I think I'm afraid of commitment because I find comfort in knowing that I can escape.
I'm afraid of committing to serious relationships, signing apartment leases, and accepting job offers because that means parting ways with the escape plans that I've gotten so used to having, even if I rarely ever use them. I guess it's the same reason why cruise ships have lifeboats, why iPhones have the emergency call button, and why fighter jets have ejection seats. Just "in case of emergency," it's our plan B, C, D, and all the way to Z. We don't ever want to use it, but we find comfort in knowing that it's there if we need it.
However, as good of an idea it is to have an escape plan, I've discovered they can actually hold us back from making real progress. Contrary to popular belief, it may actually be beneficial to not have it as an option at all. In the book, Art of War, by Sun Tzu, one key tactic to ensure the likelihood of winning a battle, is to "put the army in the face of death where there is no escape, and they will not flee or be afraid. There is nothing they cannot achieve." In situations where death is imminent, and conflict is absolutely necessary, soldiers are forced to fight with their all, which increases their chances of surviving and winning.
When we know that there is no escape, we become fearless and fight with all our will, raising our chances of gaining maximum progress. But when we act knowing that there are other options, we hold back and keep energy on reserve in case we decide to change our minds. Though this may be a practical evolutionary trait, it often hinders our attempts at making any real progress.
I'm not sure how serious I am about this relationship, so I err on the side of caution and don't invest myself in it too much. As a result, the relationship isn't as good as it could be and we break up in the end.
I'm not sure how serious I am about signing a new lease for this New York City apartment, so I only sublet for the convenience. As a result, I end up lowering my investment in actually “spreading my roots” here in NYC.
I'm not sure how serious I am about this new job that I'm taking so I don't try too hard and don't meet many people in the industry. As a result, I don't learn as much, I am not as established, my network is limited, and so I end up switching jobs anyway because it "just wasn't right for me."
Was it really not right for you? Or did you just never give it a chance because you were afraid to commit?
As much as this is about escape plans, it is also about commitment. The best escape plans are the ones that you never intend on using. Better yet, you forget about them. You get married, but forget about divorce. You sign a new apartment lease, but forget about being able to opt out. You accept a new job, but forget about the options of quitting or changing careers. The less you rely on your emergency escape plan, the more committed you become in your endeavors.
I'm not advocating ridding ourselves of escape plans; I'm just advocating a slight shift in how we view them. I definitely wouldn't want to board a plane without emergency exits. I also don't want to accept a job offer or sign an apartment lease if it means being stuck for life. This is about focus, and mental power. The more we keep other options in mind, the less capable we are of working hard, hindering ourselves in ventures we're already invested in.
I'm turning 26 in less than a week and I'm getting the feeling that if I actually committed myself to NYC when I first moved here, I'd be in a much better professional situation than I am now… but I was afraid. I held onto my escape plans – my blueprints – for dear life. Instead of having both hands on the steering wheel, I had one on the emergency brakes. I keep telling myself, "I'm still young, I'm not sure yet, but that's alright, I still have time"... but now I'm getting closer to the realization that I’ll never be sure. The only people who are sure are those who could not afford being unsure any longer.
You'll never know for sure. You'll never know if this is the right path, or if this won't lead to absolute oblivion, but one thing is for sure, you will get nowhere fast if all you ever do is sound the alarm when you're in an emergency. Stop. Breathe, and I guess as the British government said in preparation for World War II back in 1939… "Keep calm and carry on."
by Jason Lam