I don’t like to make promises, hold expectations or set goals.
I think that this mindset leads my days to skew in the positive — if I don’t set any expectations, I can never be let down. In the moments where I do succeed, my expectations have been blown out of the water. The last time I’d made that mistake was when I was applying to college in my senior year of high school: I was met with zero college acceptances and crushed spirits.
Fast forward to the end of my first year of community college, and transfer applications were right around the corner. Desperate to put anything on my application, the only job offer to present itself to me was that of a summer camp counselor for the YMCA.
After staff training and getting an online CPR certification, I was shipped off to Y camp to take care of 10 eight- to 10-year-olds. Over the course of the trip, campers and counselors were given the option to obtain a “rag” representing a promise, “to grow in body, mind and spirit.”
One part of the process of getting a rag was having a one-on-one meeting with your counselor to discuss how they would live up to what the rag stood for. During our training, they told us to not expect much from the little kids, which I understood, to an extent — but it still felt like they were cutting these kids’ potential for genuine emotion and growth short.
At first, I agreed with the camp directors. It was all going routinely: One boy talked about how he and his brother had been fighting a lot, and he assumed that it was because he and his brother didn’t talk or share enough. Bestowing the wisdom of “be more honest” to my camper, this seemed like an open-and-shut case. But that was before he blurted into the aether:
“Did I tell you my parents were divorced?”
This caught me off guard. This was quite a bit more vulnerability than the directors told us to expect. There wasn’t any discomfort in it, though — It felt good knowing that this small person looked up to and trusted me enough to tell me about something that made him feel uncomfortable.
With my parents having been separated for as long as I could remember, I reminded him that no matter how they feel about each other, his parents will always love him and his brother more than anything. That despite their broken promise to each other, their sons haven’t let them down.
The meeting ended with hugs and thank yous. He thanked me for listening. Something in me made me promise that I always would.
After seeing my campers open up when meeting to get their rags, I decided to work on obtaining my own. As a “big kid,” my rags were based on “Loyalty to God and one’s best self.” With the YMCA becoming more secular, we were able to interpret the rags more freely.
Not being religious, I made a promise of loyalty to something greater than myself: my family and friends. I made a vow to treat them with honesty and outward displays of love.
Because the longer I know and interact with someone — romantically, platonically or otherwise — the more insecure I feel about the relationship. It feels as though any interaction with me or view into my soul will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and the other person will decide to leave me alone. Because of this, I often stop being honest with myself and the other person in fear that I’ll upset them. I just don’t want to be too much, with my personality or my affection.
In terms of loyalty to my best self, I constantly wonder if I will ever find that person or if he’s already come and gone — leaving it all downhill from wherever that point was. Upon learning that I was only there to bolster my resume, my counselor told me that she hoped that I would come up with a better goal. After some silence, I told her that my goal is, quite simply, to be happy.
Making a promise to be happy felt like a paradox. I avoided making promises and commitments because it felt like I was just setting myself up for failure. I was so used to being let down or letting others down that promises felt like the emptiest gestures — more likely to be unfulfilled than not.
This mindset filled my brain with stress, clouding my ability to find and create happiness. I was stuck doing what I or others needed me to do rather than what I ever wanted to do.
Watching the kids live uninhibitedly for a week, however, I was reminded how easy it used to be to shut my brain off and have fun doing literally anything. I couldn’t think of the last time that I’d done it.
Whether it be taking a nap or playing an impromptu game of tag, I promised that I would do more for myself — for my in-the-moment happiness.
I’ve made a promise to myself that I expect to keep. I hope I don’t let myself down.