Confessions Of A Chronic Over-Committer

I like to overcommit.

Well, I don’t know if I would use the word, “like”.

It’s more like my mind says, “Hey, loser, why the hell would you not do this thing?  What are you, lazy?  Stupid?  Cummon, get to work.”

And so I get all frightened and shriveled up and I say, “Yes sir,” to that voice in my head, and I say, “Okay!” with a bright cheery voice to whoever is asking me to do this one more thing for them.

The problem is that to whoever asks it’s only one thing.  To me, it’s one thing on top of an ever-increasing mountain.

It’s hard to work full-time while having a family, maintaining a blog, volunteering, answering email from readers, and basically everything that comes with being an orthodox Jew… and that’s just the stuff I’ve already committed to.  Not the extra stuff people ask for.

And so… when I overcommit, I inevitably prove that voice right.  That damn voice.  Because he’s got this plan, see.  He’s smart.

He tells me I’m lazy if I don’t take on every commitment that comes my way, but then… when all the over-commitment is starting to crush me, and I start to let some things go, he says, “You’re so friggin’ lazy!” again.  And I believe him.

So, I try and do everything.  But now I’m doing everything bad because I don’t have enough time to do anything right.  I’m just rushing my way through everything, half-committed to each commitment.  My job suffers.  My family suffers.  My writing suffers.  My life suffers.

And that voice, now, he takes even more advantage.

“Oh man, Elad, why didn’t you work harder?  You’re better than this.  Seriously, man, you’re just being lazy.”

And soon, the worst part happens.  Much worse than the voice, but all part of the voice’s plan: The people I’ve committed to start telling me the same thing.

They say, “Elad, what the hell?”

“I asked you to do just one small thing, Elad.  Come on.”

“You didn’t communicate,” or “What’s taking so long?” or “This isn’t what I asked for.”

Oy, and now the voice, he’s outside of me.  He’s coming from people I care about.  People I trust.

And all that reminds me of where the voice came from.  The voices of my past.  The teachers who didn’t understand why I didn’t do my homework.  Who got so frustrated seeing someone with “potential” throwing it all away.  And how some of them, they didn’t know how to communicate it, so they said, “Elad, you’re lazy,” “Elad, what’s wrong with you?” “Elad, when are you going to learn work ethic?”

The same words my voice says to me today.

And so, the voice, it’s become a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Telling me I’m lazy and then proving himself right with each whisper in my ear.  Proving everyone else that I frustrate right too.

It was only recently that I realized this was a voice, something outside of myself in a way, and not some sort of Objective Truth, some Voice From On High telling me the reality of how I work, the truth behind the essence of my soul.

Can you believe it took me almost 30 years of my life to figure that all out?  15 if you don’t include all the years that my brain was getting messed up, preparing me for such a way of approaching the world.  I can’t believe it.  And I’ll bet there are so many people who never do.

All the same, I did realize it.  I saw the voice for what it was.  Something outside, something that doesn’t necessarily have to be listened to.

And so, for the first time in a long time, I started to say, “No,” to commitments.

The voice put up a fight.  It started to scream louder and louder at me, saying, “Oh, Elad, you’re better than this!  You can do more than this!  Look at that poor person you’re letting down, oh my gosh, their life is going to be a disaster now that you didn’t help them!”

But I just kept saying, “No,” over and over.  “No,” “No,” No,” “No.”

And it was so hard, I felt like I was committing some crime.  But I knew, I knew, when I looked objectively at my life that I was taking on too much.

And, amazingly, the more I said, “NO!” to the world, the more the world itself started to open up to me.  I wasn’t doing a million bad jobs, I was doing a few very good jobs.  My writing improved.  My work improved.  I was spending more time with my family.

Saying, “No,” to requests is still painful to me.  Always painful.  I still overcommit like crazy.  The voice is still there.  It will probably never leave, the punk.  He’s talking to me, saying, “Oh, come on, this is just a big way to make excuses for you being a bum.”

But now I know the voice is my enemy.  I know he is a liar and a dirt-snitch-waste-of-energy.  And that’s half the battle.  No good friend calls you lazy.  Confused or bad people call you lazy.  People that don’t know how the world works call you lazy.  And the same applies to voices in your head.

  • Betzalel M Bassman

    I relate big time! TFS

  • Dani

    GREAT ARTICLE! I find myself overcommiting all the time and find my self agreeing to go to events i know i probably wont be able to attend among other things and what ends up happening in the end is I just end up dissapointing everyone even worse. I am only now beginning to learn to say no and it is truly life changing.

  • Malka Hellinger Forshner

    Wow, sounds so familiar….but my voice is so very tricky. She says, “Aren’t you a shaliach of the Rebbe? Didn’t the Rebbe say we’re all shluchim? Don’t you remember what the Rebbe responded when a woman asked him if he ever got tired giving out dollars? Why do you think you are living where you live? If you think of these Chabad projects you HAVE to do them…but I’ve gotta run, and go set up the “Sufganiot and Latkes” program for this evening….

  • I have similar problems. I’ve started quoting Hillel to myself “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

  • Chaya’le

    Thank you for articulating this so well! Was just having a conversation about this idea with a teacher who has a hard time with her students’ behavior.

    In the end, we learn to tell ourselves the things we always heard while we were growing up. If we, as kids, are always being punished or insulted, we will constantly punish and insult ourselves when we get older, hoping to ‘whip ourselves into shape’.

    We say things like ‘I’m so messy.’ ‘I’m ugly.’ ‘I’m lazy.’ etc.. instead of asking ourselves ‘what’s the best way to clean this up?’ or ‘how can I tackle this problem?’ or ‘what can I do today to start living a more healthy lifestyle?’ or in your case ‘can I really give this project the attention it deserves, or is it too much for me right now?’.

    Sometimes giving ourselves a new ‘language’ or ‘voice’ makes all the difference in becoming solution-oriented, which enables us to accomplish a lot more in life.

    (There is a place for healthy consequences. Punishment feels more like an insult to the child, as in ‘you’re bad and you deserve to suffer’; consequences usually answer the question ‘will this actually teach the child something?’ and the child feels the love.)

    • I LOVE this. I totally agree that many of us tend to focus on defining whether we’re good or bad rather than focusing on actions. I think it actually touches on something even deeper: we aren’t just good or bad. Our lives are a process, and so no one action or screw up can possibly define us. When we acknowledge our whole life is a process, then the actions naturally become the major choice. If we think that everything is stuck in place then the opposite happens and we just sink into despair.

  • Shoshana

    I’ve been banned to a very remote part of Diaspora to work on my relationship with G-d and others by observing, learning, applying and feeling. Maybe one day I will feel this over-commitment issue. For now, I am not committed enough, so it seems, to be set free. I still enjoy your blog and do feel like I have a long distance, if not insane (on my part) friend. Keep on rocking in the free world.

    • Thanks, friend 🙂

      • Shoshana

        Actually NO, THANK YOU. I have been thinking about this post since I first read it, and maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I was just thinking about Adam and Chava after they ate the forbidden fruit. Hashem asked, “Where are you?” He meant where are you in your journey with me? He obviously knew where they were physically. So now, in utter stark contrast to your post, I have 7 hours a day alone with Him. I have no commitments other than time spent studying, praying and holding onto the honeymoon with the Love of my life. When my husband and kids come home, it’s time to be mother and wife. Perhaps when people ask too much of you and you feel obliged to commit, you could answer something like, “Thank you for considering me as a source of help in your time of need. I am grateful. I have already made an appointment with some one-on-one time with Hashem and then I need to spend time with my wife and kids because marriage and family connections (kesher) are the way we pull Hashem close to us on earth. Once I am refueled, if you still need me, I can be of some assistance.” Just a thought. Instead of concentrating on committing, perhaps we all should be concentrating on connecting.

  • Lauren Benning

    Elad, your post reminds me of an article I read yesterday over at Psychology Today. Did you read the same article?

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201310/the-power-no

    It’s great to hear someone singing praises of the power of “No!” Telling someone “No” is not the same as being negative or selfish, and I’m just now learning that in my 20s. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    • No, I didn’t read it until just now, but I totally agree that it makes a great point. No is just as important as yes, of course. We just need to learn when to use each one. I’m glad you’re doing that 🙂

  • Shmuel

    Kol haKavod for recognizing the negative, defeating, self-downing inner monologue!

    I am curious to know whether you ever noticed your tendency to over commit happening specifically during manic episodes, etc…

  • Rivki Silver

    I can very much relate to this. Saying “no” is still hard, but I know that it’s a necessity!