The Promises I’ve Kept. The Authors Collection.
July 2, 2013
I kept a promise to myself recently; it was a big one for me. I’ve kept promises to myself before, and I have broken more than I have kept.
Usually I break the smaller ones, often around what I will, or won’t, eat that day. I can always rationalize why it was a stupid promise to make anyway. In the end what will it matter if I eat a bit of dark chocolate. None really, and that’s the difference between big promises and little promises.
I am thinking we should call those little promises something else, like “maybes.” It would be better if I said I might not eat dark chocolate today and not make it be any more important than that.
The promises that are the important ones are the ones that we made long before we knew about breaking promises. We probably made them before we even knew promises exist. These are the promises we made around fully living our lives as the person we are, and not the lives we live in order to make a living, or please someone else.
Not that keeping that promise precludes making a living, or pleasing someone else, because often keeping that promise opens the doors to both of these events, but that the promise comes first, because the person we promised was ourselves.
That promise was to the child we once were, and if we pay attention, we will discover that the child we were still lives within the adult we have become.
Years ago, when I realized that I had traveled a long way down the road of trying to make a living and please others, and couldn’t quite remember what it was I wanted to do with my life, I did something that changed everything for me.
I had first noticed how far down that wrong road I was while sitting in an office in a very nice building, doing work that I liked okay. That is until I watched a man about 20 years older than me, having been in that occupation his entire adult life, walk into the mailroom. No, he wasn’t looking for mail. He was checking the board filled with numbers to see how well he was doing in the office sales ranking.
That moment froze in my memory, even though I long ago forgot his name. I saw my future, and it made me sick. I had to restrain myself from jumping up and running out the door.
Instead, I found a picture of myself from when I was around two years old, and hung it on a wall in my home. For the first week or so, I just stood in front of that picture trying to get to know that young me. She seemed so wise, and calm.
After that, at least once a day, I would stop and stare at her. I promised her that I would become the woman that she had seen herself becoming, and do the things she had dreamed of doing.
I didn’t always follow her advice, and I had to keep myself from jumping up and running out of many other doors and jobs, but these days I do much better.
This brings me back to the promise I kept.
When I was little, I wanted to be two things. I wanted to be a dancer (yes, kept that promise, but that’s another story) and I wanted to be a writer. As I thought about being a writer, I had a vision of someday going somewhere beautiful, hanging out with a bunch of other writers, and learning something inspiring about writing.
And that’s what I did just a few weeks ago. It was everything I wanted it to be.
Beautiful setting, warm and friendly people – many of whom write far better than I – and a teacher who writes better than I will ever write, Anthony Doerr. I would attend any conference in order to learn from him again. Add to that, my beloved husband who is my best friend and partner, went with me to keep me company, and it more than fulfilled my young girl dream.
That picture of that peaceful two-year old hangs on my home office wall now. I glance up occasionally to make sure I am still pleasing her. I might have seen a slight smile when I got back from Chautauqua last week. I know when I looked in the mirror that day; I saw the woman she has become smiling back at me. Yep, I think I am on the right track now!
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