What is commitment? Is it a promise to successfully complete something? Is it a contract to see something through all the way to the end no matter what? Is it a pledge to be unwavering, unfaltering, unfailing in the pursuit of some goal or reward? Is it clear and obvious when that goal has been met, or the thing has been seen through or completed? Is it worth enduring no matter what?
I’ve been thinking about the concept of commitment a lot lately as I’ve transitioned to a new teaching job at a different high school in town. Although the move is the right one and a good fit for me on pretty much every level, I had concerns that I would be seen by some as a district job-hopper. That worried me, because that kind of opportunistic, career stone-skipping is so far from my intention. The truth is that in the last several years I’ve learned a lot about what kind of teacher I am, what kind of teacher I hope to be, and what kind of environment best supports those things in order for me to do my best work for my students. It is, after all, support that helps us truly thrive as educators.
So here I am. I have new school colors, new colleagues, new students, and new school hashtags. But does that mean I’m not committed to this work? Does it mean, as I swap out purple and yellow swag for the peppermint red and white school spirit of my new building, that I am somehow less credible and reliable because I didn’t stay somewhere simply for the sake of staying?
It’s not that anyone has suggested as much. But I have asked myself these questions, because I’ve hit some personal milestones this past year. For starters, my second marriage has officially outlasted my first (there’s something bittersweet about that). Also, August marked eight years that I have lived in my current home. That is the longest I have ever lived anywhere since I lived with my grandmother as a child. After that it was hop, hop, hop, with six years being the longest I had spent anywhere else. Finally, my years as a teacher are nipping at the heels of the time I spent as a business reporter and freelance writer in my post-college and pre-divorce years. I dare say I’ve almost settled down. But still.
All that change. All that movement.
All that growth.
I admire people who stick to things without faltering. Some people are really good at it. They drive the same car for 15 years, live in the same house for 25 years, keep the same job for 30 years, and get a nice, gold Cross pen for their efforts when they’re done. They might even keep the same spouse for 50 or more years. I find these things admirable because I know that not everyone can see things through to the end like that. Especially me. I lease a new car every few years, because I’d rather pay on the front end than on the back end for maintenance and repair. Besides, I like new cars. I also like new phones. I have switched careers and houses a lot. I've been married twice.
Does that make me someone of less integrity, less commitment?
I guess that depends on how you look at it. Just because someone sees something through to the end doesn’t mean they’re committed to it. It might just mean they feel trapped, or they fear change, or they don’t want to deal with the hassle of that change. Longevity and endurance do not equal commitment or quality of effort. Sometimes they are congruent, but they are not the same.
I’m committed to quality. I’m committed to effort. I’m committed to excellence, not perfection. I’m committed to growth, not stagnation. I’m committed to living my own truth. I’m committed to nudging myself out of my comfort zone, because outside of it is where the magic happens. I’m committed to (usually) learning from my mistakes, and I’m committed to being the best version of me that I can be—whatever that means for today, because that definition will and should change. I’m committed to love and to the process of growing in that love. I’m committed to friendship, kindness, and forgiveness--and to the process of discovery and evolution in all areas of my life and in the lives of others. I’m committed to my work. I’m committed to my children in every possible way, and I’m committed to the idea that things can and should change, and that we should walk beside one another through the beautiful mess of it all.
Time waits for no one. Embrace change. Love life. Commit yourself to it in all of its forms, grab it by the reins, and ride that sucker. For some, that means committing to a place or person or cause for their entire lives. For me, it means committing to my truth. Sometimes it’s a flash in the pan. Sometimes it endures. Sometimes I wish it would endure, but it’s out of my control.
As I pulled up to the stop sign at the end of my street on my way to work today, I paused and rolled down my driver’s side window. My oldest son, now a high school freshman, stood at the stop sign waiting for his painfully early morning bus to take him across town. He popped out an ear bud.
“Hey,” he said, sleep still cracking his voice.
“Hey,” I said to my little boy, who just yesterday was a curly-headed toddler who held my hand everywhere we went. “Have a good day, sweetie,” I said. “I love you.”
He nodded, putting the earbud back into his ear. “Love you too, Mom.”
I drove away. His lanky frame in the reflection of the rear-view mirror was just fine without me.
I arrived at school 15 minutes later, and a former student of mine (who transferred to my new school two years ago) greeted me in the hallway with open arms. “You did it!" he cheered with a huge grin. "You switched it up, Miss!”
Once my kids, always my kids, wherever I may find them, and whoever they may be. That is my commitment.