I recently reread Don Miguel Ruiz's famous book, The Four Agreements. This time, reading it wasn't enough. It was time to make a more concentrated effort to apply those simple rules in my work and personal life. So I decided to put each on my phone's electronic "to do "list, complete with daily reminders.
For the first few days, I cheerfully (smugly) checked them off, "Yep! I am doing that. That one too…"
..but soon a new awareness took root, one that didn't feel so nice but was essential to being the kind of person I want to be. That first pesky agreement, the one we all think we have mastered, "Be impeccable with your word," was getting to me.
The daily reminder kept eliciting a sinking feeling that something was off.
I am pretty good about not being intentionally deceptive, but as I thought about my calendar and some recent deadlines and appointments I had missed, negotiated, or rescheduled, I had to admit that this is an area for improvement. I suspect that if we are really honest with ourselves, most of us struggle here.
… "but I am a very busy person!" says my self-serving, rationalizing mind.
Aren't we ALL?
I thought I had solved this issue in my life, that I had become that person who does exactly what she says she will do as a rule.
People can count on me— and they do!
Yet here it was again… I peeled back the onion and discovered that, for me, it was about two things: 1) over-scheduling and 2) not allowing enough space between appointments to get other work done and avoid stressing out every time I hit a red light in traffic. First let's tackle over-scheduling, which is really a matter of priorities after all!
I try to keep my priorities in order by blocking out time for friends and family in advance.
I try to hold it sacred, but lately I haven't done a great job of this, something that's been eating at me. I might not have noticed, were it not for that daily reminder on my phone that forced me to think about my integrity on a day-by-day basis.
Was I impeccable with my word yesterday?
How can I do better today?
Lately I have cancelled more than once, realized late in the game that I had double booked myself at an important time for a family member, and shown up late on occasion too– sometimes at the expense of people who are very important to me. (Cringe)
By thinking about integrity this way, I became keenly aware of how these seemingly small infractions can erode our most important relationships.
Just because we call to cancel and our loved ones are nice about it, that doesn't mean we are off the hook, especially if our personal intention is to be impeccable with our word. If these kinds of things go unchecked for too long, eventually others stop trusting us to make and keep plans and, worse yet, we stop trusting the words that we hear coming out of our own mouths!
For those of us who have mastered (or at least made peace with) the art of saying "No thank you" to avoid overextending, there is still a sinister, sneaky, secondary trap— being late. This is a daily struggle, one I typically do quite well with in professional settings but often expect loved ones to forgive.
Being on time was beaten into me in the navy. Later on I lost sight of it as a busy working mother trying to be too many places at once; this frustrated my oldest son to no end. (He is rarely late, and then only under extremely extenuating circumstances.)
I learned from that experience and in recent years have made it a point to arrive early for most appointments, enjoying the extra preparation time in the waiting room or parking garage. I stopped accepting every invitation, made time for what I truly wanted to do, and carved out extra time for preparation and transportation. Life got A LOT better!
I loved smugly saying "No problem," to the occasional traffic jam. Defiantly saying, "Ha! Take that red lights! I am on time anyway!
…and yet as I become busier and busier, I seem to want to squeeze in a little more work here in there, leading to a subtle tendency to leave a few minutes late. Lately I sometimes find myself shooting out the door as the alarm on my phone says, "Leave now to be on time," and not a minute sooner.
After all… It's so easy to rationalize that if I hit traffic and I let the person I am meeting with know that I am running late, they will surely understand. After all, I am not "blowing them off," and I have informed them that I didn't forget and am making an effort to get myself to the appointed place and time– even if I AM ten minutes late. "It was unavoidable," I tell myself. "Right?"
Once in a while, this is okay. People understand that sometimes there are emergencies, traffic jams, and unforeseeable circumstances. But as a professional, I need to be savvy enough to plan for fluctuations in traffic and the occasional wrong turn– and not just when I am meeting with clients.
My friends and loved ones deserve the same courtesy and I really don't want to become one of those people who are perpetually late… the ones who prompt you to be sure there is a new book on your Kindle app so you can make the most of the inevitable wait.
Being on time and keeping appointments, even when it is difficult or circumstances have changed, sends a clear signal.
"You matter. Our interaction is a priority for me. I care."
Failure to keep our appointments and be on time says a whole host of things most of us never intend… and we would consider it disrespectful, even mean if we uttered the words out loud.
As I write this I am thinking of a kind and patient friend who has recently endured some last minute cancellations from me, and a few loved ones who are always kind when I text that I am running late. I could wallow in the areas where I have fallen short of late (Mea culpa), but instead, I think I will share that I am working on that first agreement and ask them to help me become accountable to being impeccable with my word.
I can take solace in having noticed the slips myself, owning them, and doing better today and tomorrow.
Isn't that what this personal growth journey is all about, after all?
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