“We can do anything but we can’t do everything.”
I used to believe I can do everything! By everything I mean my growing list of passions and aspirations from which responsibilities and commitments are naturally born. By doing I mean doing well, extremely well. It is either a job well done or a job not done at all, as far as I am concerned because my reputation is on the line. A few weeks ago, I realized I live in my own happy bubble of wonderland where my days are endless, my time immeasurable and my body an infinite source of energy. Then I woke up and I had to make a very tough decision.
Wisdom tells us doing fewer things but doing each remarkably well will fare better in the end for us but how do we get out of the commitments that are already made?
Recognizing the State of Over-commitment
A little over two years ago, I had a vision about an Advanced Toastmasters Club, an idea to create an environment which fosters the growth of advanced public speaking skills for its members, a supportive and professional group of people who love to speak, to grow and to help each other succeed. In less than one year, I had turned this idea into a beautiful reality with the support of fantastic people and a drive that would not let up. I served as President, Founder, Videographer and saw myself indispensable in the club business. Then I watched it stand on its own feet and grow even more under the leadership of others. No longer did I need to worry about the club surviving, only making sure that it would continue thriving while I continue to grow my own speaking skills.
Then the tough decision came. In the recent few months, I had taken on too many responsibilities, all too gladly, and I had been spread too thin. It did not matter that I had signed up for each responsibility willingly and enjoyed each immensely. It only mattered that in the end, I was certain my performance would be impacted and then so would my reputation and my work ethic.
There is an ideal capacity in which we can work extremely hard yet feel at peace without being on the verge of giving up and resenting our commitments. I had overflown my capacity and something had to go to make room for everything else to fit into reality again. My schedule simply could not make room for my beloved Toastmasters with my growing focus on the blog and blogging community, yoga, cycling, traveling and my new passion for teaching myself photography – oh and my full-time day job.
I had to break out of my commitments to the club.
Breaking A Commitment in 9 Professional Steps
Naturally, there are obligations which we must fulfill in life. Each of us has a bucket full of them! My goal here is to focus on personal or voluntary commitments we make to others.
Over-commitment can seem impressive but beware, it can also be detrimental. The tough calls come when we have to drop out of a commitment we made with our whole hearts and to people we deeply respect and care about. I would encourage you to make that tough call if you feel truly over-committed instead of continuing your tasks under a mask. If you choose to stay in the commitment because it takes too much guts to break it, remember the alternative: You will be stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy and unbalanced. Why feel obligated to everything that once was a passion and now is but a chore. Find balance instead in your commitments.
We should respect ourselves and others enough to convey our change of circumstance or our change of heart professionally and in a timely manner. Here are 9 actionable steps which have helped make tough decisions less difficult for me on those occasions when I have had to break out of a commitment:
1. Show your Sincerity and Empathy
Sincerity is subtle or hidden in some of us. Empathy is under-rated. It is imperative that you show visible signs of your sincerity and empathy when breaking a commitment – and mean it. Do this in your words, your voice, your eye contact, your communication, and in your interest in the continued welfare of the group or organization after your departure.
2. State your Decision as a Statement not a Question
While the decision is a tough one, you have already made it for your reasons. Do not ask permission to break the commitment and do not gauge the emotional state of the vested party. Make your announcement in private to the key contacts stating it as a decision which now needs to be addressed – not a discussion or a question.
3. Explain your Reasons to your Comfort Limit
Naturally, everyone wants to know why. Be open and honest about your reasons but know that we are entitled to a change of heart, a change of circumstance, and your personal decisions. There does not need to be an emergency in your life for it to be a valid reason. Your reasons, if you are true to yourself, are reason enough. Do not feel guilty or be ashamed of them but express your regret professionally and sincerely.
4. Decide your Agenda and Terms of Breaking Away
As you get ready to break the commitment, you must have a plan in mind – what will you be willing to do and for how long to make it a fair and professional transition. Make that agenda yourself but present it with willingness to accommodate small changes if need be. Find a balance of flexibility while being in charge of your own time and effort.
5. Offer to do Everything to Make the Transition Smooth
Within your terms of breaking away, do be sincere and kind in understanding what it takes to make it a smooth transition. Sometimes this means a particular series of tasks but not necessarily time-consuming or stressful. Ask and find out the special needs of the group and accommodate them as much as possible without compromising your own plan.
6. Express your Gratitude for the Opportunity Given to You
We learn from every opportunity, every responsibility and every interaction. Even if implied and even if you have done so, do it again. Thank everyone with whom you worked sincerely, show your gratitude for the trust and respect vested in you:
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with you. I have learned so much from everyone.”
“I feel indebted to the wonderful group of people I worked with and will miss the learning and the fun.”
“I cannot thank you enough for trusting my judgment and finding my work valuable.”
7. Articulate your Thoughts and Words Professionally
Words speak volumes and how we phrase our sentences matters. Your intentions are expressed in your words so take no chances. Here are some phrases that I have used and meant from the heart.
“I regret so much that I have to break out of this commitment earlier than expected.”
“I wish I could continue my role until the end of the year but I have had to prioritize other commitments in my life.”
“I am sorry that I have had to make a very difficult decision in breaking out of my commitment to you.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot continue to deliver for us to best of my ability due to some changes in my personal life.”
8. Keep the Relationships
Just because you are leaving a commitment does not mean that you should leave the people. I take pride in my social network of friends, peers, colleagues and coaches. The relationships are what should thrive long after responsibilities to a job are complete. You never know when you may cross paths again, when you may have a chance to reconnect and reach out to help someone – or when someone may be in a position to help you. So keep and guard the wonderful relationships you formed in the process. They are separate from the commitment.
9. Always Leave the Door Open
Circumstances may change and you may find yourself in a position to pick things back up again, especially if you feel about your commitment the way I do about Toastmasters. Acknowledge this in your conversations with the group and also to yourself. Always leave the door open and never burn a bridge. Life turns around in unexpected ways so never fully close a door.
Share your Tough Decisions and your Thoughts
Tough decisions come upon all of us. I never compromise professionalism and sincerity and so far, this has served me well in life. Perhaps you would like to add to the list above, argue with the list, teach me more on the topic, ask me to take the list down (just kidding!), or share any other related thoughts on making tough decisions when we feel over-committed in life! Thank you for sharing your insights on the blog!