Sunday, April 13, 2014

Commitment: when you’re in it for the long haul

Quite a few years ago, when my youngest son was probably around six years old, we were at the pet store where we would often visit just to browse around.  On this particular day, he wanted a new pet.  We had already tried gold fish, which seemed to die much too quickly, and Betta Fish, which weren’t as much fun when you couldn’t even put two or more of them together, and we even made the mistake of adopting some dwarf hamsters after being led to believe all five of them were the same sex.  Note to self:  always verify that fact, especially when you’re dealing with a species that can reproduce at the speed of lightning. 

Eventually, though, during this visit at the pet store, my son was able to talk me into looking at other possibilities when it came to what sort of pet we could bring home with us.  As most of you who are parents are well aware, it isn’t usually the child who winds up caring for the pet.  Oh, the kids do their best at first…they willingly under or over-feed them, when they remember, and the first time they have to clean the tank or the cage, they pretend to be interested but quickly realize it’s more work than it’s worth. 

We try to teach our kids how to be responsible but what usually happens to the fish, hamster, turtle, lizard or frog the child talks the parents into buying?  It will either die, is given away to someone else or the parents take over the care of the animal to keep it alive as long as possible.

You might be wondering what happened on this day years ago when my son was able to talk me into buying another pet.  With some reluctance, I finally decided to venture into the land of amphibians…in the form of newts.  And not just any newt, but the Chinese Fire Belly Newt.  Before you comment with zeal at my lack of prudence, I realize a potentially poisonous pet was not likely the best option for my six-year son.  But, as with the pets before them, the newts were no exception when it came to how long they held my son’s interest.  I can’t blame him, really.  While the newts were cute, there wasn’t much my son could do with them.

So what’s the point of this story? 

When I purchased these newts, about ten years ago now, I had absolutely no idea how long they could survive.  While I did some research on the care, feeding and handling of the newts, I don’t recall ever reading about their life expectancy.  Only recently did I finally learn that their life span could likely be about 10 to 15 years but that they could also live to the age of 30!

I had no idea the amount of commitment, by way of years, these tiny little amphibians would require from me.  Are the newts still alive?  You bet they are.  The reason I finally read up on their life expectancy was because I couldn’t believe they were still alive after all this time.  After it became clear my son was too young to care for them properly, I took on the task of caring for them and they have been constant companions on top of my desk at home ever since.  They have their own tank, which is located on top of my desk hutch, and while they get natural light from the window in my office, their tank is also near a small desk lamp that is regularly turned on for them in the mornings and turned off in the evenings to give them a schedule.  Believe it or not, we actually call the desk lamp the “newt lamp.”

You might now be wondering if there’s a real point of this story…

There is and it’s all about commitment.  Sometimes we get ourselves involved with something without having any knowledge beforehand at the amount of commitment it might require of us.  It might begin to feel as if we’re doing to same thing, over and over, without much in return.  We might decide one day we just can’t give that much of ourselves to something else for so long.  Or, regardless of the time it takes, we stick it out because what we’re doing feels right and we can’t imagine the idea of quitting. 

Had I known the newts could live for 10, 20 or even 30 years, would I have actually decided to purchase them when I did? 

Not as a pet for son, I don’t think, and possibly not even for myself but had I learned that fun fact soon after buying them, it wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I would have cared for them the same, whether I thought they’d live 10 years or just 10 months, because it felt right to do so and I couldn’t imagine quitting on them.

The newts are a simple version of what true commitment might mean.  The complicated version of commitment has to do with what I’ve taken on as a writer.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy but it wasn’t until after I began my journey that I read about authors who have waited 10, 20 or even 30 years before they felt they had reached some level of success.  The definition of success can be very subjective but for me, I believe the definition of success has many levels and those levels take time. 

Had I known how long it could take to become a success as an author, would I have decided not to begin writing at all? 

Not a chance. 

While the commitment to the newts will end when they eventually pass away, my commitment to writing will remain until the day I pass away, regardless of whether I’ve reached what others might define as “success” because what I’m doing feels right and I can’t imagine the idea of quitting.

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