com·mit [kuh-mit] verb, com·mit·ted, com·mit·ting.
verb (used with object)
1. to give in trust or charge; consign.
2. to consign for preservation: to commit ideas to writing; to commit a poem to memory.
3. to pledge (oneself) to a position on an issue or question; express (one’s intention, feeling, etc.): Asked if he was a candidate, he refused to commit himself.
4. to bind or obligate, as by pledge or assurance; pledge: to commit oneself to a promise; to be committed to a course of action.
I have a problem with commitment. Not in relation to other people, I feel like I’m pretty good in that respect. I have a problem committing to myself.
The front page of my website makes a bit of a joke about how no one knows what I do. On one hand this is a manifestation of the reality that I do a lot of things and trying to concisely sum that up always proves difficult and awkward. I have a short attention span and have been accused of being a workaholic at several points in my life which results in having my hands in lots of seemingly unrelated things. Peeling back the layers a bit often reveals reoccurring themes so they aren’t all as unrelated as they seem, they just aren’t easy to quickly explain.
On the other hand, if I don’t make the commitment and say I’m doing ________, then I don’t have to think about how good or bad I am at _________. “I’m just dabbling” is a bulletproof excuse against accusations of not doing something well enough. Accusations from myself. I’m notoriously my own worst critic. Trust me, the reason I don’t give a shit what anyone else has to say about me or my work is because no matter how harsh it is, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve already said myself. That also makes it really hard to take a compliment, which may or may not be another issue all together. Some examples…
Earlier this year I wrote about shooting photos on film and in that piece I said “I’ve resisted calling myself a photographer for my whole life… I just like taking pictures.” The for me is that I really enjoy the photographic work of others. I’m lucky enough to know some incredibly talented photographers who inspire me with every photo they take. I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to plenty of amazing photographic works though out my life. If I say I’m a photographer, then I instantly have to rectify that with myself in my own head – if I’m a photographer, and those other people are photographers, then where do I fit in with them? The answer is undoubtably (to me) that I’m not as good as they are, so then I’m resigning myself to not being a very good photographer. Regardless of the quality of my own work. I can always find someone better, so therefore I’m always going to be worse. This isn’t a pity party by any means, knowing someone is better makes me try harder and try to understand what they are doing and how that might help improve my own work. And by refusing to call myself a photographer I avoid that comparison all together. I don’t care if anyone else considers me a photographer, as long as I don’t then I can avoid being so crazy hyper critical of myself and just try to do what I enjoy. Even if I have aspirations of being a photographer.
Same thing goes for writing. One time under “occupation” on a customs form I wrote “writer” and I felt sick about that for weeks, because I had to accept that I’m a pretty shitty writer. If only because I never write. I love writing. I want to write. I dream of being writing. But I never do it. I’ve even written about how I don’t write. And while that might be a bit meta, it’s indicative of what I’m getting at here. The issue isn’t about if I write anything, or if what I write is published anywhere, it’s if I refuse to call myself a writer then I don’t have to be wrecked by guilt that I didn’t write anything today. Or yesterday. Or all of last month. Even if I wrote every day the month prior to that. In my mind, a writer writes – and if I’m a writer then I totally suck at being that. Even if I have aspirations of being a writer.
Wikipedia says that a photographer is “a person who takes photographs.” That’s pretty fucking wide reaching. I carry a camera with me everywhere and am currently waiting on 40 rolls of film to be returned from the lab, how can I possibly claim that I’m not a photographer?
Thankfully writer is a bit more specific – “a person who produces nonfictional writing or literary art such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, or essays—especially someone who writes professionally.” Which is a bit of a relief, until you get to this line “The term writer is customarily used as a synonym of author, although the latter term has a somewhat broader meaning.” Only to find that an author is “is the originator of any written work.”
Those are just two examples, this thought process is repeated in ever corner of my life.
And of course I know all too well that by refusing to commit, I make it impossible to achieve. At least in my own lifetime. Once I’m dead I can’t run around yelling “I’m not! I’m not! I’m not!” but this isn’t really about “legacy” so much as it is about fear. I’m afraid of not accomplishing what I set out to do. If I’m vague about my goals then I can look at any outcome as a success. If I give myself very clear expectations, well, there is a chance I might not make them. Which shouldn’t matter. The point of aspirations isn’t safe bets, it’s reaching for the stars. I know this. I tell people this all the time. Yet when it comes to my personal expectations of myself, I regularly game it.
My mom tells a story about when I was a baby and learning to walk. Or rather, not walking and then walking. The way she tells it, all the other kids my age were trying to walk, falling, getting back up, trying again, taking a few steps, eating shit, etc.. but not me. I was just watching. I’d watch everyone walk while I just sat there or crawled around. I’d crawl over to some piece of furniture and pull myself up and stand there, then go back down and crawl more. I did this for quite sometime to the point my parents were concerned something might be wrong. Then one day I just walked. I guess I’d done enough research and and enough planning (or whatever amounts to that in the head of a 2 year old) and was sure I could pull it off, so I just did it. I guess my speech was the same thing, no individual words, just quiet for a long time and then full sentences.
That’s amusing to some extent, but then I think of my own son Ripley, and how much I admire that when he was learning to walk he tried, failed, tried again, failed again, tried again and pulled it off. He’s never been afraid of not accomplishing what he sets out to do, he just goes for it. So then I look at myself and think of these stories and worry that this is not just some learned phobia, but something deep in the core of who I am that drives how I approach things. But then I realize that by making an assumption like that I make it easy to think “oh well, that’s just who I am, can’t be changed!” which is a bullshit copout. As firmly as I believe that you (we) can’t change other people, I believe that the only person who can change someone is themselves.
Writing, even when I’m pretending that’s not what I’m doing, has always been therapy for me. It forces me to clarify my thoughts from just a jumble of shit in my head to actual ideas written down. I want to change. I want to take these risks. I want to stop being so negative in the critique of myself. I want to attempt great things and fail gloriously and spectacularly.
I want to stop dabbling and go for it.