Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Commitment: Breakfast of Champions

Most folks who know me know that I’ve pretty much ridden the same inspirational phrases for the past fifteen or twenty years. Some of my favorites are:

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem
It’s not the choices in life that decide what you do, it’s the lack of choice… you got no choice, you know what you’re gonna do.
If I can’t do great things, I’ll do small things in a great way.
A man that’s always looking for a job doesn’t have time to work.
A setback is just a setup for a comeback; tough times don’t last, tough people do.

They’ve worked pretty well for me, and they seem to have inspired others a little bit too. But my cyber-buddy Kinika had one that really let me understand why I succeed at some things and not at others, and why sometimes I feel more of a sense of pride in failures than I do in successes. It’s all about commitment. It’s about doing the best you can whatever the circumstances. It’s about leaving it all out on the battlefield, playing field, crop field, field of dreams, etc. In the past, I had often confused my involvement with things and people with a commitment to them. But Kinika’s insight let me know the difference. She said:

“The difference between commitment and involvement is like a ham and egg breakfast. The chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.”

For some of you, I have to ask you to look past your hatred of all things swine-related to see the analogy. Many people believe they are committed to something or someone because of intense or long-term involvement or feeeling. But just like this analogy, they have the ability to walk away from the situation. The chicken can stay up all night giving eggs, and give the best eggs anyone has ever eaten… but it can walk out of the house the same way it walked in. The pig, on the other hand, sacrificed everything it had to make the breakfast work. Even if the pig was still alive, it’s commitment to making breakfast work would have meant it could have walked away… but it would never have been the same. It sacrificed past the level of it’s own comfort.

Folks say they are committed to a cause, a person, a goal, even a God. But they somehow find a way to walk away when things don’t go their way. I hear about people backsliding in church. Being committed is like being in a car going downhill… you can’t just slide backward… you have to make a conscious decision to stop first. People who “backslide” were either just involved with God, or they are lying to themselves, ‘cause if they were committed, they would be like Job in the Bible who said he would rather die than walked away.. You can apply that attitude to a lot of relationships. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were committed to their movements. When they were told they were going to be killed, they said what Job said.

Sometimes you commit yourself to something, and eventually you realize it’s never gonna work. At that point, walking away is the best thing to do. But if you committed yourself, as the pig did, you will still be changed forever by the experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be worse off, ‘cause the pig is a little more aerodynamic than it used to be. Whether you are better off or worse off is all in how you choose to deal with the experience. Actually, when you’ve given all you had, you get a sense of peace and pride that makes you feel stronger when you walk away. Some people confuse commitment to the process or path with commitment to the goal. There are times when success means doing things some other way, or heaven forbid, somebody else’s way. Now if your goal is to find a new process or path, then of course you need to see it through to the end. But you need to understand what your goal is so that you don’t commit yourself to the wrong goal..

When I think of true commitment, I think of a football game I saw Kellen Winslow play (Sr., not Jr.). He was sick and injured and still played what many consider the greatest game ever by a tight end. The special thing about the game was, when he decided to play, he knew it would take an effort he never committed to before. Although he was a future Hall of Famer, he knew he had never given 100% on every play before, and he wanted to see what would happen if he tried. In the end, his teammates carried him off the field, not because he won the game for them, but because he couldn’t walk. There is nothing wrong with involvement because that is the basis for most relationships, whether with people or ideals. The issue comes down to how much you are willing to sacrifice to get the most out of the situation. Like Kellen Winslow Senior, are you willing to put your own bacon in the fire… or are you chicken?