You’ll want to make promises. A promise to yourself that you’ll remain true to your values. A promise to your loved ones that you’ll be there for them when they need you. A promise to the causes you believe in.
When people talk about commitment, it’s usually in reference to something external: a commitment to important people in their life, or to close relationships they’re in, or to causes that are important to them. I’m committed to my children and my elderly parents. I’m committed to my marriage. I’m committed to the environment and to social justice.
And, indeed, those kinds of commitments are vital. Without them, people stop caring, relationships fizzle out and life itself loses its meaning.
But there’s another kind of commitment that’s often overlooked, even though it’s the one that makes the other ones possible. I’m talking about the commitment to yourself.
Be true to yourself
A commitment to yourself is a commitment to living a life that’s true to your core values, a life in which your long-term goals and your everyday actions are in harmony, a life that defines — not disguises — who you really are. In other words, an authentic life.
An authentic life is what Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he urged people to, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
Thoreau believed that unless you know who you are and how you want to live, you can’t make a commitment to someone or something outside yourself — at least not a lasting commitment. He was right. You can, for example, commit to your marriage, but if your marriage is so deeply flawed that it denies you the chance to live an authentic life, you’ll eventually abandon either your commitment or your dreams.
The problem for many of us is that it’s easy to lose sight of who we are. Some of us try so hard to please other people that we censor our thoughts and suppress our feelings. Some of us hate conflict so much that we always let someone else set the agenda and make the decisions. Some of us get so caught up in the endless details of daily life that we can’t see that we’re drifting in the wrong direction and losing sight of the shore.
Get back on track
What we all need to do is to step back once in a while and take a hard look at our lives. If we feel we got off track somewhere along the line, we have to figure out what went wrong and how to retrace our steps back home.
It’s an effort, but it’s worth it. Because when you finally realize who you are you’ll feel an energy, an enthusiasm, you haven’t felt in years. You’ll want to make up for lost time. You’ll want to reach out to the people who mean the most to you. You’ll want to make things happen, to make your dreams a reality.
And you’ll want to make promises. A promise to yourself that you’ll remain true to your values. A promise to your loved ones that you’ll be there for them when they need you. A promise to the causes you believe in that you’ll keep fighting the good fight, even when others have given up.
Yes, you can make promises even if you don’t live an authentic life. But how many of them will you keep? When you’ve made a promise to yourself — a commitment to yourself — you’ll keep the promises you make to others. And you’ll make the world a better place, one commitment at a time.
Jim is an experienced family law attorney. He is also an advice columnist, relationship writer and personal coach. Jim puts on workshops dealing with marriage, divorce and relationships. Jim writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com