Choice is the enemy of commitment

Choice is the enemy of commitment. 

Attributed to Gov. Jerry Brown

Every day we are confronted with choices. We choose between meals, shirts to wear, whether to buy a sofa or a couch, and what tv show to binge. Many of these “choices” are pre-determined, part of our routines and habits—choosing between preferences, not making a new decision. There are transactional choices we focus on and there are transformational choices we defer.

Our choices are the product of a great lineage of choices that have preceded us. These thousands and thousands of choices got us to this moment. Our ancestors and ancestry are influencing how we see the world and the inclinations we have towards fears, tastes, and feelings. Raises many questions about free will which I will navigate around here.

I have been accused of being a “martyr” for my choices. And I admit I have deserved this accusation and perhaps even reveled in it. 😉 But it has been important to me to withhold my inner desire and to take less. To leave more for others. To give more than I get. Where does that come from?

As the oldest son of Japanese-American parents, we were taught enryo.

According to Japanese authentic dictionary and customs, the word Enryo means “restraining one’s actions and words with other people”. I remember my mother and father saying this to me and my siblings, before we entered a home of non-relatives. It was said as a command, not a request. It was said like a Samurai warrior, not with a smile. I understood this to mean don’t do anything! 😊 Don’t take food. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Don’t embarrass the family.

Do you think this has influenced my choices or my deeply embedded childhood desire to be a good boy?
I am not complaining about my upbringing or making excuses. I am merely pointing out the multi-dimensional factors that shape how we choose and the choices we make. To say there are “cultural” differences” is to bury many truths in a mass grave of ignorance.

What part of you is choosing? The one showing restraint and good judgment? The one who is a rebel and a contrarian? The one virtue signaling? The one who is selfless or selfish?

We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. Dave Ramsey

We can confuse transactional choices we make in shopping, travel, or restaurants as real-life choices. We know these are distractions from real life. Palliative pursuits that numb us, give us temporary fixes of pleasure, providing the fleeting sense of success, or an ephemeral dosage of life’s energy.

Is our life’s ambition to be a connoisseur of products and experiences? An expert consumer?

What we choose, what we do, is what we are. What we become.

When our biggest transformational choices such as our life’s path, career, relationships, and legacy are neglected, ignored or simply abandoned, then we back fill our lives with transactions to give us a placebo of being alive.

What makes us really feel alive!? Energized? What are we meant to do—free of judgment?

Our consumer choices forestall our life choices.

Therein lies the gap, an unmet need, something we are trying to escape or not address. Buy things to buy time. Yes you. We all do this.

If we pause and reflect, we all want the same things–To love and be loved. Express ourselves fully. To give generously of our gifts. To see and be seen. To hear and be heard. To find fulfillment and joy in our work/play. To serve something bigger than ourselves.
These universal ambitions can be viewed as by-products of a “successful” life. When we know that “success” comes from the commitment to and realization of these transformational choices.

Symbolic of the dilemma of choice is how we advise others on choosing a college major. Common wisdom: Choosing a college major is no big deal. Few of us use what we studied. And later we will learn the things we need to succeed. Is that the saddest commentary on our society and our education system? Clearly not a life-or-death decision, but one of the biggest decisions you will make—certainly one of the largest financial commitments. Yet, we can be either lackadaisical or myopic. We either believe that the major will guarantee our lifelong career, or it makes no difference at all.

What happens to learning about oneself? Exploring the world to find oneself? To fail. To learn new things? “It doesn’t matter they are young and it is only 4 or 5 years”—-WTF?

Watched in horror when hovercraft parents and the weight of others’ expectations crush the nascent dreams of the young.

We are the only species that debates what we are and what we want to do.

When we are inundated with real real-life options, choices and possibilities, we rarely appreciate the breadth of the spectrum, the smorgasbord of alternatives. Choice is an excuse for commitment. We procrastinate or we lie to ourselves. We default to what we already know, afraid to make a change. 

But what do you want? Buried beneath blankets of expectations your real self is smothered and invisible.

The urgency to act overwhelms the true desire to be.

That is why time, space, attention, and consideration can give us insight into who we are and what we want.

Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live — but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. Parker Palmer

Commitment comes from making choices that matter. Choices that reflect who you are and what you want. 

PS: Check out my newest free online tool: The Passion Diagnostic–to help you narrow down your choices!  At the bottom of this page!

Drawing by Austin Kleon

15 years ago, I started taking to people through a “passion diagnostic”. A conversation about defining and refining one’s “passions”. “Passions” being a catchall word to include substantial life options that are driven by great interest, even curiosity. I have encountered people in various stages of their life get stuck in narrowing their choices. “I am so eclectic”. “I don’t want to rule out anything, so I am interested in everything”. “I don’t have any passions.” People hide behind these statements. This emerged from my decades assisting people navigate career/life options, my years of advising students on graduate schools and my decade of advising philanthropists on how to focus their giving. I borrowed thoughts from the most successful venture capitalists in how they invest. I learned from the concept of a bracketology in a basketball tournament. This tool is not magic or scientific. It just helps people rely on their gut instincts to get focused and to move ahead. I have coached hundreds of people through this simple process with remarkable results!  I decided to turn it into an online tool to help anyone. A place to think and weigh what is important. Try out my new free tool—The Passion Diagnostic. 

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