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Commitment in a FOMO World

Dec 1, 2015

“She quit over text message?!”

I worked at Starbucks several years ago. One night, as we were closing the store down, the shift supervisor got an interesting call from our manager. A new barista – hired just two weeks ago – was scheduled to open for the first time the following day. The manager had received a text message late that evening, indicating that the newbie was quitting effective immediately. Even to a room full of Millenials, this move was shocking.

commitment - phone

Commitment and Communication Are Changing

In 2011, I stumbled on this Huffington Post article, which outlines some research about the way we end our romantic commitments. “Lab 42, a market research firm, found that Facebook can bring about both the beginning and end of a relationship. The study found that 33 percent of respondents had broken up with a significant other via text message, email or Facebook; 40 percent they would conceivably do so.”

Mashable.com reported another data set in this vein. “Facebook’s dating app, AreYouInterested, conducted a survey (in 2010) where “almost 25% of respondents found out their own relationship was over by seeing it on Facebook first.”

Our relationship to commitment is changing in drastic ways. Commitment patterns to jobs are changing. Whereas my grandpas were “company men”, it’s pretty rare among my peers to stick with one company for a long period of time. As the number of Americans who are “freelancers” increases, commitment is becoming more and more short-term. An older friend of mine describes how his generation “mortgaged” their loyalty, whereas he sees my generation “leasing” ours. Several years ago, another friend of mine told me “everyone’s yes is a soft yes – you should treat it as a maybe.”

Commitment and FOMO

I think a huge part of our struggle with commitment comes back to our battle with FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.

I was a college student the first time I heard about FOMO. One of my friends told me I had FOMO because I distracted by something that was happening somewhere else. I was physically present in one place but mentally and emotionally somewhere else.

What once was a joke is now a paralysis which freezes far too many of us. We struggle to commit because we might miss out on an unknown opportunity. We fear saying yes to attending an event on the off chance at we might have to say no to a better offer. In other words, we let the potential of great get in the way of the good which is right in front of us.

Fear of Commitment Shortchanges Us

As we respond to this fear of missing out, I think our struggle with commitment shortchanges us from the benefits of long-term devotion.

When we struggle to commit, we lose out on…

-Focus. I love that famous line from The Karate Kid“your focus needs more focus.” Focus is a skill, a discipline. We hone and develop it over time. When we bail on commitment, we never discipline ourself to focus, keep our head down and eliminate distractions. Focus is the product of determining what matters most and committing to the highest values.

-Perseverance. One of my favorite passages from the Bible is James 1:2-4, which reads, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Perseverance is the product of facing and enduring the challenges we encounter. When we persevere, we finish the most important work – us!

-Grit. What will actually help us succeed most are not our the items we list on our resume. What helps us succeed is the attitude and posture that is hard to summarize in a job description or list of skills. Increasingly, research is confirming this perspective. In her popular TED talk, Ivy-League researcher Angela Lee Duckworth outlines her research which indicates grit, not intelligence, is the leading cause of student success. Writing in The Journal for Personality and Social Psychology, she writes,

“We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.”

-Transformation. When we remain committed over the long haul, when we stay with something when we want to quit, we get to look back and see our personal metamorphosis. We get to see how we changed. That kind of view produces profound gratitude in our hearts.

I shared in a recent message at my church how I once declared emphatically that I would never become a pastor. The last 16 years include a winding, difficult, grit-demanding, courage-inducing road to a future I didn’t plan, nor expect. But one thing I know in the midst of this road – I’ve changed. I’m not the person I used to be – and I think that’s a good thing.

Sometimes my level of commitment was razor thin and other times I was doing all I could to look for ways out, but like they say in one of my son’s favorite movies (Finding Nemo), “just keep swimming.” None of us are capable of unwavering, eternal commitment. We all stumble and fall. There’s plenty of room for grace and second chances. But never forget the direction you were headed in when you fell. Get back up and keep going.

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, who inspired the book’s title. Nietzsche’s words are a great summary of the value of commitment, perseverance and grit. They remind us why we must battle our fears which threaten to distract and sideline us from our focus and purpose.

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

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