How do you measure the passage of time in your life? For most of us, the primary way is through the annual observance of birthdays—but birthdays aren’t always the best measuring sticks. Age doesn’t measure our level of maturity or our growth as human beings.
Some of us bloom late, while others find their lives are marked by unexpected detours. For those of us whose lives have been full of twists and turns, our true potential, the place where our calling and true interests meet, may not surface until later in life.
Several months ago, I wrote about an alternative way to measure time via Thomas Moore and his “7 Stages of Life.” For Moore, these life stages are not about the normal progression of school, family, work and retirement. He points out that for many of us, life doesn’t follow a linear direction. We occasionally bounce back to previous stages as new relationships and careers enter our lives.
Another way to measure time comes from David Brooks who talks about the big four commitments that most of make during our lives. As he points out in his book The Second Mountain, commitments give us our identity and sense of purpose. They also help build our character, as they strengthen our relationships with others in often challenging ways.
For Brooks, the root of commitment is love. In his words:
A commitment is a promise made from love, a promise to something without expecting a return. You fall in love with something—a person or a cause or an idea, and if that love is deep enough, you decide to dedicate a significant chunk of your life to it.
For most of us, commitments happen slowly as we determine the people and causes in our lives that are “worthy of all the faithfulness, care, and passion that a commitment entails.” They serve as yardsticks by which we can measure our lives, allowing us to reflect on how far we’ve come or the aspects of our lives that need more attention.
What follows is Brooks’ list, with some elaboration added by me. As you read it, see how many commitments you’ve made and which ones might be part of your future.
The 4 Commitments of Life
A Commitment to a Vocation. Some people have jobs, but others have vocations. These are jobs where you love what you do and never want to retire from it—because “work” has become an extension of life. As Brooks points out, most people with “vocations” are doing something that involves helping others, often people less fortunate than themselves.
family (whatever your definition of family may be), you then focus “not just on receiving, but on giving.” Suddenly, the well-being of others becomes as important as your own sense of comfort and happiness. You live for others and not just for yourself.A Commitment to a Spouse and Family. When you live your life as an individual, you come first. Your actions are all related to your own self-interest. But when you commit to a spouse or a
A Commitment to a Philosophy or Faith. You may already be part of an organized religion or faith. If you are not, and you are reading this now, you probably fall into the biggest religious category of them all, the “spiritual but not religious.” As a charter member of this group, I can’t preach enough about the need for a spiritual framework in your life. This includes a commitment to a regular spiritual practice, as well as the self-knowledge of the parameters and rules you live by to be a good and moral person.
A Commitment to a Community. This may be the last piece that falls into place. It can be a commitment to helping your town, your neighborhood or the people who live in your apartment building. It can be a commitment to a church or a civic group or a club of like-minded thinkers. It can involve devoting your time to an animal shelter, hospital or nursing home. Again, your presence is beneficial to others.
Brooks reminds us that making a commitment, and sticking to it, is not an easy task. It takes dedication and perseverance, as we deal with the inevitable bumps along the way. In his words:
The process of commitment is similar across all 4 realms. All of them require a vow of dedication, an investment of time and effort, a willingness to close off other options, and the daring to leap headlong down a ski ramp that is steeper and bumpier than it appears.
Yet, when we find commitments we believe in, and take them to heart each day, our lives become a little fuller, a little more meaningful. We have sacrificed our own narrow self-interests for a greater one that enriches the lives of those around us. We help others and, in turn, we wind up helping ourselves.