Monday, November 7, 2016

Following Through When You Can't

Like most people, I've made promises to do things. 
I fully intend to do exactly what I say I will.

And then something interferes with my plans, and I can't.
Maybe my priorities shift because of emergency situations.
Maybe my health fails me out of the blue.
Maybe a required part of the plan breaks or disappears.
Maybe the situation is much more complicated and my simple plan isn't workable.

I used to feel horrible when I couldn't keep a promise, because I have been on the other side of depending on others and having them not come through for me. Even if the person was understanding about it, I would beat myself up for them. It would mess with other parts of my life. My relationships could all suffer. My health sometimes suffered. And it fixed nothing.


Then I figured something out.
There are ways to keep the spirit of a promise, if not the letter of it. You just have to skip feeling bad and look at the possible failure as a challenge for creativity.

Here are some examples:


I promised to help a friend move, knowing she had no one else. The day of the move I was in a lot of pain and my van wouldn't start. I couldn't help her at all. So, I started calling in favors of other friends. I asked for help fulfilling this promise. I called my friend, apologized and told her my situation and what I was trying to do to still help her move. I asked her if there was anything else I could do for her. She was stressed and needed to talk so I sat on the phone with her for an hour. I managed to find a friend of a friend with a truck, and 3 volunteers to load and unload for her. So, I still ended up helping her move, even though I didn't.

I promised my kids when we moved to a small town that we would not move again before they graduated. I promised they would never have to switch schools again. A few years down the road, our house got foreclosed on. There were no rentals in that small town big enough for our family that we could afford. We had to move to a new school district. I set up with family friends and the school for them to stay there during the week so they could stay at that school. When that didn't work, I had several meetings and phone calls with the Principal and Superintendent and helped the now teenagers figure out transportation and then I filed the proper paperwork request for them to still attend out of district. They graduated from there.

But...

There have been times where I had to back out of social plans, and there is no way to fix that one.
When your promise is your attendance and you can't, there is no substitute.
That's when you have to figure out what the spirit of the promise is. For me and social activities, the promise is more about being supportive and involved in someone's life than actually just being in a certain place at a certain time.

So what I do is offer to spend time with them later, or offer that they can call me during or after the event if they want to talk. I request pictures and video of the event to show I care and comment on what I see in them. I follow up after the event and ask lots of questions about how it went, their favorite moment, or let them complain about what went wrong. Whatever lets them know I care about them and what they do.


And there have been promises that I had to break where all I could do was promise to do better next time. It happens. This existence is full of factors that are not within our control. Trying to take responsibility for those just drive you nuts. At those times you learn with the help of hindsight what precautions you can make for the chaos for next time. THAT is your responsibility. To learn. And thinking of it that way helps me not blame myself and cause extra damage when those things inevitably happen.

An overall idea in all of this is a truth I learned in DBT:

We are all doing the best we can, with the tools and information we have at the time. And we must continue to try to do better.


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