An impulse I used to constantly battle was the desire to make promises to keep others happy. Anyone out there who is a people-pleaser knows exactly what I mean.
Just after graduating college, this got me in tons of trouble with my then girlfriend. She was a year behind me in school, and every so often she’d ask me to come down to visit her in Cape Girardeau for the weekend.
I liked her well enough, but I also liked free time and not driving two hours to Cape Girardeau – also she’d gotten a cat that year, and I’m miserably allergic.
But when she’d ask, eager-to-please Dan would say, “Sure!” Then as I realized the gravity of what I’d done, regret would sink in.
Now, I am a man of my word, so I always followed through with my plans.
Except once. And boy, was my ex mad when I told her not to expect me down that particular Friday evening – and fairly so, since it was a promise broken. I got a frosty cold-shoulder for a good couple weeks after that.
It was a valuable lesson to consider the variables before I make any promises, and to carefully consider my words when I am pressed to make a decision. Since then I’ve obviously slipped up and done that same thing a few times, but that was the first time where I saw that flaw in myself – and was when I started working to correct it. It certainly has helped in the newspaper business, where fluctuating page counts lead to stories getting cut when space doesn’t allow.
Platitudes of “that story ran online” don’t really satisfy parents wanting to see pictures of their kids in print, so promising a hard-and-fast date of when something will be in the paper is an industry no-no.
More importantly, not lobbing out promises like candy in a parade has given my word a bit more weight among my friends. Strangely (or not so strangely I suppose), being reserved has shown the people important to me that when I say I’ll do something, I mean it, and I follow through. I’ve helped some friends move, and declined to assist others, show up to some group events and ignored others, but there is a common thread for all of those: I show up when I say I will, and I don’t commit when I don’t want to appear. There’s still plenty of things that I help with that I don’t want to do, because friendships take work to maintain, but generally, and ironically, looking at myself first and scheduling around ME has built stronger bonds with my friends than being outwardly focused and being known as the guy who bails on plans.
Being selfish with my time equals being conscientious of my friends’ time too. It’s all about knowing when to make a sacrifice, and when to think about yourself a little.