As I near graduation from my counseling program, the word commitment resounds in my head again and again. It’s not a word that I generally cuddle up to. At first blush, it usually instills a sense of foreboding within me causing goose bumps to arrive on my arms, my heart to beat a little faster, and a sigh to escape my lips. I usually equate commitment with other weighty words like completion and responsibility. Commitment seems like the opposite of freedom and yet its essence always returns to me like a boomerang as I grow older. I can’t seem to escape its grip.
Growing up, I was never allowed to shirk my commitments. If I didn’t feel like going to dance class one evening, my mom would make sure to come up to my room and remind me to get ready to leave. When she picked me up from a voice lesson and noticed how visibly relaxed I was after singing, she would make sure to remind me of the feeling and how if I had decided not to go, I would still be stewing in my teen melodrama.
As much as “I don’t feel like it” or “I don’t like being told what to do”, showing up allows me to execute my gifts in service to a larger purpose outside of my own selfish interests. It holds me accountable both to myself and to my community even though the process of becoming present is anything but glamorous.
In his latest book, Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in An Age of Infinite Browsing, author Pete Davis discusses how American society (especially millennials) is free floating in an age of endless options and lacking in commitment to real people, places, and projects. Yet he advocates that true change takes the commitment to show up over and over and over again for a long period of time. And as lackluster as committing is, we actually idolize those who commit and wish we could be more like them.
Teaching a student, advancing a cause, healing a divide, rectifying an injustice, revitalizing a town, solving a hard problem, getting a new project off the ground—they all take time. If change happened quickly, we wouldn’t need commitment—our initial elation or anger would be enough. But when change takes time, we need something more—something that can get us through the boredom, distraction, exhaustion, and uncertainty that can plague any long-haul effort (Davis, 2021, p.17).
Over the past almost four years in school, there were many, many moments when I wanted to quit. I was sick of being merely a student and missing out on all the fun opportunities that I imagined and realized other people in my life were having. There have been so many instances of boredom, distraction, exhaustion, and uncertainty. But being on the other side of my educational journey, I am proud of all that I have achieved and so glad that I stuck with it even when “I didn’t feel like it”.
When clients first come to see me, I can practically feel their unspoken expectation about immediate relief radiating off their skin. Sometimes there is immediate relief in that clients suddenly feel heard and seen in ways that they have not experienced in the rest of their lives. And I often have to provide psychoeducation about the time it takes to create a therapeutic relationship which fosters emotional processing. It takes time. Curating an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding takes times. Outlining the duration, frequency, and symptomology of a client’s concern takes time. Understanding the root of a behavioral pattern and how it impacts a client’s current relationships takes time. There is no short cut to relating in real space and time, and commitment is the method by which we co-create healing.
As writer Natalie Goldberg states in her book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, “Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time” (2005, p.15).
Davis, P. (2021). Dedicated: The case for commitment in an age of infinite browsing. Avid Reader Press.
Goldberg, N. (2005). Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within. Shambhala Publications.
Marielle Grenade-Willis is a current counseling intern with People House and a master’s student at the University of Colorado – Denver. With a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology and a background in dance, dramatic, and vocal performance, she applies a somatic and systemic approach to the individualized work of counseling. Marielle works from a client-centered, experiential, narrative, and trauma-informed perspective with her individual clients. Prior to People House, she worked extensively in nonprofits focused on animal conservation, food access, and refugee welfare; and has had her poems read and published throughout the Front Range and beyond.