Because it makes you feel alive

Somewhere on the spectrum of my Ideal Life, as a function of the themes of Passion, Wise Decisions and Scheduling and Planning lies the theme of Commitments.

That word commitment gets pretty bad press, and for good reason. It’s such a personal thing, but more often than not, our commitments impact others. Commitments are a question of motivation, of resources, of objectives.

We don’t learn how to make commitments. Our parents never sit down and tell us, “Choose your activities wisely, because you only have a limited number of years on this planet, and every single thing you choose to do will take some number of minutes that you cannot get back.” Or, “Choose wisely where you invest your talent. Make sure that you don’t lose your sense of purpose in trying to make a name for yourself. Your reputation takes a lifetime to make and a split second to destroy.” Or, “That money of yours is great, but make sure that you spend it in ways that align with your values.”

Parents don’t do this, because kids wouldn’t listen anyway. And, probably, parents are still learning it, too.

It is probably the most humbling experience in the world to realize just how much time, talent and money we have wasted in our lives on things that don’t bloody matter. Don’t matter in general, possibly, but, more importantly, don’t even matter to us.

Commitment-phobe

I wrote here that I used to have so little grasp of my own self-worth, that I essentially handed over a pen to everyone I met and let them fill in the squares of my calendar for me.

I let them decide how I would invest my talent: Sure, I’ll do an uncredited voice-over for you. Ok, another. Fine…absolutely. I’ll do another. Or, I want to surprise my granddaughter at her wedding. Would you sing that Mozart piece? Or, I don’t know how to knit but I like that stole you have. Here. Use this yarn I bought and make me one. Can I tell you one thing about each one of those commitments I agreed to? I absolutely dreaded every single one of them.

I let other people decide how I would invest my time: hikes that I didn’t want to do. Parties I didn’t want to go to. Long-term event-planning projects that sucked the life out of me and kept me from sleeping.

Commitment-o-phile

When we were young marrieds and very, very poor, we decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary at a local pizza place (not a ritzy place, I assure you.) On the patio of the restaurant, we saw an older gentleman who lived in a small, ramshackle house in our neighborhood. He was just finishing up his dinner. We chatted for a few minutes, then sat down for dinner. When it was time to pay the bill, we were told that the old gentleman, Jim, was his name, had taken care of it.

Jim died later that month. Twenty-some years on, and I still have tears in my eyes thinking about his kindness and how Jim would never know how much his generosity would change our lives and the lives of many many people we love.

Because of Jim, my husband and I have long believed that, even on a humble salary, we can make a difference by supporting small causes that do what we consider important work. We do not always do this in an official way, but we do it when our hearts tell us that something is within our power and our resources to do.

This could be as simple as offering a special coffee break and snacks for the teachers at the boys’ school, or helping a neighbor buy the clothes she needs to start her new career. We paid another neighbor’s rent once. We set ourselves back financially that month, to the point that we almost regretted it. Plus, our landlord didn’t like it. He nearly didn’t let us do it anonymously. Nonetheless, our hearts told us that it was critically important to help our neighbor out in a way that would protect her dignity.

We may never be able to dig a well or fly to the moon, but we have a deep sense of responsibility to the people we care about and who make our lives sweeter and more enjoyable by their presence. Their success and their security brings us immeasurable joy. We do it because Jim did it for us and I’m still crying about it twenty years later.

We don’t generally respond to requests for donations, which is funny, considering I used to work in fundraising. We much prefer to look for ways in which we can provide practical, live-giving support and then we jump in with both feet, as discreetly and as appropriately as we can.

How to make a commitment

How to make a commitment? You have to start by stopping making commitments. You have to start by turning down offers.

Just like my Buy No Clothes in 2021 project, I also committed to making no new commitments outside of the home, beyond what I already do this year.

What? Yeah, it’s nuanced. But what it meant was that I would not agree to sing in any concerts that were proposed to me in 2021 that would require preparation or learning new music.

It meant that I could gracefully decline two job offers that I didn’t really want, but would have taken because I wanted to help out the peopled who asked.

It also means that the KonMari Consultant Training to become a certified KonMari Consultant, the one I had been dreaming to do with my stimulus check, and even though the dates fell exactly at a right time for me and my family? I’d have to put it off another year.

It meant that the proposition to participate in an invitation-only Bible study, which was something I had long hoped to be offered, was something I would have to decline for this session. The good news? Now that it had been offered, I could sign up for the next session.

Every single time I decided not to do something, it felt so affirming and so good, because by choosing what I was not going to do, I was leaving more space for things I really really wanted to do.

What makes me feel alive

You know what makes me feel alive?

Singing at funerals. Refashioning. Writing. Encouraging others. Taking photos of my boys in superhero costumes. Making progress, on just about anything. Reimagining the past in a way that heals my present.

By declining new opportunities this year, I am able to invest in those things.

For example, today I have a lunch date with a friend who took my responsibilities over at church when I gave them up because they were eating me alive. Today, I get to be an encouragement to her, listen to her, laugh with her, support her. I would have had lunch with her anyway, but I go into it knowing that it makes me feel alive because I get to encourage someone along the way.

Tomorrow, I have a sewing date with a mom friend to refashion some clothes that she has been wanting to work on. Yes, I am terribly nervous that we will mess something up, but also, darn it, I want to spread the gospel of refashioning and prove that anyone can do it. I could dread this because I am afraid of the social awkwardness, but I don’t, because refashioning and sewing makes me feel alive. So does encouraging others.

What makes you feel alive?

So…as you think about the commitments you have in your life: what makes you feel alive? What does your Ideal Life look like, and how can you frame your current commitments in a way that will help you see them as an investment in your Ideal Life?

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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