Last fall I happily agreed to put my writing for Satisfying Retirement on hold for four days to help one of my daughters move back to Phoenix from LA. I pitched in to help with last minute packing and driving the rental truck. She is her father’s daughter. Arrangements had been made well ahead of time for people to load the truck, take a TV and microwave she didn’t want to move, pick up a car she was donating to a charity, disconnect the cable, and do the final walk-through of the apartment. Each of these was reconfirmed one or two days beforehand.
On the day of the move, the packers had dropped her from their schedule. The fellow who was going to pick up the microwave decided after several text messages that he didn’t really want it enough to come get it. For some reason the women who was getting the TV thought she was to pick it up on Sunday, not Friday. The cable company had no record of the pick up of the equipment. The tow truck to pick up the car was late. Even the apartment representative was 45 minutes later than the agreed upon time.
Do you see a pattern? We certainly did. It was the absolute unimportance of of keeping commitments. Not one apologized, except for a few, insincere “Sorry about that.” The insensitivity to the inconvenience, and even the anger shown when we suggested their actions were harmful taught us a very valuable lesson.
Keeping a commitment used to be a rather serious matter. It was understood that a promise had been made. A commitment meant you and I could trust each other to do something at a specific time or in a certain way. Today, it seems more likely that a commitment is considered very flexible. When it suits the person or business that made the promise is when it will be fulfilled. I can’t begin to detail the reasons why commitments are not that important anymore to an increasing segment of society. But, I would like to take a stab at discussing why I believe it is mistake.
A commitment kept shows respect for others. When a promise is made to do something, there is another person or business that is counting on you. Mae West once said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” To make a commitment and then treat it as not very important, or flexible in its execution, says the other person isn’t as valuable as you. It says your convenience and your needs must always come first.
A commitment kept shows respect for yourself. You are putting your personal integrity and reputation on the line. You are not willing to fail someone else who is depending on you. You want to be known as someone who delivers what he promises. You believe you are able to take responsibility as it affects others.
A commitment kept shows an understanding of your time and energy. Sometimes I have over-committed myself. I think I can do more than I can. I have promised more than I can deliver based on my available time or abilities. I don’t want to say “No” to someone who asks me for something. But, I have had to learn my limits. The amount of time and energy I have is finite. A commitment that I can’t keep is much worse than no promise at all.
A commitment kept is essential for success. From a business perspective, a company or a salesman that promises something will happen or a product will be delivered on a specified date will soon be out of business if that commitment isn’t kept. Trust and a good reputation are essential in business. They are earned when everyone's interests are considered and respected.
The same premise exists for an individual. My personal reputation, the belief in my trustworthiness and my honesty, must be above question. When I make a promise the other person must believe that I will do everything in my power to keep that promise. Trust is a very fragile thing, and once it has been broken there's a chance it may never be fully repaired. A commitment is a test of that trust.
I’m afraid the experience in Los Angeles wasn’t an isolated instance. Think about your own day-to-day life. Did the doctor really intend on seeing you at the time set for your appointment, or is any time with an hour of that time acceptable? Is the car really going to be repaired for the estimate you received? Will you definitely e-mail the information I need today like you promised?
It doesn’t help to get angry when someone else doesn’t understand all that a commitment implies. You only have the power to not patronize that merchant again or avoid a person who has misled you. You can’t change that person’s understanding of responsibility.
But, each of us has the ability to understand what commitments stands for and to keep them. If a promise is made a promise will be kept. It is that simple. Even if you may be the only person doing so.
Why are commitments seemingly not as important as they once were? Hearing what each of us have experienced as we strive to build a satisfying retirement helps make each of us better equipped to build the retirement lifestyle we crave.
(Note: I wrote this post last year for Pick The Brain. The response was strong enough I thought readers who missed it there would find it interesting. It has been changed a bit from my original article)