I would like to talk about a trait I used to have. A trait I forcibly abandoned a bit late in my life. They say better late than never and it couldn’t be more fitting than this situation. I want to talk about keeping promises. Yes, that trait! It plagues most of us, if not everyone on this planet.

I remember a younger version of myself, trying to keep promises left and right. I remember trying to be there for people, trying to please people. Perhaps it was due to the fact I wanted to be helpful, perhaps I wanted to show I was someone people could rely on, someone that could be trusted and to a certain extent, I also wanted to be liked, as one does I guess, when they are young. There is no shame in that.

Nevertheless, as time went by, and as I kept promising stuff to people, I was unable to fulfill all those noble promises. I had chewed more than I could ever swallow (insert joke). Promising things left and right, in the end, proved to be impossible to manage because it is literally impossible to manage. No human being can or should do everything. I hated not being able to help and I would promise to help. Later, I would end up disappointing people more because I had put expectations in their minds and hearts. I would also disappoint myself for not being able to help and even more for being unreliable in the end. Who was there to blame but me? I was to blame, 100%. I had to come to terms with that fact and thankfully, I did.

Today, I like to think of myself as brutally honest. I do turn down opportunities to help because I know, for a fact, I will not be able to fulfill a certain promise. It hurts me and sometimes, it hurts those who were relying on me or who were just looking for assistance. I don’t like to let people down. I spent a lot of time thinking about that, and I ended up making a hard choice, but a crucial choice: I only promise when I know I can help. No more half ass promises, no more promises so I can be liked and be seen as a helpful guy, as a reliable guy. Truth be told, I am helpful and reliable, but I have my limitations. We live in a three-dimensional and finite world, where limitations are everywhere, so recognizing them, accepting them, being comfortable with that fact, was the right and noble thing to do.

I remember this one time, 3 people, 3 friends of mine, came to me because they needed money. As fate would have it, they all needed 100$ in a span of 48 hours. I didn’t have much money myself at the time, but I was able to assist them. They all promised to give me the money back within a week, as soon as they got paid. Easy.

A week went by, then two. Nothing. No phone call, text, email or any form of communication. And on week 3, I was the one who needed help. An unexpected bill fell from the sky, as they do sometimes in this 21st century life. I called them but nothing. No answer still. Long story short, 2 gave me back the money within 6 weeks and the 3rd person still hasn’t. That was in 2011 weirdly enough. If the 3rd person had saved 1$/month, they would have my 100$ now. Maybe they suck at math or maybe they don’t like paying back their debts.

I knew I shouldn’t have given that money because I borrowed half of it, to help. I am not saying I am as good as Mother Theresa, I just wanted to help some friends during a dire time. I knew I shouldn’t have done it because I technically couldn’t. Yet, I did, much to my dismay and disappointment. I cannot blame them, I blame me. I didn’t listen to my instinct or put simply; I ignored the math telling me I had no money to lend. I put myself in that situation. Luckily, it got resolved quickly and the unexpected bill got paid.

I am not advocating to be stingy, cheap, self-centered, or to refuse helping others! That isn’t the point. We must help others, to the best of our abilities but not to our detriment. What good is it to save others and die in the process? I am exaggerating but you get my point. I promised more than I should have, and I knew it wasn’t wise, within my heart. The positive thing is now, I know who to lend money to and who to send to the bank to get a loan. The friendships have been redefined, they have been altered, for better or worse but mostly better. I had promised much and delivered far less. It wasn’t a trait of a reliable person.

I finally learned to say to people “I am sorry I cannot”. I prefer disappointing people from the beginning but being true to myself and be plainly honest and true. It’s been a long road, a tough road. More importantly, adults shouldn’t overpromise. We really shouldn’t. Either we sincerely can be of assistance or we cannot. There is nothing wrong with not being able to help or not wanting to help!! Sometimes, depending on the case, we just don’t want to help. It happens. It is hard not to feel guilt, I will admit that. Yet, once again, I’d rather promise what I can, or I’d prefer to disappoint someone right away than disappointing them long term and in a more intense way.  

If you see you cannot keep a promise, then don’t make any. Simple as that. It might be a radical approach but a fantastically useful one. It shows maturity, character, confidence and class. We could all promise the moon and the stars and barely deliver the clouds. Moreover, the more promises you don’t keep, the least reliable you are, even if you meant well.

Promises matter. Helping matters. You can always help others without overpromising. If you cannot help, perhaps direct them to someone who can. Being nice to others mustn’t come at the detriment of your health, your sanity or even your financial situation.

There is always a way to help others. Overpromising isn’t one of them, I assure you.

Just one man’s opinion.

Now smile and go on with your day!

Freeman. B

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