I think it’s probably time for an update on how I’ve been doing personally. It’s been almost two months since the crazy rollercoaster weekend, and in a week I’ll be headed back to IBI, so I should probably update now.
I have changed so much in the past year that it shocks me to look back and realize how far I’ve come. And that’s why I choose to talk about integrity in this blog (especially since the issue of integrity has just come up with someone I’m close to.)
Let’s do a quick recap.
January ’05: I go to Landmark Forum, where they tell me I lack integrity because I’m late to everything. No, I mean everything. I couldn’t be on time to save my life. I missed planes, lost clients, infuriated my friends, and ruined entire relationships because I was just “too busy” to put in the effort to show up on time (or show up at all.) I lost thousands of dollars over it…countless thousands. I burned friendships and client relationships. I lost hosting customers over it. I lost development customers over it. And it hurt every relationship and friendship I had because my friends couldn’t trust me. But until January, I denied that I had a problem. “This is just who I am,” I’d explain. “Hey, I’m a busy person. I’m sorry I’m late, but a client called just as I was walking out the door.” While that was often “true” (as true as any excuse could be), it wasn’t the real reason I was late all the time.
I did a lot of soul-searching after Landmark. First of all, Landmark rekindled the precarious relationship I had with my mother by forcing me to call her and explain that I was upset with her, and why. We both ended up crying during that phone call, and Mom said (for the first time in probably 10 years) that she was proud of me. That was a huge moment in my life.
But I still didn’t get the message about integrity.
In fact, I didn’t get that message until N (whom I was dating at that time) said “Hey, look, I don’t even want to be around you any more. I can’t trust you in business relationships or in personal relationships.” This was devastating to hear from my boyfriend. More soul-searching ensued. Why couldn’t I be on time or show up to events at all? Why was I missing deadlines a good part of the time, or ending up having to cram everything in at the last minute?
Then I remembered my mother again. She used to lecture me about being on time to things. In fact, she was so insistent about it that it actually drove me to not be on time for most things, just to irritate her. (Ah, the joys of being a kid!) The one thing that irked me was that she was constantly nagging me to be on time, but it felt empty to me since she hadn’t adequately explained why. “You will be on time because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” she said. That made absolutely no sense to me, so I decided she was just being a dictator, and rebelled. I was 23 years old before I realized I was still playing a child’s game of “You can’t make me!”
It wasn’t until Landmark (and N’s followup) that I finally got it. Why did I have to follow through and do what I said I was going to do? Why did I need to be on time to events or meetings? It’s because your word is all you have in this world. It’s pretty simple, really. If someone doesn’t know you, and you show up late with a lame excuse, the meeting immediately starts off in a negative tone. It’s even worse if they already do know you, because that person is counting on you to be there. That person has put his or her trust and faith in you to show up, and you have destroyed that trust. It’s amazing how it can take weeks or months to build up a web of trust and intimacy–which can be destroyed with a single phone call or a single action not taken. It’s insane how fragile even the most intimate relationship can become when one thing your partner trusted you to do isn’t done.
Over the past 9 months, I’ve made an effort to become a person of integrity. To say it’s hard would be the understatement of my life. I’ve fought against (and overcome) the “You can’t make me!” instinct. I’ve eliminated excuses from my vocabulary and replaced them with sincere apologies and assurances that I’ve changed my life so that this particular lack of integrity will not happen again. Finally, I’ve followed through with the changes I’ve needed to make, including eliminating side jobs and finding a comfortable balance between work and life, to ensure that I won’t make those mistakes again.
Still, I flub up every so often. I lost a potential customer this week (that’s $900 of lost income over the next year, plus any referrals from her, plus potentially any other referrals from the person who referred her to us) because I didn’t follow up with an email. A single email–a single failing of my promise of integrity–cost my company potentially thousands of dollars in revenue from this particular potential client. But I have to say that instead of failing in maybe 1 out of every 2 instances (being late is considered a failure!), I’m now failing in perhaps 1 out of every 50. And, as my integrity becomes more ingrained and more a part of my nature as opposed to something awkward and new, I expect that to be even less.
As far as the crazy rollercoaster weekend goes, I haven’t been depressed since then. Words cannot describe the sea change in my attitude and personality over the past 7 weeks. I had waves of emotion before this happened–sweeping depressions, mood swings, and the whole bit. I haven’t had any since. Believe it or not, what happened to me in the first 3 days of my life, and while I was in the womb, set the stage for a monster depression that lasted 11 years of my life (and perhaps even farther back, but that’s how much I remember.) And now, 7 weeks later, I know it’s over. That stage of my life is over, and I am here, a beautiful person, ready to take on the world and win.
So what of integrity? I didn’t think I could change. I didn’t want to change. But I changed. And it’s a minute-by-minute, day-by-day commitment to making myself a better person and being able to admit my failings as well as cheer on my successes. We signed a $598/month contract with a customer on Thursday…and he paid a year up front! That’s an incredible victory. It is the foreshadowing of many to come, because I stepped up and made myself a better person and followed through with what I said I was going to do. That’s what living a life of integrity has brought me, and I’m glad I finally figured it out.