Is It Possible to Over Commit?

I heard a friend saying that they were ‘over committed’.  I got to thinking that this is a common notion and one that we rarely question.  Is it possible to over commit?   I can understand being busy.  I can understand not being competent to fulfill a commitment.  I can even imagine that I have made commitments that seem to conflict, although other than being able to be in two places at the same time, most of the conflict is in how I am thinking about it.

One of the things I have learned in my life is that we are always 100% committed, 100% of the time.  We might say that to be a human being is to be committed.  This doesn’t mean we are always conscious of our commitments or even aware of having made them, but upon reflection this becomes obvious.  If a person struggles long enough with “Should I go home?” or “Should I stay at work?”, it becomes obvious that they are committed to the struggle. In all probability, they are also benefiting from not having to choose and be responsible for their commitments.

If we only commit to what we know how to do, what we are comfortable with, and with what is reasonable, then we are always committing within the context of our past and our existing interpretations. Essentially, we are committing to more of the same or some variation of the same, even if it is only an improvement.  

To “over commit” is to commit to something beyond the obvious and reasonable limits of our experience.  It is how we grow. It is what calls for learning.  If we don’t commit to something beyond our understanding, beyond our control, and beyond our existing levels of competence, our capacity for living will eventually atrophy.

When people retire, they often say they are looking forward to ‘not being committed’, to just going with the flow, and to living life without any sense of ‘have to’. I wholeheartedly support giving up a sense of obligation, because in my view it is not the same as being committed anyway—it is living in the memory of a commitment where we’ve shifted responsibility from the choice to commit onto the reasons for committing.

I believe we should increase our commitments as we grow older as a way to:

  • Not feel obligated
  • Intentionally expand our learning and growth
  • Create more and more possibility, and
  • Make a difference in the world

What do you think?

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