“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
“At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you.” I heard this quote in a meeting last week and it was the first time I had ever heard this simple idea so beautifully put into words. These words enabled me to sharpen my perspective, examine my motives further and understand exactly what sort of life I am living. I have said it before and it has been taught to me through recovery and the message is simple: Into Action! It’s more of a command when I say it. It’s as if I want to will people to move how I aspire to move and to think the way I think. But this is not my job.
What comes to mind first is how often times the messages I receive are simple ones. They make total and complete sense. They would work for me. But often times I choose not to act on them, not to commit. But why? I think the simple answer and the one that comes to mind first could simply be that I am lazy. It takes too much effort, too much work. I would have a myriad of goals. Everything from being a writer to learning how to cook. My goals were just ideas, simple thoughts. They never reached their potential. I am very good at sitting somewhere and telling somebody all of the great ideas I have. All of my plans, precisely what I am passionate about and what I excel at. Except none of it was true. I lived strictly on potential. I know how to play the guitar and I love it, but the farthest I got was playing open mic nights at a crummy bar on the upper east side called American Trash in front of 10 people. Not because that is the farthest I could have gotten, it’s just the farthest I got. Therein lies the difference: The potential is always there. It is the action that’s rarely seen.
So back to the question of “why?” Why would I continually, seemingly purposefully shoot myself in the foot? Is it just out of laziness? I don’t think so. I think a number of things interrupt progress, but for me the most glaring one is fear. I am of the type that at times can have a very low self-esteem that is combined with an out of this world ego. I am at once the smartest guy in the room and also the dumbest. I have visions and grandiose ideas but I don’t actually believe I can achieve them. I am a loser if I’m not Tolstoy or Dylan. If I can’t write songs like Townes Van Zandt or Nick Drake then I might as well stop writing! And what invariably occurs is I get nothing done. I have ambitious ideas and nothing to show for them. And for a long time that is what I was: A machine printing out idea after idea and leaving it somewhere on a shelf in the back of the room. I was too smart to do anything with any idea because what if, god forbid, I didn’t live up to all of the hype? But what “hype” was I even thinking of? I created every aspect of expectation in my own mind. I wasn’t scared of failing because people expected me to be something great. I knew that I could never be what I expected of myself and I also knew that if I couldn’t produce something better than the next person that I was a failure. I was always in competition with others and nobody knew it. I was even in competition with myself. I wanted to be smarter, better looking, more well-dressed, more fit than everybody. And since I couldn’t achieve these goals I instead did nothing. Absolutely nothing.
So, why am I writing about all of the bad times? Because there is hope! And although I cannot put it into words quite as well as Goethe does I can identify.
I often talk about living a life that requires careful examination of moments; not days, months or years. It is a type of living that takes discipline and introspection. But at the top of it all, the most important requirement towards a happy life for me is willingness. And that is where hope comes in. What happens when I am willing is an almost unreal unraveling of events. Willingness to go into action provides much more than I ever expect. I believe I can explain it more simply: My life is similar to a tree with no branches. I focus on growth upwards every day with no expectation other than to keep growing. What begins to happen without my knowledge is the growth of branches. Stretching outwards these branches are filled with new life that I had not set out to capture. But this is what happens when a tree is healthy and continues to grow, it promotes growth from areas that weren’t specifically targeted. It creates growth around it. It is a welcoming source. Living things want to be close to it. It provides for others, not just for itself. And when this happens it keeps growing stronger.
Perhaps this is a silly example but I believe it illustrates well what is often a misunderstood point: When I am willing to commit to the promotion of growth within myself positive things begin to occur naturally without my input. When I stay away from self-seeking tendencies and hidden motives and focus on a willingness to learn and grow and positively impact the world around me the world in turn positively impacts me.
Though my set of circumstances may be different than somebody else’s it really makes no difference. I have learned in recovery that when I focus on improving myself moment to moment my life becomes better at the same time. I have been fully committed to this way of thinking for nearly 8 months now. I can share with you that I still currently do not have a job. It is not for lack of trying. But my path is not one of specific goals. Of course I need to work and I hope to be working very soon (I have an interview in the morning so cross your fingers!) but I have to remain patient. If I forget about the moment to moment life where I commit to improving myself and improving the lives of others then all that job is is an idea. I cannot focus on one thing in particular because that is not how I will attain what is right for me. Since I have lived this type of life, a life of willingness, I have become closer to my family than perhaps I ever was. Of course one of my goals earlier this year was to repair some things in my personal life but it was the way I went about it that is the true secret of achievement. I did and continue to do the simple daily things that I know I need to do without any expectation. I show up. I check in with my family and let them know how I am doing and genuinely want to know how they are doing. I make myself available. I am honest. I am responsible. Bottom line: I am an active participant in adulthood. The point is, I didn’t set out 7 months ago and think “In 4 months I need my brother to ask me to watch his kids” or “in 6 months I better be at the point where my sister wants to spend more time with me.” That is not how I achieve anything. I set out to be a useful person for the 24 hours I have in front of me, and when I have shown myself willing to commit to life, life has shown that it is just as willing to commit to me.