I’m actually writing this post before I go on my sabbatical and wanted to share my thoughts on breaking commitments.
Let me back up a little and tell you that one of the ways I keep my focus and motivation is to tell my audience I’m going to do something. I’ll even set a due date and announce it to my audience like it’s a done deal. It’s called public accountability and it’s worked for me in many situations.
It works for me because integrity is very important to me, and I hate letting myself and other people down.
Setting a timeline and making the commitment known to the public give me the extra push when I feel like giving up. It doens’t matter if they remember or not. In fact, my audience is probably not tracking and remembering every single detail I share with them. What matters is that I remember. Remember that I put it out there because it was important enough for me to follow through.
Making a public commitment doesn’t make the process easy, per se, but it does help. It helped me with sticking to a year-long daily drawing project Happiness Is from 2014 to 2015. I also made a public commitment to publish a weekly blog last summer and did that until I said I’ll do it at least 3 times a week a month ago (so far, so good!). I’ve also been publishing a monthly newsletter since last summer, and I’d made a commitment before I started.
To be completely honest, when I make a commitment, I’m never 100% sure if I can deliver on the promise. I have the motivation and intention of sticking to it, of course. But things change. Maybe you realize your goals are different now than 6 months ago. Maybe you have more information about a particular situation and need to course correct. I’m still big on keeping my commitments in general, but I’m also learning to be more intentional and strategic about the commitments I keep and don’t keep.
I’m getting better at listening to my gut instinct and usually know if something wasn’t gonna work from the beginning. In those situations, I don’t have a hard time saying no from the get-go. What I struggle with the most is when I have to break my commitment after saying yes with a full intention of following through.
It’s interesting because when other people break their commitments, I get disappointed or annoyed but I’m able to let it go. But when I do it, even if I have a really good reason for it, it’s very, very difficult.
It feels somehow I’m not an honest and reliable person. I feel flakey. And that’s the last thing I want people to think of me as! I want to be seen as a person of integrity and want to be trusted by others.
Trust is so important. If you can’t trust me, why would you want to do business with me? I know my customers and audience won’t be able know me like my close friends and family do, but I want them to be able to trust that they’re going to have a positive experience when they are interacting with me.
If I change my mind and break my commitments, I’m afraid it’s going to negatively affect my customer’s experience. So my first reaction is to try my hardest to prioritize their experience over my better judgement.
But is that really the only way? Would my audience automatically have a horrible experience if I back out on my words?
While it is extremely important for me to do my best to keep my words, it’s also important for me to be honest and vulnerable when things aren’t working. You know what builds trust? You being brave and showing up as a real person. A real person with struggles and challenges.
And I have such a hard time doing it!! I’m afraid that showing up as a less-than-capable person is not inspiring to people.
I often have to remind myself that when other people share what they’re struggling with, I get a lot out of it. It makes them more human. And if they’re human and accomplishing these amazing things, I can do it, too! It gives me motivation and inspires me to keep working towards my goals even if I hit a roadblock here and there.
In this recent Seanwes podcast episode, they talk about how people are encouraged by the fact that you showed up, not necessarily by how successful you are when you show up. I couldn’t agree more!
So I want to show up here today and share a story of me breaking commitments lately. This is not me making excuses – I’m pretty good at owning my decisions 🙂 but maybe you’re struggling with something similar and it’s helpful for you to hear my experiences. I want you to know that it’s OK to change your mind 🙂
I was planning on offering a creative coaching group in Seattle during April and May. It was going to be like a support group for creatives, and I was really excited about it. I had flyers made and had been advertising it on my website and social media for a couple of months.
But for the last few weeks, I had this nagging feeling whenever I thought about it. The class registration was about to open up on Febraury 15. I had already mapped out the promotion calendar and figured out the curriculum etc. But I just couldn’t get the excitement back when I thought about actually doing it. I was conflicted between wanting to do it and knowing it wasn’t the best use of my time and resources, considering my new focus was to grow the product side of my business (you can read more about refocusing my business goals here).
So I did the self-test and imagined how I’d feel if I cancelled the group. And when I did that, I felt relieved. When I imagined going through with it, I felt very unexcited and felt it was such a drag!
I had a few days before the registration opened and had to seize the opportunity then if I was going to cancel the group. So I wrote an email to the owner of the art school, where I was going to have the group, and let her know I decided to cancel the group. I was really anxious when I hit that “send” button. She’s been very nice and supportive, but I was afraid she was going to be dissapointed and think less of me.
A few days later she replied to me and was totally understanding and that was just that. I felt so much better and lighter!
Another thing I’m backing out of – I don’t know if you remember but I said a couple of months ago I was going to start another year-long drawing project this spring. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had a really awesome experience when I did it the last time, and it’s continued to give me many opportunities now even almost a year later. I was also itching for a new creative challenge!
Then again, I realized it was just not the right time for me. Doing a regular project like that (especially a daily project) is like having another job. As awesome as it could be, it’s just not the kind of commitment I should be taking on at this time.
When breaking commitments, I remind myself that It’s not just about what other people would think or how they’re going to react to your decisions. You can never control those things 100%. What you can control is how you’re making your decisions and how to communicate your decisions to other people.
It takes courage to say, I was going to do this, but I can’t any more. Fear of judgement often creeps in and clouds your judgement. How do you know it’s not just a temporary feeling of cold feet? It feels scary to back out of things because the biggest opportunity of your life time might have been waiting just around the corner.
You’re right. You don’t always know. You just know what you know given the information that are presented to you at this present moment. So, how can you make the best decisions based on what you know?
My best advice is to listen to that little voice inside of you. Your intuition or gut instinct is there to protect you and guide you to make a decision that’s best for you. Imagine saying no to this opportunity. Imagine saying yes to this opportunity. How do you feel in your gut?
You can also talk about it with someone supportive, someone who is not emotionally attached to what you’re trying to do. It could be your partner, friend, mentor, a coach or a counselor. Even just telling them your situation and having them reflect it back to you can bring you a tremendous mental clarity.
In my recent situations, the big question I had to ask myself was – how is this going to help me reach my goals? It may seem selfish to think this way, focusing so much on what you’re going to get out of it, but you’ve got to. You have so much time and energy in a day to pursue your passion, spend with your loved ones, and to fulfill your other obligations. You want to choose a path that will allow you to meet your needs and needs of others most effectively.
If you’re choosing to do something that you know is not going to serve you, simply for the sake of keeping your commitment, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and people around you in the long run.
At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to deal with 100% of the consequences of your decisions. If I had not cancelled my coaching group, I would’ve had a very unsuccessful marketing campaign because I just didn’t have enough focus and time to promote it effectively. Maybe I would’ve had a very small number of participants sign up but still spent the same amount of time preparing and facilitating the group. And it would’ve taken away time and energy from focusing on my number one priority, resulting in me not being able to deliver the top notch awesome products to my customers this summer. Sad!!
Even if you make a decision to back out of your commitment through a thoughtful process, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people won’t be disappointed. They probably will, and that’s understandable. Just like you’re allowed to have feelings and emotions about changes, so are people on the receiving end of your actions. And if you’ve been cultivating good relationships with your customers and audience, and you’re being honest about the reasons for change, they’ll eventually understand.
I’m learning that nothing terrible happens when I break my commitments. As long as I’m making those decisions carefully and intentionally and communicate honestly about it, things usually work out. By saying no, I’m saying yes to a future me who is happier and more fulfilled. And that future me will produce better work and be able to provide a better experience for my audience long term. And that is something worth being courageous for!