Knowing When to Break a Commitment

December 20th, 2004 by Steve Pavlina

I certainly understand those who reacted negatively to the software book cancellation. Keeping commitments is important to me. The key lesson I had to learn though was when to break a commitment — if you reach a higher state of awareness where your original commitment no longer makes sense, how do you know when to cut out? Should you ever do so at all?

Because I spend a lot of time working on growth, I sometimes outgrow old commitments — I reach a point where it’s clear that the original commitment no longer makes sense, and knowing what I now know, I wouldn’t have committed to it in the first place. So do I try to subvert my new awareness and follow through anyway, or do I pursue the new course when it becomes very clear to me that that’s the most intelligent and honorable choice? A lot of times there’s a moral issue there too. If I was a Southern slave trader who promised delivery of 100 fresh slaves to a plantation, and then I suddenly had an awakening and realized that slavery was wrong, should I keep my original promise? What is the most honorable thing to do? In my case I would break the original commitment. Those who value keeping commitments as their highest value would proceed to ship the slaves, regardless of their personal feelings; in fact, many did just that.

Strange as it may seem, finishing the book was a moral issue to me as well. I reached the point where I realized I could be helping a lot more people through writing and speaking directly on personal growth topics, including the really challenging ones like this one. If I stayed my previous course, I would have had to delay a lot of good for the sake of helping a small number of software developers get better sales and perform better marketing. At my new level of awareness, I could no longer justify the old decision. The world isn’t going to spin off its axis because I didn’t complete that book.

Making a decision like this also involves weighing the consequences. Cancelling the book may hurt my credibility with a few people, but I believe it will only build authenticity with others, and I’ve been informed that this action has already helped a few others who also felt stuck behind commitments they wouldn’t make again and who were having trouble deciding if they should cut their losses too.

If I make a commitment at one level of awareness and then reach a new level of awareness where that commitment is clearly wrong, then I will break that commitment. If this gets you bent out of shape, then you probably don’t want me in your life. It’s best not to read this blog then. It’s not a question of what’s merely right for me; I think hard about what’s best for the highest good of all. In this case it’s very clear to me that completing my software book would not be for the highest good of all. If that means I damage my credibility with a few people in the process, then I’ll pay that price.

Another key issue is knowing when to make a commitment in the first place. When I originally began the software book project, my priorities were askew. I entered the project for the wrong reasons. Such a project was out of character for me; it was too timid a step. I’ve been developing a better understanding of the kinds of commitments I may eventually need to break vs. the kind that will stick no matter what. For example, I went vegetarian in 1993 and then vegan in 1997, and I’ve never broken those commitments. So I expect that with every lesson learned, I’ll get better and better at knowing which commitments are the right ones for me and which aren’t. But in the meantime, I see no honor in steadfastly sticking to old commitments that are clearly not serving the highest good of all — certain people who believe the opposite have been causing no end of problems on this planet. I can think of many people and corporations and countries who need to re-evaluate their commitments and re-align them with the highest good of all. I feel that globally we’re headed towards a massive re-evaluation of commitments.


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