mom said, “You should have. But so what? You did it now.”
I’ve thought of this change of commitment as I’ve reevaluated some aspects of my life. After twenty-two years, I’m quitting teaching part-time because I’m burned out. It’s time to give the opportunity to someone else with fresher ideas and less cynicism.
I’ve also evaluated my commitment to my website and book covers, and have realized that they all need overhauls. Like the nursing student, I wished I’d improved them sooner, but I really didn’t know what to do.
But now I do. Or rather, now I’m consulting with and employing those who do know what to do, and in a few months I hope my website will be cleaner, and my book covers will be intriguing. (I was about to write “dazzling,” but I don’t know how to put glitter on the screen.)
I also wished I started writing earlier in life, but similar to many of my friends who are now pursuing second careers, I didn’t know writing was something I really wanted to do. (Yes, despite being an English teacher . . .)
But so what? We’re all doing it now! And it’s never too late to make that course correction.
Last week I spoke with a man in his 70s who said he always drove his mother crazy because he was never “committed.” His father had been a railroad man since he was a teenager, but his son started one business after another, which his mother thought was irresponsible.
But as I looked around his well-appointed and spacious home on a hill overlooking a lake, I decided he hadn’t really done so poorly for himself.
Yet he said, “I still don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, still haven’t figured out what to be when I grow up!”
Often we commit to something and really don’t know what we’re in for. Ask anyone who’s ever been married. *Let me state right here that I’m all for commitment in marriage!* Just indulge me for a moment: Even in very best of happy marriages, people find themselves surprised by what they’ve committed to. This doesn’t mean that we abandon it, but re-commit to it, over and over.
But sometimes we outgrow a commitment; for example, faithfully following a favorite sports team which, as we mature, we realize takes too much of our very limited time.
There’s nothing wrong with stopping midstream and deciding to head in another direction, or taking a closer look to see what can be improved with something that we previously thought was just fine, or bailing out altogether. Commitment to the wrong thing at the wrong time does no one any good.
But re-committing to something better can make all the difference in everyone’s world.
Perrin mentally added ‘farmer’ to the list of alternatives to being High General. The list he began two and half years ago in Idumea had never been erased from his mind. Periodically he pulled it out, reminding himself that his future wasn’t set in stone . . .
It was the unknown variables that troubled him. He often felt his life was a complicated math problem where he’d been given only a few numbers, with the rest to follow at a later date. He’d stare at the equation, anticipating what the missing digits may be, wondering when the final solution would reveal itself.
“Just comes a time, boys,” Shem answered breezily. “Colonel Shin’s been at it for over twenty-five years. Gets a little boring, doing the same work for so long. Maybe he’ll become a builder.” ~Book 4, Falcon in the Barn (coming spring 2015)