There is no more serious form of communication than a promise. Tier 1, think weddings, love of family, country and other pledges of truth. Then there are the secondaries: professional contracts, predictions, likelihoods (only dependable based on the perceived trustworthiness of the source). In these, the promiser leaves so-called “outs” the believer/signer may neither perceive thoroughly nor have any power over, but still trusts.
Working with midcareer clients for more than 20 years, I see them struggle with broken promises. Each navigates an increasingly delicate sail of hidden depth charges. Accidentally encountered, emotional firepower varies from doubt to deception to heartbreak. Knowledge and cultivated leverage are conceived as protection for each side. The purest of heart spurn such – believing the originally perceived promise was true – risking vulnerability. The promiser may perceive weakness, then use an elixir of power, both financial and emotional, to control the outcome. Personally or professionally, this is often communicated subtly as “Go ahead, leave,” or compromise.
Thus, in a society where the individual increasingly faces a simultaneous dilemma of career and personal goals versus corporate goals (or those of others), the internal voice may struggle to hear values like integrity, fairness and truth echoing within. May I suggest we, at least, allow ourselves to recognize the difference? Contracts and promises are both real, but not the same. The former is potentially manipulative, causing hardship. The latter can be heart-wrenching when broken (as promises often are), but holding them close is vital. Believing in promises is the rudder that keeps the leaky boat afloat, dodging rocks and imposters, until the mind, emotion and pure sinew of perseverance can repair all you need to proceed. Protect that.
Each of us, day by day, must find our own balance between valid promises and the contracts of leaky boats. Be alert; recognize and navigate around falsity. Inform yourself on all around you. Find confidants outside of work, and read every bit of small print on anything you ever sign. Oh, and let yourself be loved, too. Don’t miss that chance. It’s out there, and the best promise of all is when it’s right, reinforcing the joy and sanctity of all those highest-tier promises we ever make.
But if you give that a shot, and it doesn’t work after all efforts are exhausted, dump it, too. You can be strong on your own. Remember, your boat never sinks unless you let it. Promise.
Janis Murray is president and owner of Murray Prep LLC, providing communication training for students and professionals seeking success since 1999. Based in St. Louis, she currently works with clients in nine states, Europe and Asia.