A promise can forge powerful emotions. A verbal guarantee that something will come true in the future — what’s not to love!? I’ll tell you. The power behind a promise can lead to extremes. Extreme joy and happiness on one end or extreme disappointment and sadness on the other end. Those extremes should be enough to make you think twice before making your next promise.
I can remember many moments in my life where a promise came true. A simple promise like “We can go to the park tomorrow if you take your nap today” or a big incentive promise like “I’ll buy you a car when you get your drivers license”. Those promises were often two-sided, where if I behaved well, I would be rewarded. But what about one-sided promises? In my experience, that type of promise often lead to me living in a world full of false hope.
The One-Sided Promise
Not all one-sided promises lead to negativity. There have been times I’ve told my son “we can go to the park tomorrow” without any sort of incentive attached to it. We made it to the park the next day and we both felt happy. I made him a promise just to see him happy and I wanted him to know I am thinking about him. I think promises are made with that specific intention. To make the other person happy and to give them something to look forward to.
Then comes the down side. A promise that does not live up to its great expectations. Just like when a star college basketball player — with prospects of being a future NBA Hall of Famer — tears his ACL senior year and never makes it to the pros; a bright future can turn dark in a flash.
At an early age, I was introduced to joyful promises, that later became broken promises. One story in particular stands out. When I was around 5 or 6, my grandpa would visit my family on occasion. I remember more than a few times when he said to me, “I’m going to take you and your sisters to Disney World”. The first time I heard it, my eyes light up in excitement, energy pulsed through my body and I jumped around like a rabbit that just found a golden carrot. I was ready to pack my bags and leave that second. I ran to my mom. “Mom! Mom! Grandpa’s taking us to Disney World!!”, I said. After dropping the biggest headline since the tooth fairy paid me a dollar, I was expecting more excitement from my mother. However, very calm and slightly irritated, my mom told me, “don’t believe everything you hear”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I now know she spent years being feed the same empty promises from my grandfather.
If the stories in our book of promises go unfulfilled, eventually people will realize the book is nothing more than a fairy-tale.
Fast forward 23 years. I no longer have my bags packed, my mickey mouse ears on and I now respond to promises not with excitement, but with pessimism. I never made it to Disney World, but I can’t say it was all bad. The promises may have gone unfulfilled, but I received something better in return. The false hope that filled my life, broken promise after broken promise, made me look at things differently. It made me think about the person making promises completely different. Most importantly, it made me think twice before making anyone a promise.
A Promise I Can Keep
I do think about the likelihood of my promise before I commit, usually. Still, I find myself making promises to my wife and family members that tend to sit in limbo. It’s not that I have given up on my promises; I am just really bad at scheduling. I make promises with unrealistic timelines and by time I am ready to commit, I am met with that feeling of false hope. I can see the disappointment when I do not make my promises on time. Even worse, a broken promise is usually followed with an excuse, which leads to people not trusting my future-self to follow through or commit. That leads to me setting one simple goal: Make A Promise I Can Keep (and deliver it on-time).