Overcommitted Can Be Like Uncommitted

Whether it’s the actual truth or not, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” we’re most likely to answer, “Fine.” My guess is that our next most common responses are “busy” and “tired.”  

Almost twenty years ago, in her book When Giants Learn to Dance, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, asked: “Will ‘busier-than-thou’ replace ‘holier-than-thou’ as the way Americans show off their importance to one another?” [NY: Simon and Schuster/Touchstone, 1989, 267]. 

For many of us, the answer seems to be “yes.”  We take an odd pride in our overcrowded calendars, as if the busier we are, the better we are, and the faster we go, the more progress we are making.   

We don’t seem to realize that, despite how different they appear to be, being over-committed is more like being uncommitted than it is like being committed.  It’s easy to identify the uncommitted: they haven’t found anything that gets them out of the stands and into the game.  They don’t have good reasons for getting off the couch and into life.  The uncommitted drift through their lives, miss their opportunities, and waste their potential.

In ways that aren’t so immediately obvious, the over-committed are at risk, too.  Not for drifting through their lives, but rushing through them: speeding to the next thing and  hurrying past love, joy, and meaning.  They might not slow down long enough to distinguish truly important things from apparently important things.  They might give primary energy to secondary concerns. 

What’s more, over-commitment can be a respectable way to hide from deeper, truer, and costlier commitments.  Busyness can mask our uncertainty about what really matters to us.

The result, as with the uncommitted, is a lot of life is left unlived; and, as Sam Keen has said, “The unlived life is terribly tiring.  The void sucks the life from us.  Unfulfilled potentiality creates psychological toxins.  Nothing tires me so consistently as not being me.” [Inward Bound: Exploring the Geography of Your Emotions, 55].   Some of us are weary from carrying the inner weight and pressure of an unlived and unfulfilled life.

Rest, by itself, won’t touch the kind of fatigue unlived life causes.  What we need, even more, is wisdom to discern those the difference between activities and priorities which express our identity and those which are part of a frantic search for identity.  We also need courage to say “no” to uses of our energy which distance us from our truest selves, and “yes” to those which draw us into greater and gladder fidelity to the person God means for us to be.  As poet David Whyte has said, “The antidote for exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”