My first memory of learning about commitment was in dance class. From the time I was 5 years old, I was enrolled in the series dance lessons at Miss Donna’s School of Dance. The shiny ballet box, and my pink and white leotard were all the motivation I needed to make my weekly dance lessons that first year. I even tried to wear my dance outfits when it wasn’t dance lesson days. My teachers told us to go home and practice, and I did. I would sneak into the downstairs living room and play my parents’ ABBA records while they were upstairs having a meal with friends. I would make up my own dances and act out the songs that were coming through the speakers of the roll top record player, always getting stopped at the same scratched points. I learned to delicately pick up the needle and replace it on a new groove and continue my interpretive dance.
When I was a little older, we went en pointe. I didn’t want to take my toe shoes off, and practiced my turns and arabesques with a vengeance. I must have practiced so much and improved so quickly that my dance teacher took my mom aside and told her that I had a natural aptitude for pointe, and that my parents should consider placing me in the Charlotte School of Ballet for more serious instruction.
When my parents approached me with this idea, they initiated the conversation and spoke about commitment.
“If you want to do this, we will support you. But, you have to be committed and understand what that means,” my parents warned me.
It meant daily dance class, without complaint. I would have to attend, no matter what, because the money that they would be spending was no joke. So, if I was serious, they would find a way to make it happen.
I knew that it was a stretch for my parents to come up with the money, and the way that they made it sound, it felt like it was not going to be fun anymore. So I declined the offer, and continued on as I was, grateful to have time in my week to hang out with the kids in the neighborhood on sunny afternoons after school.
I never regretted that decision, and still remember the fact that I was given the choice to make it.
Some years later, I finally quit the dance class, and instead, became a cheerleader. Right after I made the cheerleading squad for my senior year, I realized I had to go to practices every day in the summer before school started again. The problem was that I had already committed to being a summer camp counselor at Camp Tekoa, where I had been a camper for many years before.
The cheerleading coach told me that I needed to be at practice daily before our first game, and that I would need to decide what was more important. I scheduled a meeting with the Director of Christian Education at our church to explain to her my dilemma.
“I made the cheerleading squad, and we have our first week of practice that overlaps with the Elementary School Camp,” I begin explaining, expecting that she would see how important this was to me, and let me off the hook with the camp counselor commitment.
Instead, the opposite happened.
“So, you need to decide which commitment is more important to you.”
“Well, they both are.” I respond.
“But, you made the commitment to be a counselor many months ago. We are counting on you.”
And, that was it. I knew which commitment was more important.
I returned the next day to let the squad know that I would be missing practice. Some of my fellow team members were not happy, and my punishment was to sit out the very first game and performances of the season. To a 17 year old cheerleader, that was horrific. It didn’t matter that I went home and practiced the dances and the cheers and my jumps. Because I kept my original commitment to the summer camp, I knew that there were consequences that had to be faced. I lived through the humiliation of being benched that first game of the season, and life went on.
And, now over 2 decades later, I revisited that memory as I have been contemplating the theme of commitment in some deeper ways.
I have committed to teaching in a new way that has prompted me to take some steps back into my memories of how I was taught about commitment. I have been watching the current reality of my life, and looking at all of the ways I have committed to various aspects of my life: To work life over love life; Friends over family; Costa Rica over the US. I have realized that my previous commitments have shaped my current life. And, the interesting experience is to now watch to see how my current commitments will shape my future life.
One of the questions I have asked my new group of students to answer for themselves (and I am doing it with them): “What is important to you?” As I have grown and understood the meaning of commitment from various places and perspectives, I am now understanding what it means to commit to myself. Sometimes, it means slowing down to recognize that my actions are aligned with the commitments that bring me to the places that I want to be, rather than in the ruts of old patterns where I just “do” out of unconscious repetition, like the scratch on the old vinyls that were played over and over and over again.
As I motivate my students to listen deeply and consider putting their inner commitments at the top of their list, I know that I must do the same for myself. I was taught many lessons about commitment from my moments in the dance, on the bench and in the cabin with the kids who relied on me as their counselor in the summer of 1990. I see how the current reality has been created by the actions that I have chosen from those moments to the ones that are in my more current memory.
And, now, I am refining the story a bit more every day. I am learning the difference between stepping up to my commitments and letting go of that which is not mine. It is all a delicate balance of steadiness and ease, and I am always grateful for the dance.
What times in your life shaped your understanding of commitment?
What is important to you?
How are you spending time in your daily life committing to the actions that nourish you and recharge your spirit?
Are you ready to commit to your self in a bigger way? What would that look like?