Sunday, November 18, 2012

Commitments, Integrity, Balance

The very first of the qualities that Brian Klemmer discusses in his book "The Compassionate Samurai" is Commitment.  He says that without it, one cannot be a samurai.  He also mentions that commitment, properly applied, makes all goals possible.  We can do anything we dare to dream - if we are truly committed to that dream.

I've been contemplating the nature of commitment this week in part because I am beginning to honestly believe that I don't know when to say "no" and back off.  To those who have known me for many years, I'm sure this comes as no surprise.  Y'all have been trying to tell me this for a long time.  This past week was a prime example of me not knowing when or how to back off.  On a week when I had a weeknight concert (and therefore also an extra rehearsal), I did not reschedule or cancel the private lessons I normally teach, instead I added two extra sessions because it was the week my high school clarinet students were going to their District level auditions in the All State process.  I also volunteered to roast two turkeys for a faculty luncheon at one of my schools.  I practically collapsed by the time I got home on Thursday, and proceeded to wake up (after nightmares) so miserable and ill feeling that I called in for a substitute for Friday.  Even though I only needed to make it one more day until a week vacation for Thanksgiving...I couldn't do it.  I was spent, and had nothing left.  I had worked 12+ hour days and barely slept for a week, all after being really sick with a cold the weekend before.  I didn't know when to quit until I quite literally collapsed from exhaustion.

Which brings me to commitment.  I don't know whether to say that I have a lack of it, or an overabundance of it.  Or perhaps I have just enough, but I fail to allocate it in a healthy way.  For now, I'm going with option number three - I have failed to allocate my time and commitments in a healthy way.

That being said, I honestly don't think I would go back and do this week any other way.  As exhausting as it was, each of those things was completely fulfilling to me.  The concert was fabulous and I enjoyed playing in it immensely.  My clarinet students were up against a deadline and I helped them polish their preparations (they did well, by the way!), which I also enjoyed.  No one else volunteered to cook the turkeys for our faculty luncheon, so I did - they turned out delicious - and I am glad that I did that too.  I do wish that I had had enough energy and stamina to endure until Friday afternoon, but apparently that was the cost of me accomplishing everything else before that.

What bothers me about that cost is that it cut into two different commitments I have made - to the students I see during the school day, and to my personal health.  Which tells me that this week I really was overcommitted.  I spread myself too thin and was unable to keep all of my commitments, and in the end, doing that over and over again weakens my integrity.

You might think I am being too hard on myself, after all, I did help out a lot of people this week.  But it comes down to integrity and sustainability.  What I did this week is not sustainable for more than a few days, at best.  My actions came at a high cost to two of my higher, longer term commitments.  Ultimately, if I can't keep my word, at any level, then I have caused myself a problem in terms of integrity.  I want people to be able to count on me when I say that I can do something for them.  In order to do that, I need to know my own limits better.

Sadly, knowing my own limits has never been a strong suit.  I tend to assume that I am Superwoman, and capable of anything at nearly any time.  As weaknesses go, it's a nice one to struggle with, honestly.  Since I push the boundaries of my capabilities, they tend to expand to meet my needs (eventually).  So we finally come to the crux of the matter:  Balance.

My dad has been telling me since I was a child that the key to everything in life is balance.  "Balance is a good thing" is something of a motto for him.  He usually followed that sentence with a terrible joke about balance being a salty snack in one hand and a sweet snack in the other...but there was always an element of seriousness in that statement too.  I need find the balance of commitments that stretches my current capabilities without causing me to break some of them along the way.  It won't be easy, but as an old teacher of mine would chide me, "If it were easy, we'd have kindergartners doing it!"

Finally, this week (and the fact that I really wouldn't go back and change it) tells me where my true values and personal commitments lie.  Apparently I am very committed to helping motivated students reach their goals, to contributing to the success of the band I perform with, and to volunteering for tasks that others won't step up to accomplish - and not very committed to my physical (or mental) well being. I am also not as committed to my day job as I probably should be, even though I do enjoy it.  Those last two can be hard truths to hear, even from myself.

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