Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Committed to What?

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 2, 2013

We’ve been talking about depth of commitment for three weeks now. But one question has not yet been asked:

What exactly are we committed to?

"Mark it zero, Dude!"

Is it our art, our career, our family, our nation? Lemme take the long way around by flashing back to an earlier era in my own life.

For years I was committed to nothing. I mean nothing. I suppose if you tied me to a tree and threatened to bayonet me, I would’ve tried to talk you out of it. But even that, my own life, I wasn’t particularly committed to.

I was bored a lot in those days. In the midst of otherwise exciting events, even in physical danger, I was still bored. I cared about specific things in the moment, but overall? Why? What for?

In other words, I had no concept of being committed to anything. The idea of commitment never even crossed my mind. At one point I found myself living in a basement room in a halfway house for mental patients in Durham, North Carolina. Here’s the passage from Turning Pro:

Then one night I had a dream. In the dream I came into my room and found that my shirts had all folded themselves in the drawer (instead of being mashed together in their usual jumbled mess). My boots had crawled out from under the bed where I normally kicked them when I took them off and had set themselves upright and tidy. They had shined themselves.

When I woke up, I thought, “I’m ambitious! I have ambition!”

That dream was a turning point. The idea of “having ambition” was something I had run away from for years. I thought ambition was wrong. It was evil. People of ambition were the ones who were screwing up the world.

Now suddenly I saw things differently. What “ambition” meant to me in that moment was embracing my own life and trying to do something with it.

I thought, “I can’t keep living this way. I have to do something.”

Which brings me back to depth of commitment and the question, “What, then, are we committed to?” Here’s how I answer that for my own life:

I’m not committed to any specific endeavor. Not a family or a cause or a field of enterprise. Not an ideal of service or sacrifice, not an art, not a people or a calling.

My commitment is to the spirit inhering within me.

Is an acorn committed to becoming an oak? An acorn can only respond to the imperative of life within it.

That’s my commitment too.

I live in this body. I inhabit this mind. I didn’t choose them. I don’t know what they are, or what they mean, or how I came to be united to them. I don’t even know what “I” means, or why an “I” exists that’s distinct and separate from my body and mind.

But I believe (and experience has demonstrated to me) that there is an intelligence beyond my ego that does know. If Socrates were still around, he’d call it “soul.” He might use the Greek word daimon. Or even the Latin word genius.

My job, I decided after that dream, is to wake up. It’s not to “make the most of” my life in the sense of achieving or maximizing the experience of pleasure, happiness, power, whatever.

My job is to look out and look in, to keep my eyes open, to ask questions of the world and of myself. Who am I?  Why am I here? What does it mean to be alive?

I realized after that dream that I had harbored ambition all along. Tremendous ambition. But I had been terrified to admit it to myself—and paralyzed by the thought of attempting to live it out. That’s why I was bored. That’s why my life felt so shallow. I had made it that way by the way I perceived it, as a means of protecting myself against striving and failing.

I know, I know, you have to be pretty high on the Maslow Pyramid to even be lucky enough to think about this stuff. But here we are. I’m there, and so are you.

What are we committed to?

It may be our calling, our family, a cause, a tradition, an ideal. But underneath it’s to our one-of-a-kind spirit, whatever that may be and wherever it may lead us. When we possess depth of commitment, we are no longer bored with our lives or living them in a state of narcosis or ironic detachment.

When we possess depth of commitment, we are aligned with our Muse, our soul, our Self (or we’re at least trying to be aligned).

The concepts of “amateur” and “pro” are just another way of asking ourselves how committed we are to conscious participation in the discovery of our selves. Is it a part-time gig? Or are we in it for keeps?

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

27 Responses to “Committed to What?”

  1. January 2, 2013 at 2:57 am

    Thank you Steven for reminding me what it is to be alive in this moment, and to make the most of what we have. As you say in Do the Work, “Trust the soup.”

    Best wishes for 2013.
    Julian.

  2. January 2, 2013 at 5:55 am

    The Japanese have a term, “ikigai” which is that which makes your live worth living.

  3. January 2, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Wow! This post really hits home with me. Last summer I lost my soulmate. When he disappeared I was devastated. For weeks I couldn’t get it together. But after months of grief and persistence I finally thought I did. But it wasn’t until he reappeared this summer (almost a year and a day after he left) that I realized I had lost my commitment to life when he left. I had been going through the motions of living, but something deep inside me had left with him. That’s why I’ve felt numb and bored most of the time.

    Now he’s back to stay. In the course of the many deep conversations we’ve had about what happened last summer and why he left (he was afraid to commit to our relationship ~lol~) I discovered my loss of commitment to living. Wow. That was a shock: to realize I’d given up on life and didn’t know it. Eeeek!!

    Last week he became a partner with me in my publishing business. It’s wonderful to have a partner who also enjoys business as much as I do.

    The last few days we’ve been tweaking my schedule for 2013 so he can relieve some of my too-heavy workload. In the process I rediscovered my “purpose” in life and business. I’ve been operating according to it and creating books that jibe with this purpose, but had somehow consciously forgotten it the last few years.

    So I know exactly how you felt when you had that dream. Suddenly everything had deep meaning again, didn’t it? All the puzzle pieces fell into place, and life was painted in vivid color again. Weeeee! That’s how I feel now. I’m thrilled to be consciously aware of my purpose in life again and committed to life again. It’s an awesome feeling!!! Thanks so much for this wonderful post. Like I said, it really resonates with me this week!

  4. Indra Keliuotis
    January 2, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Steven,

    This was a wonderful article and it was a wonderfully effective call to action for me…I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your work!
    Indra

  5. January 2, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. You’ve once again taken me to a deeper place. One that I’ve been skirting around for days. Thank you Steven.

    Wishing you all the best for 2013,

    Kathleen

  6. January 2, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I have thought long and hard about a response.

    Sometimes dialogue has to wait.

    So here’s my response:

    Yes.

  7. January 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

    On the flip-side, Steven, what do you say to people who feel like they have ambition and drive but constantly feel like they are never working hard enough. Is that the downside to having ambition–the constant state of anxiety wondering if you have worked your hardest?

    Either way, thank you for this, and I look forward to more Writing Wednesdays.

    John MacGregor

    • January 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      I’m not Steve, though maybe someday I’ll play him in the radio mystery series. But I have an opinion.

      Anybody who’s trying to create art feels like they’re not working hard enough. The day you feel like you’ve done enough, they’ll be asking your next of kin whether it’s going to be an open or closed casket event.

      “I’m not working hard enough, fast enough, big enough” is par for the course.

      Now, if you’re working hard, fast, big, and not getting anywhere, consider the possibility that you’re working a shadow career, not the Main Stage.

      I’ve spent 5 years writing and publishing 9 business books and one trivial mystery. It was just a way of postponing the hard work of writing a mystery that wouldn’t make me cry every time I read Raymond Chandler and thought, I’ll never do that.

      Shadow career. Writing business books feels a whole lot like real writing, and for someone else, it might be. But I know who I am: I’m a mystery writer. I was born 9 months to the day after Chandler’s death, and I’ve known for decades that I need to step, maybe not into those shoes, but a clean shiny version of ‘em that fit me.

      Ambitious, but not working hard enough: you have two choices, to focus on the doughnut, or to focus on the hole. You’re missing something you should be doing, or you’ve got something superfluous.

      Or, possibly, it’s the writer’s yearning, and you’ll get over it when you win the pine box derby.

    • January 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      John, I agree with Joel in one respect…you may need some tweaking. But I have a bit of a different viewpoint on that. I’ve been a published author for 25 years, and 55 of my books have been published by various publishers. But I haven’t always been a genre novelist (romantic erotica).

      I started out in the small press as a literary poet. Five years later I began writing and publishing literary fiction as well. Then in 2005, after the first volume of my collected poems was published, I went into the genre market, writing fiction exclusively and haven’t written any poetry since.

      Each time I made a change it was because I felt I was spinning my wheels. I realized it was because I had either accomplished everything I set out to do in one medium (poetry), or I had a yearning to explore something different (the long form of novels and novellas). It’s been my experience creative people grow and change as they work their craft every day. And our focus can change every decade or so.

      Maybe this is what’s happening to you. The only way to know is if the kind of books you’re writing now still make your heart sing and the process of writing them continually fascinates you. If not you might be on the verge of a change in medium, genre, or whatever. It seems to happen to me every 8-10 years.

  8. January 2, 2013 at 10:22 am

    I so resonate with being connected to your inner spirit as your driving force. Thank you for taking us to the core instead of skimming the surface or staying with the superficial.

  9. January 2, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Commitment “to the spirit adhering within me.” I LOVE the way that speaks. It strikes me as a close cousin of neuroscientist David Eagleman’s possibilianism theory. Possibilism is unbounded by our limited knowledge. “I don’t know” is not an end but an acknowledgment of beautiful staggering uncertainty and an embrace of a beginning. A commitment which is necessarily built on firstly, both an acceptance and a love of yourself as a miracle (word being used non-religiously) and then with the responsibility of making your life worth living.

  10. Jasvir Samrai
    January 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Dear Sir
    This is why your work appeals to me. The muse that flows through you touches something within me. It has nothing to do with personalities.
    I remember my first response to your blog, stating how such a path of commitment is a treacherous one. It could never be otherwise because you are awake.
    You are awake from you petty thoughtless existence defined by the ego and others to a realm in which the muse supports and assists.
    The muse will clothe you, feed you and pay your bills if you let it. However if you say the work is mine you suffer.
    I truly understand where you are coming from. Thank you for your encouragement and reminding me.
    With blessings
    Jasvir Samrai

  11. Bret Weaver
    January 2, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Funny how this topic keeps coming up for me recently. Just read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” which discusses this very same thing. If anyone has not read this short book and was moved by this article. You should get it now. What was written in this article is very true.

  12. January 2, 2013 at 11:30 am

    What an insightful post, and well timed for the crazines of the new year.

    I think your post comes down to this:

    My job (our job) is to wake up. And commit to keep waking up. Over and over again.

    Thank you for this.
    == niki

  13. January 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Bravo, Steven! Keep that acorn reaching for the sun, aware of course, that it will eventually drop other acorns to the earth.

  14. Basilis
    January 2, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Daimon (Δαίμων) is something like genius,soul and demon together…
    I think that “Δαίμων” is an important factor to commit to the spirit, but -oh boy!- it’s so difficult to ride this wild horse!

  15. January 2, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I recall vividly reading this passage in Turning Pro and I realized that I too confirm my commitment to living and working authentically every time I create what I call “self-discipline rituals/routines” and then stick to them! Just those small daily actions are so important. When I get sloppy about doing them, everything starts to unravel. Really great stuff, Steven. Thanks!

    PS Does anyone know what happened to the Dec. 30 post titled Opportunity is Bullshit? I received it by email, but can’t find it on the blog–link from the email gave me the old Error 404 (not found). I’d really like to comment on it…just wondering where it went.

    Happy New Year everybody–remember to dream big–the universe will give back a million times greater than you can imagine, but you gotta put it out there!

  16. Gretchen
    January 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    I’ve just recovered from the wave of sobbing that started when I read, “My job is to wake up.” I’m bored and paralyzed atop Maslow’s freaking hierarchy and I want to be different. I’m also considerably older than that guy living in the halfway house basement. Your post is helping me think. Is it really that I can’t hear my “voice” or is that when the voice speaks, I keep saying “no?”

  17. P...
    January 2, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    There are moments when the leisure of time is not available, so I delete your emails. No longer will I take the action of deleting without reading first.

    For half my life I operated with a misconception about commitment; it was limiting, operating as a trickster to trap me. How wrong! My day of realization about commitment was a turning point. IT’S FREEING to have and operate with commitment. It lends for clarity and confidence. It brings certainty to a cause, be it internal or external.

    Your email was my reminder, and we all need reminders, that commitment gives freedom a new wave to ride upon.

    All the best!

  18. January 3, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I agree with David: YES.

  19. skip
    January 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    thanks….excellent as usual. apathy is a killer. i discovered the daimon in the book “love and will” (rollo may). one mindblowing book now 50 years young. HNY and S/F, Steve!

  20. January 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Beautiful, powerful (and, to those in the mainstream, threatening) words: “I’m not committed to any specific endeavor. Not a family or a cause or a field of enterprise. Not an ideal of service or sacrifice, not an art, not a people or a calling.

    My commitment is to the spirit inhering within me.”

  21. January 8, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Just finished reading your War of Art and just dropping by to see if there’s something more from you online.

    You seem to have reached the sort of commitment that to me and many others might look quite abstract, but I do get you point and agree 100%.

    One good thing you can do for yourself is stop drifting and dedicate yourself to something. Preferably something creative and constructive. Thank you from Poland

  22. January 9, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Thank You…

  23. January 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Thank you, Steven. Your line “my commitment is to the spirit inhering within me” completely hit a nerve. And your analogy on the acorn becoming an oak was perfect. I was asked this question just yesterday and felt completely deflated because I didn’t have an answer. But now I realize my eternal search for purpose IS my commitment. That while my purpose is predetermined, my commitment is in making sure I find it and live it! Totally love this way of looking things and am so grateful for this insight.

  24. July 9, 2013 at 5:24 am

    That is why people of such countries are able to accept the fact that the government has the authoritarian character. Also poverty is a major factor, that can explain the popularity of neoauthoritarian governments – poduszkowce. Countries always considered as poor ones, or as the ones, where despite of great economic potential people were living in poverty, due to lack of the proper wealth redistribution, are more likely to become authoritarian, than the wealthy ones.

  25. caydenoyy
    October 4, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I don’t know. I spent a year in England, and must say that overall I admire their style.

    But by recommending only legal residency and backing off his past support for citizenship, Bush is throwing cold water over a fledgling deal in the Senate, denting his own reputation as a bold policymaker and stoking speculation that he will run for president in 2016. http://www.ri.com.sg/uploadedimg/fitflopsingapore.asp Please put Summer Blowout Giveaway in the subject line, and include your name, email address, and zip code.

    At the Salt Lake City International Airport, the overnight low was 80 degrees, which broke the record for the month of June 78 degrees set in 2001.

    With marriage and movies on the agenda, Richards is looking forward to what the future will bring.”I’ve never been happier,” says Richards. “I’m so excited to enter into that next part of my life. I’ve never been married before.