Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Three Levels of Commitment

What the world needs more of is not new ideas and daring dreams but commitment. A willingness to do the hard work that matters.


Photo Credit: kaniths via Compfight cc

Sadly, there aren’t many who have the perseverance to do it. And I think the problem is a misunderstanding of the word. There is, in fact, more than one type of commitment. And knowing that can make a world of difference.

Commitment means something different at different stages of life:

  • As a child, you’re committed to doing what your parents tell you, because they’re your parents and that’s what you’re supposed to do.
  • As an adolescent, it’s hard to commit to something that lasts longer than a few months. So much can change so quickly, it seems foolish to unnecessarily tether yourself to something so uncertain.
  • As you enter adulthood, commitment takes on a different shape yet again.

Through each season of life, we must relearn what it means to commit.

An adventure

The first level of commitment is an adventure.

In this season, you commit to something for the sheer thrill of it. This type marks those who travel the world and are able to walk away from a perfectly good job. Adventurers can move across the country or break up with a boyfriend without thinking twice.

This type of commitment is important, because it helps you experience a broad array of opportunities life has to offer. It will lead you to see the world, explore different types of jobs, and do things you’ve never done before, as long as those things feel good.

However, this is healthy only for a season. When you build your entire life around this type of commitment, it can become problematic. You may find this way of living unfulfilling and immature as you grow up. I know I did.

After spending a year of traveling from city to city while living in a van, I was fed up with wandering. Having seen so many homes and been a part of so many families, I was ready for something steady, if only for a season.

A season

The second level of commitment is a season.

You commit to something for an extended period of time, even after the initial thrill wanes. You plant seeds and stick around long enough to see them grow. You camp out at a job or under a revival tent, because there is something special about the place. You go through life with a certain group of people and get to know them well.

But this is all temporary. After the time of the commitment is complete, you move on to other endeavors. The season is over; the commitment is finished.

This is an important level of commitment that many neglect. They jump from complete recklessness to starting a family, sometimes not on purpose. They go right from college to a full-time career, feeling like they never had the chance to see what life had to offer.

If you pursue seasonal commitments, you bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood without getting bitter.

A season is what you make it. Some last five months, while others last five years. My year on the road was a season, as was my friend Dustin’s two years teaching in Guatemala. The point of this type of commitment is it serves a purpose and has an end.

A marriage (not literally)

The third level of commitment is a marriage.

This is the highest mark of maturity and what marks true dedication. Of course, it applies to more than actual matrimony, but you get the idea. Marriage is forever, and so are some commitments.

Hopefully, your calling fits under this category. Although jobs come and go, your vocation, your life’s work, should be something that sticks. Something you can commit to.

But how do you know it when you find it? You could do what my wife, Ashley, does. When she takes a job, she has a “marriage” mentality about it. She doesn’t devise an exit strategy or consider her next steps. There are no stepping-stones in her book. She has no backup plans.

Ashley’s not like many people her age, looking over her shoulder for something better to come along. She just knows how always looking for the next best thing can sabotage your work and rob you of where you are now.

Time to commit

Depending on where you are in life, it may be time to go on an adventure or make a seasonal commitment. It may even be time to take more of a marriage mentality towards certain things.

But it’s definitely not time to keep drifting through life without any thought as to who or what is counting on you. To keep shirking responsibility and causing those closest to you to call into question your integrity.

No, friend. It’s time to commit. To a job, a relationship, a path. Something. Anything.

We don’t need your restlessness or your excitement. We have enough Peter Pans, thank you very much. What we need is a little more conviction in our difference-makers. We need your focus, your pluck, your courage.

We need you to commit.

Note: This was adapted from my book, Wrecked, which is available on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold (also available as an audiobook).

Which type of commitment sounds scariest to you? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Ever Wonder If Your Blog Post Is Good Enough?

We built a free tool so you don’t have to worry about that ever again.

1. Pick your goal of the post
2. Answer 5 basic questions
3. It tells you if it’s good enough and how to make it better

Click here to use the tool.

  • An interesting metaphor, for sure. My problem is that I can only be married to so many things at once!

  • This speaks to me Jeff! This is awesome. This might even make it clear why some are scared of marriage 😉

  • Jennifer Patrick

    I recently committed to a healthier lifestyle which includes running. I ran my first 10K on Saturday, the longest I’ve run in 14 years. I was scared and it was hard, but the feeling of accomplishment when I finished was amazing. Thanks for posting this, Jeff!

  • Fantastic progress, Jeff.

    What’s more, once “married,” that relationship continues to grow and positively evolve through the years. So marriage is not the end or last step, it’s really the beginning of a new life.

    • Excellent perspective. I struggle with decisions, and with a list of self defined career “failures”. Making a “marriage” in regards to a profession has been anxiety ridden to say the least. While I’m very committed to family, I’ve not been able to make that leap in other areas. Your comment brought a lot of clarity, and a light kicked on… thanks Kent and Jeff

      • Hugmomma (cool name :)…

        Just a quick though. “Marry” your Vocational Calling and then start looking for work that fits your calling. You can change work throughout your life, but as long as it fits your vocationally calling, you’ll still be good.

        Hope this helps.

        • cjdeboer

          Excellent advice Kent – the key is to marry our passion/vocation (hopefully the two are the same!)

  • Right on the point, Jeff. I committed to writing a short while ago, and I’m taking it seriously. I wish I have done it earlier.

  • Martin Schmaltz

    So true. So many times we can be great at the first level. But it is commitment on all three that brings true success.

  • Interesting perspective on commitment – I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. The idea of “marriage level” commitments (beyond my actual marriage, of course), is pretty scary to me, as I’m more used to short-term projects. But definitely some great food for thought in terms of how I want to allocate future time and resources 🙂

  • A call to commitment, especially among young adults is a much needed thing, and something worth celebrating. I appreciate the example of your wife – we need more like her!

  • The scariest part for me is the figurative language. These days, I’m trying very hard to self-analyze and figure out if I have a fear of genuine, deep commitment. I feel like I want to be all over the place and go on these grand adventures, multiple ones, at the same time.

  • NeilSHarris

    I’d say the second level is the scariest, because there is a good chance that a person could be at season two and think they are at season three. I recently lost my job and thought I was at the “third season”, as you call it, Jeff. While I am still looking for the for work, I realized that my previous job as something similar to the second season.

  • Marnie Hughes

    This spoke to me at the right moment, Jeff. I’m a bit blocked on the book I’m working on and your post has reminded me of the commitment I have made to finish this. Thanks for great timing and terrific message. Maybe it’s also time for me to read my copy of Wrecked again. Loved it the first time!

  • I think there is another level – military commitment. It encompasses all three of the levels you describe. It can be an adventure, it can be a season – though some make it a career and it can be like a marriage in that you have to willing to give up your life.

    I get that this did not really fit into your post but I think that the people that make this particular commitment deserve recognition.

    Semper Fi

    • Ooh. I LIKE that.

      • Jeff, Thank you. Feel free to incoporate.

    • Phenomenal addition! There are some things in life for which you must indeed be willing to give it all. Your children and your family being two of them.

      • Thank you Katherine. I agree with your assessment as well.

  • ‘Dr Sniffle’

    Thanks Jeff, as you rightly point out there are far too many people making plans or planning to make plans.

    Whilst being in a ‘marriage’ maybe mundane and at times frustrating in the long term the rewards far outweigh these perceived negatives. Of course it may take time to find our perfect partner but by really going through the previous stages we will better understand ourselves and thus be better placed to make that choice.

  • For me I fall into the area of season. This season I’m in has been scary and exciting!

    • I love your season, Kimanzi. Big things are happening!

  • Carol Linn

    I agree with what you said. I spent my early years working and raising my son and even though I wanted to write I wasn’t able to commit to it. Finally I have reached a point in my life where I am not only able but willing to commit to it, to commit to something real and beyond the every day concerns of my life. I see it as a journey, a learning experience and a chance to grow as a person.

  • Outstanding! We were once a people who knew all about rolling up their sleeves, squaring their shoulders and digging in. I believe we can be that people again, in time. Thanks so much for your words! Now, where did I leave my Peter Pan swatter?…

  • S Chippendale

    It wasn’t until I made the ultimate commitment (in my mind anyway) by having children that I was forced to decide what to commit my limited amount of time to. My list currently stands at 1. keep children alive (and happy) 2. write.

    When I had bundles of free time in my teens/early twenties I was constantly lost and never wrote a thing. After having children and deciding to stay home with them I’ve forced myself to look into what my deepest desires are and strive towards them. Stripping someone of options can make their dream become obvious; yet without my children I wouldn’t know what I wanted my future to look like. All I know is they were the best commitment I’ve ever made.

  • I think I’m married to writing, but the scariest commitment now, since I’m older and have a child is that crazy, “just do it without a care” kind of commitment.

  • I think I recognize an adventure easily enough, but it’s harder to discern the difference between a season vs. a marriage commitment. Am I doing this because it’s my passion and calling for life or is this a season in which to simply learn things I need to learn?

    • Great question, Tom. I’m not sure. I think that’s where discernment comes into play.

  • I’ve been reflective lately about what I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years-a business I own in which I serve clients each year, especially during the spring. It’s been a marriage commitment I decided I’d stick with until I felt called on to something different (if I did). Now, I have and, while I’m not yet signing the divorce papers, my heart has left the building and I’m giving it permission. If the writing gig works out, I won’t look back and feel any guilt. I enjoyed your post. Thanks.

  • Dale Lavely

    Thank you for this great message. It is so perfect for where I am at in life. It is so hard in this new season to find what I want to commit to. I had hoped writing but Im soul searching about this brand new life change. My son is in college and I need to choose a path, but which one? How do I commit to something Im not even sure I am good enough to do? Your posts always speak to just what I am in need of, thanks

  • cjdeboer

    Fantastic post, Jeff. You always manage to smack me in the face (in a good way!) with these hard but necessary truths. Thank you 🙂

  • I agree with you that there is commitment issues and I think it stems right throughout society. I think part of the reason for that is the notion that in this age there is so much opportunity for everyone, we are in the abundance opportunity age and as a result can spawn a ‘grass is always greener on the other side mentality.

    The Path to Excellence hasn’t really changed across the centuries. What allowed Shakespeare to achieve excellence is the same that has allowed a Gladwell to be excellent; A commitment to their art.

    I frequently speak to someone who wants to be a writer. However When i ask how much they have written over the last week about 70% of the time their response is ‘not much. They haven’t reached that level of commitment yet where they write every day without fail – Will it ever come? Possibly and when it does it will spawn the greatest work he has ever done because they commitment will have arrived.

    Aaron Morton

  • I enjoyed it and it was great thank you

  • David

    Jeff, this really landed for me. The first thing I thought, was I have been really good at the adventure commit, I can quit a great job or leave a relationship and start over. I love love love starting over from zero, it’s an incredible feeling of bliss, adventure and a new life. However like you said, it is immature at this point in my life, I’ve committed for a season for the first time, after the feeling weaned, and so now, marriage commitment looms… To what, to where, to who? This is where I am stuck.

  • semika

    really loved your sincere thoughts in this regard

  • ElisaLeederMS

    I enjoyed reading about your different levels of commitment. But I do not believe that the problem is in the misunderstanding of the word. Commitment emerges from what we believe and our idea of what we can or cannot do. Our level of commitment determines the journey our ideas, dreams, and aspirations will take.

    I am a relational thinker. When I think about commitment, I think about the relationship we engage in with our dreams, hopes, and aspirations. To think about commitment as relationships may help you to participate in a journey of sharing your ideas, hopes, and dreams. Lets get exited and inspired in order to commit.

    Viewing commitment as adventure, seasons, or marriage are all engagements to different relationships. The relationship you have with an idea might be fulfilled with excitement, fun, and newliness, whereas in a long-term commitment to your ideas, hopes, or dreams, you promise to work on through good and not so good times.

    Elisa Leeder, MS

  • I love literal marriage, but marriage to an idea scares me! I never question marrying my wife, but I fear that I will get too far in with a bad idea…I guess if I thought that way about my wife before I asked her out, I would be aimlessly wondering around without the love of my life and never know how great it is to be married to her… Guess the lesson is taking the chance and committing might be the best thing you can do, and sooner or later you will look back and not be able to imagine your life without it, just as I cannot imagine my life without my wife… hmm, guess I’m preaching to myself 😉 Thanks, Jeff

  • Jeff,

    Great advice and reflection. It is funny how we approach the different areas of our lives. The older I get, the more I see myself surrounding myself with the people who have the ‘marriage’ mentality. It is there that we grow the most.

    I have also seen myself adopt that mindset with my blogging and writing carrer the more I do it and understand why i do it.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Jacinda


    I appreciate how you honor your wife. I love how you and your wife are each other’s #1 fans.

    Thanks for teaching me the value of committing for a season.


  • Penny Martin

    I am a job jumper from way back! Lol I move for more money, better company, or I’m just looking for better people. The responsibilities are about the same though. Writing is the only thing I’m committed too. I’ve be passionate about it for as long as I can remember and still work at learning more about it.

    I enjoy reading your posts and books. We’ve emailed a couple of times concerning your online courses. I must admit, your career is an inspiration to me.

  • Y8

    The information is informative, interesting, engaging and readable.

  • hope you have better article

  • Imran Khan

    To me, the idea of getting married scares me the most as U will get clipped from the wings and will have to take care of your ‘wife’ seems to me the most challenging part in matrimonial life. The married people will know the best what I am trying to say as I am single, fortunately or unfortunately :).
    Being single, I am driver of my own accord and I do what I wish to do. I can spend time with my friends as much as I want. Wife must be given proper time, taken care of and a lot more! But for a man like me, might fail in providing all these must-given things; that’s why I am scared enough of the idea to get married. 🙂

  • Melinda

    This was interesting. I never thought of the different kinds of commitments. As I have gone through my life I have had many commitments and they have changed in the various seasons of my life but this is the first time I thought about it as such.Thank you for the interesting prospective of that. Good article as always. I look forward to your articles.