committing to risks

the rolling Berkshires on the side of an open road

the rolling Berkshires on the side of an open road

I went to the Berkshires last weekend and, surrounded by open fields and rolling autumn hills, I meditated on what it meant to "commit" to something. After all my transitions the past few years-- quitting my first full time job, leaving a stable, long relationship, drifting amidst a sea of options and possibilities-- what was it, now, that I can say I'm committed to? 

I've realized that this very word, "commitment," triggers some small feeling of panic and alarm in so many people, myself included. When someone says, "I need more commitment from you," how does one not feel like a pinned down butterfly? That word sounds synonymous to entrapment and bondage, to losing freedom, to being stuck in a situation I'd later regret. 

apple picking in upstate new york

apple picking in upstate new york

What I realized just recently, though, is that I am a deeply committed person -- just not to the things other people want me to be committed to. The words "I need more commitment from you" can sound like a trap if it isn't what my soul wants. In my twenties, I've lived my life as a series of risks, throwing away stable options in favor of doing what I wanted. I don't work a 9 to 5, but I do show up at my desk at seven am every morning to write. I'm not amassing wealth so I can buy an apartment and retire young, but I am committed to amassing a body of creative work that I'm proud of.

In other words, I am deeply committed to my risks. And what I realized is this: to truly commit to something is to take a greater risk of the heart. I'm referring, here, to commitments you make completely of your own desire -- not what other people, society, or your family/culture tells you to commit to. Why? Because you're risking the possibility that it'll fail, it'll hurt, that it'll all amount to nothing. When you risk everything, you cannot afford to give up so easily. 

the biggest apple and a beautiful hand

the biggest apple and a beautiful hand

This applies to any dedication to a new pursuit or skill -- learning a new language, picking up a new instrument, learning to throw pottery, finishing school -- as well as a choice to venture into uncertainty -- quitting your job, dropping out of school, leaving a relationship, beginning a relationship. The more you invest in something, the higher the risk, and the steeper the costs of "failure." Paradoxically, you'll never find success until you fully accept those risks.  

Not committing to your pursuit, your relationship, and perhaps, most importantly, not committing to yourself -- is to stay completely safe. You think you have nothing at stake, so it feels like it doesn't matter what you do. You give yourself the greatest number of options and call that being free. But true freedom has more power than simply drifting in the wind. 

It is a hard and scary thing. But sometimes I remind myself that committing to something I believe in is like buying an around-the-world plane ticket. Commitment is choosing to spend ten thousand dollars on that ticket. I don't know where this plane is taking me, and how I'll feel about that place, but it's too late to turn back now. I'm committed to riding the ups and downs of the journey, and greeting myself on the other side, again and again.

JourneyKening Zhu