I’m no martyr. I take little satisfaction in enumerating the various organizations and activities with which I’m affiliated. In fact, I’ve grown almost embarrassed by my obvious state of overcommitment, worrying that it reflects some sort of personality disorder or escapism.
To be clear, I have no problem making changes in my life. I have grown quite skilled at identifying negative patterns, making healthier choices, and embracing a better lifestyle. In general, I feel happy and content, but the more cleanly I live, the more glaringly obvious my commitment issues become.
So recently, I finally committed to cleaning out my commitment closet, extricating myself from boards, organizations, and other activities that have become somehow extraneous or nonessential.
I started by identifying my core commitments. Family was definitely first. As my children grow older, their school and extracurricular activities seem increasingly more demanding, requiring more of my time and attention. Next, my work, which has recently changed in its rhythms and demands, making it more and more difficult for me to get away from campus. And last but not least, myself, yearning for more rest, relaxation, and balance, a chance to enjoy my life and all its myriad blessings.
Once I clarified my core commitments, I began to inventory my obligations that lay somewhere outside, especially those that seem to conflict or take away from my key priorities. Participating on community boards, my membership in a service organization, and the various ways I try to help people, saying yes to basically every request, and driving around town to cultivate relationships and explore possibilities. Although each of these activities has had an important place in my life, I was ready to accept the fact that collectively they had become unsustainable.
But how to extricate myself? This was, and remains the hard part. Unlike a diet cleanse, there is no immediate gratification or visible transformation. Community work, when deep and meaningful, can prove difficult to bring to a halting stop. And even when one is able to find a way out, they might find a glaring hole left behind. Since we are drawn to community work for own emotional and psychological needs in addition to our desires to have a positive impact, these needs can reemerge even more defined and raw than before.
In this way, a commitment cleanse is more of a long-term transformation, involving three distinct yet interconnected categories of growth and change. First, the decisions of what to phase out and how to do so in a way that is not destructive or damaging to yourself or the community to which you are committed. Second, how to prevent yourself from slipping back into additional responsibilities and activities, and addressing the patterns that can manifest themselves in a variety of ways.
But the third process is perhaps the most important from the standpoint of ultimate happiness and life satisfaction. This involves shifting our focus back to our core commitments and finding more fulfillment, moving our gaze higher towards more powerful goals and objectives, and finding satisfaction in living a life that is balanced and aligned.