Friday, March 12, 2010

I Love Commitment

I love commitment. It has taken me many years to realize this, but I know it is true. First of all the English language is particularly bad when it comes to the word love. The best way for me to describe love in this sense is passion. In the same way committing is giving your approval and saying that you care enough to stay in the game for the long haul.

To give a few examples: I like to do my long run every Sunday afternoon on a long loop. I like the idea of being nine miles from the closest way back home. I like mountain days that start before the sun rises and ends after it sets. I like the fear of not knowing if I can finish. I like the idea that just seeing something through until the end is a huge accomplishment. I like the thrill of graduate school because I did not know for several months in 2009 if I would finish my thesis. To walk out on the other end of all of those setbacks, after all of the doubt, I wouldn't trade my experiences for all the money I can imagine. Without my experiences who am I?

On every committing endeavor there are challenges. This fact is known from the beginning. Yet people still get married, try to climb K2, or take out a mortgage. I can not say I look forward to the challenges, because they are hard. The farther "out" you are the harder the challenge. The more committed you are the harder the challenges will be.

I have often heard people say they are afraid of commitment, generally in reference to relationships or military service. I feel it is very valid to be afraid of commitment. Commitment is hard. Easy things can be left at any time. In fact, I commit to very few things because I am afraid of making the wrong commitment. It terrifies me to take too many steps in the wrong direction.

I have mentioned it before but in case you did not know what the purpose of life is, it is relationships. At least in my world relationships are the purpose of life. I won't go into what relationships mean in this article. If you want to strengthen a relationship do something committing together. It's that simple. Overcoming challenges brings out a myriad of qualities in people that we do not normally see. When I think of those people in my life I am closest to it is the people I have sweat, bled and cried with. We did not sip our mochas and chat about something we were not influencing. We went out and did something. Something that was not easy. Something that required our commitment to each other. Something that at the end of the day I could say "I love you" and it wouldn't be awkward because the other person felt the same way.

What defines easy and hard? In 2006 I started logging every single run I run on an internet running log. I call my "easy" runs recovery runs because they are there to recover for harder sessions. I think that running is rarely easy. There are a lot of times when I would rather skip a run instead of actually going out and doing it but I know that what I want is on the other side of many unpleasant miles. (I also know from experience that after a run there is a 99% chance that I will feel much better about life than when I started the run. Sometimes, running doesn't help.) So when I say something is easy I basically mean it was handed to me. Commitment is not easy. The penalty for committing to something could easily be your life.

Commitment also means being selective about what you do. You can not commit to everything. That is part of the beauty of commitment. Singling one particular thing out and saying "yes". It is making your world black and white. Things you do and things you do not do. (Trying new things is generally good though. Who knows? Maybe you will end up committing to it. Eight years ago I had done so little climbing in my life I would have never guessed that I would own a portaledge or spend two months in Pakistan.) Commitment is cutting away the excess baggage so that you can steam on full speed ahead with what is more important. It is prioritizing your life. It is putting yourself out there and facing the risk that you might fail but will keep doing it. Failure is an interesting thing. I don't think that people totally fail very often. I think that we often learn skills and habits from our perceived failures. That is to say, I have failed thousands of times. I have also come out wiser thousands of times.

In the words of Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try." The idea is commit to someone, even if it is yourself. Commit to finishing what you started. Go. Do.

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