On Keeping Old Promises

Six years ago, someone asked me what would be “my number one life tip.” I answered: “Learn to keep the promises you make to yourself.” After all, that’s what heroes do, and it’s not just awe-inspiring but usually works out well for everyone involved.

Of course, not all promises will be kept. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say more than half of all pledges will eventually be broken, but that, too, offers its own kind of wonder. A chance to learn compassion and empathy, and to remember that our shared time here is what’s precious, not some deal we made with one another, for life itself offers no guarantees either. That lesson I learned one year later.

Now, with five more years of hindsight, I would slightly amend my original life tip to this: Learn to keep the promises you make to yourself and others, no matter how long it takes you to do it. Keeping old promises is underrated. Is it perfect to show up with a decade of delay? Probably not. But sometimes, it makes all the difference — both for the thing you’re delivering and for the recipient’s faith in humanity.

I’m about three years late on a book I promised to 5,000 people. I’ve decided it’s time to make good on that commitment. I don’t know how it will be received when it finally hits the shelves. I have no idea who’ll even remember. But I do know the book will be better than it could have been if I had written it back then. In the meantime, I’ve published two books already. That’s a ton of mistakes ready to be avoided. I’ve quietly practiced over 600 times on this blog. Some of the seeds sown here will surely blossom into one or the other chapter. And I’ve grown my overall audience, too. More people, more chances for the book to fall on open ears.

In a world where brand slogans, Twitter bios, and global headlines are forgotten as quickly as they appear, digging out an old handshake and going to great lengths to fulfill it is nothing short of glorious. Life is not all magnificent gestures, but even a small agreement remembered can mean a great deal to someone who’s used to being forgotten — and today, that someone is all of us.

Keep the promises you make to yourself and others — no matter how long it takes you to do it.