Upon making a decision to kick his smoking habit, my good friend proudly declared “one day down, the rest of my life to go.”

I laughed.

We were roommates at the time, and I knew it’d soon be my responsibility to destroy any errant packs of Camels I found lying around our apartment.

I’d heard similar proclamations in the past, but the flippant lifetime commitment this go round just killed me.  

We were recent college grads, young bachelors and career nomads. We enjoyed directionless lives in our adopted city—Chicago. 

We had zero long-term commitments between the two of us, which is probably why his grand moment of inspiration struck me. But it also stuck with me. 

As I was thinking of a way to describe my first week as a full-time musician and writer, I couldn’t help but return to his simple statement of hope and confidence.

One week down, the rest of my life to go.

After writing these first few paragraphs, I went for a drive. I popped on the radio and came across New York Times columnist David Brooks speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival about what he called “The Four Commitments.”

Brooks describes commitment as “a form of promising.” He says it’s “falling in love with something and then building a structure of behavior around it for those moments when love falters.” A fulfilled life, according to Brooks, consists of four commitments—to one’s spouse, family, vocation, and philosophy or faith.

While he shared loads of invaluable information in his talk (watch the whole thing below), simply naming what it means and why it’s important to be committed was helpful for me.

We live in a world where few things hold our attention for longer than thirty seconds. Heck, I can’t tell you how many times I had to get up and pace the room while piecing together this short and simple blog post. 

We carry what Brooks calls “de-commitment devices” in our pockets, and we constantly wrestle with the fear of missing out. If you read my post last week, you know that I know this better than anyone. 

Why does it always seem as if everything good happens somewhere else?

I’ll be honest. In my first week as a full-time musician and writer, I’ve wanted to quit. From a distance, my friends’ lives look better and easier and certainly more lucrative than mine. In every conversation I’ve had about my chosen path, most of which have actually been positive, I chose to hear “you’re lazy, you’re a failure, and why can’t you be like everyone else.” I’ve felt embarrassed, unsure, and anxious about what to do next.  

In my first week as a full-time musician and writer, I’ve been distracted. From playoff baseball and Iowa Hawkeyes football to learning a new language and planning a move across town, my head has rarely been one hundred percent where I’ve wanted it to be. I’ve checked my fantasy football teams ten too many times and read far too many opinions about our current presidential election. I’ve felt frustrated, angry, and lost.

But most importantly, in my first week as a full-time musician and writer, I’ve been in love. I’ve continued to hold on to the truth that this is what I’m best at—that this is what I was made to do. I’ve had a yearning to do and make great things because of of this truth. Because I’m committed. 

Brooks says we stick to our commitments because we have an “innate urge to pursue our highest good.” He calls this way of thinking our “moral lens” and suggests that we avoid asking the question “what do I want out of life?” and instead ask ourselves, “what is life asking of me?” 

While family is one of “The Four Commitments” he mentions in his talk, he compares every commitment we make to a marriage.

People who see through a moral lens have a different view of marriage. They don’t ask “Is this person right for me?” They ask, “Can I love her in a way that brings out her loveliness? Can we take our private passion and direct it outward? Can we — can I go through every day assuming that my own selfishness is the core problem in our relationship?” We have a tendency when in relationships to think the other person’s selfishness is actually the core problem. But ours is the only one we can control. And so I think we — people stick with their commitments, both because they’re just in love, which is fun, and they have some yearning, a yearning to be a good person. And they’ll do amazing things driven by these two motivations.
— David Brooks

So as I sit down the rest of this week and next week and in the weeks and months to come, I think I’ll try to love what I do in an effort to bring out its loveliness. Brooks identifies the ultimate payoff of sticking to a commitment as something I’ve put a great deal of thought into over the years.

“What’s the ultimate payoff of a commitment?” he asks. “Your voice lingers on.”

One week down, the rest of my life to go.