Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we ask a lot of questions about interesting topics, and even if we don’t find the answers, we learn about ourselves along the way.
The podcast in which we get down to the nuts and bolts of building a satisfying life, and offer doable steps to assembling that life. Kind of like Ikea, only with prettier clothes.
The podcast in which we set aside guilt and duty for a little bit, in order to get down to the heart of why we do what we do.
And most importantly, the podcast in which we seek out joy as the impetus for our actions.
This is Episode 28 of Sing With Your Feet. If you are just joining us, well…welcome! We are so glad you are here. I may say a few things along the way that might require a bit of background, and if I do that, I’ll try to send you back to the appropriate podcast episodes to help fill in the details. But even if you don’t do that, because listening to 28 episodes, that is, about 14 hours of your fairy godmother and your wicked stepsister talk, is quite a commitment, I promise that, even short of investing that much time, there will be something for you in this week’s episode, too.
Speaking of Commitments, that is what we are here to talk about this week.
Before I get lost on a tangent about fairy dust and magic wands, let’s get started!
What is a Commitment?
Now Lily, don’t be obtuse.
Oh, that? That’s you, Cinderella. You’ve got your floaty Southern Belle hoopskirt on…A little lace parasol in your hand. You’re absolutely precious.
We all know what a Commitment is. It’s a pledge. A vow. An oath. A promise.
Yes…that’s true. But the word Commitment is one that tends to get our attention more than…say, Promise does.
As I see it, a Commitment engages more than just our word, the way a pledge or a vow does. A Commitment engages part of who we are.
If this is true, then what part of us are we putting on the line when we make a Commitment?
To answer that, let’s turn back to something we talked about in depth in Episode 3, called “On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop”, we talked about it a lot then, but it has been one of the most important themes from the early days of the podcast.
So, to return to our question: what part of our lives are we engaging when we make a commitment? We are engaging one of three categories of resources that we have to offer in this world.
Each of us has three distinct categories of resources that we bring with us throughout our lives, in varying measures. They are what we have to invest in life:
- Our talents, that is, what we know how to do,
- our treasure, that is our financial resources and
- our time, which is, I have previously argued, the most valuable of all our resources because we don’t have an unlimited supply of it, and we never know exactly how much of it we will have.
So, we could, for purposes of our discussion today, define a commitment as a pledge, vow, oath or promise of our time, talent or treasure.
I mean, we don’t generally say, “I made an oath to go to the movies with my kids.“ However, I might say, “I promised to take my kids to the movies.“ A Commitment doesn’t have to be something life-changing. It just has to be something in which you engage part of your resources by an express decision.
And that bolded text you heard in my voice is what I would like to humbly suggest is what sets an oath or a pledge or a promise apart from a Commitment.
So to be very specific, I would like to define a Commitment as a decision to pledge, vow or promise our time, talent or treasure.
Does it sound like I am being nit-picky here? Well, I am.
A commitment is a decision. A commitment is a decision to use or engage our principle resources of time, talent or treasure.
In Episode 23, we talked about making wise decisions. I know this is not a particularly popular topic, but I brought it up because I think that decision making is an underrated subject.
Many of us are blindsided by decisions when they present themselves, and we can really tie ourselves in knots sometimes over them. Examples like, “should I talk to my neighbor about how the noise they make keeps my children from sleeping or do we just live with it?“ Or “who do I want making decisions for me if I become incapacitated?“ these are quality of life considerations that sometimes require us to do the hard thing.
Practicing decision making skills in non-urgent situations can make this kind of decision making easier. So, yeah, while it’s not popular, I think learning to make decisions is an undervalued skill.
But what I find fascinating is that many of us engage our time, our talent or our treasure without ever making an active, positive decision—we engage our resources without ever committing.
We spend money without thinking it through, then end up unhappy because we’re broke or in debt. We agree to time-consuming activities then end up exhausted and burned out. We invest our know-how and talent into projects and end up feeling resentful and used.
So we end up in situations where we are unhappy with the direction our lives have taken, and yet we never saw ourselves get off course.
So today, I want to take some time in my hallowed function as your fairy godmother to give you an outline of considerations for when you are faced with a commitment of your three precious resources.
Part One: The Ideal Life
Socially functional, but introverted. (Check)
People pleaser. (Check)
Unable to say “no”. (Check)
These three elements are a recipe for disaster.
For years before I had babies, these three worked together to give me a vibrant, if exhausting, social and professional life. Whether among friends and the activities we did together, or at work, I felt an obligation to always agree to whatever was offered.
This feeling of obligation came from a deeply rooted sense that I didn’t deserve anyone’s kindness, therefore I should vacuum whatever crumbs of attention I could get. Therefore, I let other people arrange my calendar for me. I didn’t know how to say, “I would rather not have five nights of activities in a week…” so I ended up exhausted, overextended and resentful. I would tell myself, “this is just for a season…” but those seasons would extend for months and months and years and I was tired and grumpy all the time.
For some reason, this grumpiness was preferable to learning how to set limits and boundaries and taking control back over my own calendar (that is, taking back ownership of my most valuable resource: my time. ) I felt inexplicably guilty, as if I owed everyone else my time.
We talked about setting healthy boundaries in episode 26, but just to recap, we said that there is a difference between doing something out of guilt and doing something out of duty, but that acting out of guilt is never a good reason to act.
We also said, and I’m sure it will be much to your surprise, that setting healthy boundaries is about the Golden Rule: doing for others what you would want them to do for you and loving your neighbor as yourself.
If you want others to have healthy boundaries, you need to have healthy boundaries yourself.
So the first most important point about Commitments is this: your resources are YOURS. You do not owe them to anyone else. No one has the right to use guilt to extract your resources from you.
Once you accept this, and once you take responsibility for your resources, it then becomes your responsibility to decide how to use them.
This is where the Ideal Life exercise comes in handy. The first part of the Ideal Life Exercise is to complete this sentence: In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…who what?
If you haven’t gotten around to answering that prompt in a global way, it would really behoove you to sit down with a paper and pen for a few minutes and start writing out answers. (It would be even better if you were to take ten to fifteen minutes in the morning before anyone else in your home was awake, so that you could be truly alone and can concentrate, but I will make that argument again another day…)
In any case, take some time to think about your Ideal Life and how you interact with Commitments of your time, talent and your treasure.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject:
In My Ideal Life
I am a person who…
- only commits to things that make her feel alive
- knows how to say no
- doesn’t oblige someone else’s folly
- steps back from responsibility at the right time
- Understands the seasonality of commitments
- Knows that she is not a failure, even if she can’t keep to her end of a bargain
- Is careful with her time and doesn’t over-promise
- Is generous with her talent and her treasure.
- doesn’t dread social engagements
- has her priorities straight
- Underestimates the commitments of others so that she doesn’t end up disappointed.
Part Two: Why Don’t Commitments Stick?
I have a one word answer to that question: enthusiasm.
I would absolutely love to say that I have some grandiose scientific reason for why commitments are so tough to keep to, but the number one reason that my own life has ended up over-committed and under-delivering, is enthusiasm.
Don’t get me wrong. Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing. It’s refreshing and is at the heart of a lot of good things.
But enthusiasm is illlusory. It’s a flame which, if it only catches on the surface, will burn out immediately at the first wind. Or worse…it’s a flame that can catch a whole dry forest and consume it, leaving huge swaths of destruction in its wake.
That initial flame, if it can ignite purpose, as in, it touches one of the many circles in someone’s Ideal Life, and resonates with their available resources, then there is potential for a commitment that sticks and lasts, and we’ll be talking about this in the third part of today’s episode.
But for a moment, I want to take the example of what happened to me when I finally was able to drop the commitments I had made purely out of guilt or misplaced enthusiasm, and how that changed my life for the better.
When I had my first baby my mother-in-law asked me if I was bored. What she meant, of course, was that I had always been so active that suddenly being stuck with a baby must have been boring (it was, but not in the way she imagined!)
I wished I could have told her, “oh yes, I am so bored.“ (because, you know, I am a people pleaser who likes to affirm everyone’s assumptions about everything) But the truth was that I was very happy to have a permanent excuse as to why I could not go out every night. I was very happy to not be working where I had been, because at work I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or stop taking on other people’s often unrealistic, borderline abusive, expectations as my own.
Babies were like an escape hatch for me. Babies were how I could, without fear of judgment, step back from responsibilities. Sure…they were their own special kind of commitment. But they also were a very convenient excuse to get out of things I didn’t want to do, and in many cases, never had wanted to do.
Nipping it in the bud
Of course, they didn’t stay tiny babies who needed their mama forever. So it started happening…ever so slowly, that I found myself handing over the reins of my calendar to other people again. I found myself agreeing to go places with my babies because I felt guilty for saying no, all while dreading this, because they were tornados in little boys’ clothing. (Side note, this is still somewhat true.)
And then, miracle of miracles, the great lockdown of 2020.
I was so relieved to not have anywhere to go or anything to do. I was so relieved, you cannot imagine. Because I did not have to go anywhere, I was able to start studying that relief. I realized that there were responsibilities and activities that I was doing that filled me with so much resentment and anger…and yet I would do them simply because I had agreed to do them and was afraid to disappoint others.
I stepped back from my responsibilities. It was hard. But it was such a relief. I put a moratorium on adding any new commitments to my calendar. I started learning to negotiate times and places so as to lessen my apprehension about taking the scalawags anywhere.
As I’ve said before, I have a hard time with boundaries and knowing where I end and other people begin. Learning that if someone loves me, they will be willing to hear me say no, has been one of the greatest, most empowering lessons of my life. Learning to negotiate is scary, but well worth the discomfort.
As a natural enthusiast, it is very hard to want to step back from what ignites a little flame of excitement in my heart. Being somewhat naïve opens me, and others like me, to manipulation. Manipulation can lead to us invest our resources in ways that we don’t want to.
If you are like me, and if you are listening to this podcast because you need a fairy godmother to help you make some magic in your life, then I can only assume that you are, then you need to start developing some healthy skepticism. Maybe even start being a touch cynical.
All while keeping your magic and your fairy dust intact, start questioning what you do and why you do it. If you are serious about this, you might just want to take your calendar out and start looking at all the items on it. Answer the question: Who am I doing this for? How long have I been doing this? Why did I start?
In this first step to developing healthy skepticism, you aren’t going to change anything. You are simply allowing yourself to be curious. And as we will see later in the season, curiosity is the spice of life.
Part Three: Making Considered Commitments
So, as we saw in part two, there are commitments that we have already made. We have already engaged our resources in them. Let’s, for the sake of today’s episode, leave those in place. We’ll talk about getting out of commitments another time…but we need to put a few other elements in place before we can do that.
For today, let’s talk about how to make a considered commitment.
First, we need to start that healthy skepticism we talked about.
Asking ourselves these three questions about a new commitment will help us see through the veneer of enthusiasm: 1. WHO am I committing to? 2. WHO am I committing FOR? 3. Why?
This should be a rather easy set of questions.
If, for example, you are asked by a teacher to accompany a field trip to the circus for your kid’s class, the answer to the first question, who are you committing to is the teacher.
The second question, logically, should be “for my kid.“ Or maybe even, “For me.”
And the why? Because they need someone to accompany the class. Or, even better, “because I want to go to the circus.”
However, there can be a million little details that alter our answer to that last question.
Let’s say, for example, you don’t really have the bandwidth or the availability to take time off for a field trip, but other parents have been doing it and you feel guilty because you haven’t gotten around to it yet.
So your answer as to why is going to be uncomfortable. And in that case, you need to consider that perhaps, even though on the surface, this seems like an easy commitment, your reasoning is not healthy. Guilt is never a reason to do something. It will build resentment.
If you find that guilt is driving your decision, then start searching around for other, more sustainable and joy-bringing reasons. I find that snooping on my kids is a very good reason to agree to this kind of thing, but that is just me!
This example is just a short-term, one-off commitment.
But what about something that is long term, or is going to require significant output of resources for your?
First, I want to suggest that you look very carefully at which of your three resources is being asked of you: your time, your talent or your treasure, or maybe a bit of all three.
It’s important to not just listen to the enthusiasm that is swelling in crescendo around you…Here’s a recent example from my own life: “Can you come direct this choir at the senior center? It will only be an hour a week!”
Sure…it sounds great. But you and I both know that it isn’t just an hour a week. It’s about choosing repertoire, about making photocopies, organizing a recital and transportation.
Here, it is both my talent and time that is being requested. It’s an honorable endeavor. But I can honestly say that it is not one I am willing to invest…most importantly, my time into right now.
Any guilt I feel about saying no is because I like the idea of seniors having an opportunity to sing, because I hope that when I get old, someone will provide me an opportunity to sing. And here, I’m a bit in conflict with the Golden Rule, which tells me I should do for others what I want others to do for me.
This is where we need to look at the second element: Which circles of the Venn Diagram of my Ideal Life (also known as, which of the 19 Ideal Life Themes, like, Marriage, parenting, body positivity and health, passions, commitments, spiritual life…) does this potential commitment impact, and how does this commitment get me closer to my Ideal Life in that area.
Ideally, a well-thought out commitment will be at the juncture of multiple circles on the Venn Diagram of your Ideal Life. In my “being a chaperone to the circus” example, there were three circles overlapping: Parenting (my relationship with my kids), Relationships, (that is with other parents and the teacher, with whom developing an open, comfortable line of communication is critically important to me), and Passions (that is, my inexplicable love of all things circus and acrobatics.)
When it comes to volunteering to take on the choir at the local retirement home, the only circle it really impacts is my passion for vocal music. This might be different if it were my mother singing in the choir. Or if I were taking it on with a friend and we took it on together.
What is for darn sure is that when only one circle of our Venn Diagram is engaged in a commitment, then when we start to get tired, or start to doubt, we don’t have any other impetus to fall back on. We can quickly come to dread the commitment, because it isn’t making resonance between multiple parts of our ideal life.
Dread is a feeling that often accompanies Commitment. I would like to argue that dread is a result of making ill-considered engagements, and engagements that do not involve multiple circles of our Ideal Lives. Not to say that physical fatigue and being socially awkward don’t play into the feeling of dread. But when multiple parts of our lives are being activated in a decision, and there is some joy to be found in the overlap, then dread becomes easier to overcome.
This is a lot of work, I’ll grant you that. But not feeling dread every time you look at your calendar, or hear your phone ring or check your emails is its own kind of reward.
Did that make sense? I hope it did. We’ll come back to all this in future episodes, when we talk about how to gracefully end a commitment and the seasonality of commitments. But we have to talk about curiosity first, and that’s coming up in a few months.
If I were to condense all of these suggestions into one little blue pill to take to make your life better, it would be, please, please, please, think before you agree to anything. Just take some time before you say yes.
The Ideal Life Exercise
All right, so as always, I like to ask myself four easy questions about the different theme we are covering. It’s an exercise I do every morning, about just one topic each day. So, this week, we are going to ask those four questions about Commitments.
- What is working? Although it sounds so small, the answer could simply be, ‘I said no when asked to do something I didn’t want to do…” Or, “I just wasn’t feeling it, so I cancelled my plans.” Or, “I didn’t say yes right away, but gave myself some time to think about it.” Or, it could be something bigger. I carefully committed to an 18 month training program after considering how I was going to keep myself motivated.
- What isn’t working? This, for much of my life, was the dread I inevitably felt leading up to a social engagement. It could even be with a person I love to spend time with…the minute something is on my calendar I started dreading it. I am getting better at discerning if this is because I am just being an introverted looney, or if there is something more sinister at work. But yeah. Dread typically means something isn’t working. Or..coming back to that idea of “seasonality of commitments…” have you been doing something for years and years and you are sensing that it is time to bow out? This deserves your attention.
- What do I need to think about? This question leads us to examine what is working and what isn’t working, and to dig in a little bit. It’s also a worthwhile time to think about those commitments you’ve been putting off making.
- What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life? This is just one tiny little thing. One phone call you can make. One letter you need to send. One SMS declining an invitation. Just do one tiny little thing.
You have so much to offer this world. That’s why I like you so much. You have all these little silvery threads, woven together in an unimaginably beautiful pattern that is uniquely yours: those silvery threads are your time, your talent, your treasures. They are all the weird, random things that bring you joy and geek you out.
When you commit to anything without carefully considering it, you are putting that treasure at risk. You might be misusing your time, or letting a talent tarnish.
The more you align the way you use your time, talent and treasure with what brings you joy, the greater the impact you will have. You were born for a purpose, you exist for a reason, and as your fairy godmother, I might be the only person who believes this for you, but I do. I believe it with all my heart.
So please. Think before you commit. Find your reasons how your commitment fits into your Ideal Life. Let nothing go to waste.
Let me just remind you, around here, as long as I have breath in my lungs as your fairy godmother, Joy is our Fairy Dust. I want you to live a life full of joy.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie (which, by the way, is French for the “Joy” ) as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
Talking Points: Enthusiasm and healthy skepticism as tools for making commitments that stick; breaking down the commitment making progress so that you won’t dread them in the future.
Episode 29: is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Commitments.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
As promised in the episode, here is a link to Lily’s YouTube channel. Sharing podcast episodes can be complicated, but you all are pretty good at sharing videos. So if someone you know and love could use a fairy godmother, you can share the podcast via YouTube, too!
You can contact Lily by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge