I think we’re all a little nervous of commitment to some degree or other, sometimes in relationships and sometimes with money. Applying fear of commitment to other life decisions is something I've never really thought about, but coming to terms with my own peculiar brand of commitment-phobia has taught me a lot about myself - it has also brought me an immense amount of relief, and even excitement for my life. Here’s how…
I’m afraid of commitment in pretty much every avenue of my life. The only thing I have never had trouble committing to is people – I’m as loyal as a labrador, and while that is generally considered a good thing, it can be pretty bad for me when I’m faced with having to admit that someone I’ve become loyal to, actually kind of sucks.
But throughout my life I’ve maintained a pretty constant level of anxiety about big and small decisions: wasting a good outfit on a bad day, deciding what to eat for dinner, making life-changing decisions such as what to study at school, uni, and then what to do for a career. Menus baffle me. I’ve kind of given up on clothes shopping altogether. And as I get older the fear has gotten worse! Up until not long ago I had been trying to decide which Smashbox lipstick to purchase since December (2013!). Planning further than two weeks in advance isn’t possible; sometimes Adam has even had trouble getting me to commit to a weekend plan on Saturday morning...
It isn’t as if I pause to think about a situation, and then find myself unable to commit – my whole life I’ve been working on skipping that thought process and jumping straight to “let’s just wait and see!”. Not on purpose of course, that’s just the way I’ve grown, always a little bit afraid. If you stopped me long enough to ask why I just don’t make a decision, I couldn’t tell you – I don’t think about it, it’s just a gut feeling that leads me to hedge my bets.
I guess it’s about not wanting to make the wrong decision. I don’t want to go down an avenue, hate my choice, and be unable to change it. I’m the worst version of myself when I feel trapped. But life doesn’t let you stay stuck in indecision; it forces you to act! When I was younger I put my life decisions in other people’s hands.
These days when pushed to decide, I have become the master of squeezing my eyes tight and saying “f*ck it…” before I leap.
We also don’t accept failure very well, at least not for ourselves. What if we decide we want to dedicate our life to a sport, or a hobby which turns into a career, or a cause – and what if we’re just not that good at it? Failure isn’t really something we talk about, it’s kind of not considered an option, and if it happens we try our best to explain it away or sweep it under the rug. Or some of us just avoid failure altogether by never committing.
And this kind of fear can creep into successes too. Often throughout my life, if I have started to do well at something, I tend to panic and back off - I actually get a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Commitment-phobia can mean a fear of failure and also a fear of success - because what if you are good at something, but not as good as you thought, or not good enough for other's to deem successful? And just because you're good at something, does it mean you have to do it for the rest of your life?
But the problem with going through life without claiming something as your own and being afraid of commitment, just seeing where life takes you, and just winging it when you have to make a choice – it doesn’t leave you feeling very good about yourself. If you’ve decided you want to live your life that way, and that is what is most comfortable for you, that’s fine but that should be a choice you make – not an option you fall back on because you’re afraid to commit yourself.
It’s healthy to take ownership of something, it helps us grow, learn to feel pride in our actions and compassion for ourselves if our decision doesn't work out. It makes us feel brave, that we are living life on our terms and not just letting it happen to us.
I mentioned I was relieved to realise that I’m afraid of committing to things in life, and this is because too often I have heard the words “lazy”, or “too shy (to put myself out there)”. This confused me for so long because I don’t feel lazy, I have always been a hard worker. I do put off decisions, but I’ve always found it so hard to admit to being “lazy” because when I’m not moving forward on what I should be, I’m usually to be found working on something else. After a while I learned to beat myself up, I failed to identify what was really stopping me from moving forward, and instead got mad at myself for not being good enough. And seeing yourself as not good enough influences everything.
When I realised that I was just afraid, I was so relieved.
To me, being afraid is ok. It's not a character flaw, but instead it’s something I can work on, and it allows me to feel compassion for myself. If someone admitted to being afraid to me, I wouldn't tell them to "suck it up and stop being lazy" - I would offer them support. And I do the same for myself. These days when I get nervous about something like career moves (I have one coming up), I accept that I’m scared and try to move forward anyway but with my eyes wide open. I try to think about what I want from my future, something I never used to do, and see what steps I need to take to make it happen. If it doesn’t work out, I'm conscious of the fact that I will actually be fine. But it's all about claiming my decisions as my own, and moving forward at my own speed, building a life I am proud of.
At the end of the day the most important lesson I have learned with commitment-phobia is to be kind to myself and accepting of who I am. Being self aware, but not critical of what fears I may find lurking inside, leads me to understand what's really going on. And that gives me something to build on! And learning to make commitments has helped me feel more confident, and like a more capable person. I promise, the more you do it the easier it gets.