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It seems to me that we often commit ourselves wholly to something while knowing almost nothing concrete about it. Another word for that, I suppose, is 'faith.'

Zadie Smith

The remarkable thing about children is that when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they don’t hesitate to tell you. A veterinarian, a musician, a firefighter, they’ll say with the confidence of a politician. And yet they know nothing concrete about any of these professions. Whether it's how many years of study are needed, the danger of thousand degree blazes, or the discipline it takes to be an accomplished musician.

So how do we recapture that kind of commitment, that kind of faith? And more importantly, why does it matter?

Let’s start there.

Few words illustrate the idea of dichotomy the word "commit" does. In English, it's tied to crime and marriage. You can both commit to a partner and also can commit a crime. Growing up, I had great examples of both. My parents have been happily married for 42 years. And neither committed any crimes. But there were other ways I learned about commitment.

When I was 12, I wanted to study cello. I had been playing the violin for 2 years. I begged my mother until she relented. I could play the cello, said agreed, so long as I kept up the violin. In the end, I played both instruments for a time but more skilled in violin, I stopped my cello lessons and stuck with the violin.

My commitment paid off, literally. My playing earned me a scholarship at university.

Later on, commitment took on the form of love. At 35, I married a childhood sweetheart. I spent weeks on my vows and earnestly said them to him in an intimate family wedding. But it wasn’t until I boarded a plane for Vietnam where he worked that I understood commitment. He would experience commitment for himself, too. Two years later, he followed me to study medicine in China.

The earliest meaning of "commit" suggests the “joining” together of not only people, such as in when we join relationships or companies, but also our Selves to our ideas.

When we commit to people or ideas, we are connecting invisible lines that tether us to our imagination.

This is why it is so easy for children to commit. It's not because they know nothing. It's because they haven’t forgotten how to dream.


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