I love self-help books. And throughout a particularly challenging era in my life, I received a broad assortment from friends.
One of them was The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz.
Here are the four that he writes about, and I’ll save the one that I find to be the most challenging for last.
Be impeccable with your word:
While I have absolutely lied, exaggerated, and bent the truth to benefit my desires, I would say this one’s the easiest for me. I love having not much of a filter, which is why when I host live events, the folks in charge get a little nervous. I figure, be reflexively honest, let the cards fall where they may: face-up.
Don’t make assumptions:
That’s tough! It’s tougher when you acknowledge that there’s no mechanical “assumptions” button in your brain to un-click. But you can practice mindfulness and presence regularly. This will remind you to spot that you’re having an assumption in the first place, and then you can pull the camera back from there.
Always do your best:
How do you know whether or not you’re doing your best? Remember how I lied? Exaggerated? Bent the truth to benefit my desires? In those moments, I was not doing my best, and I knew it.
So instead of “always do your best”, I like to interpret this agreement as “do better”. We can all do better, right?
Don’t take anything personally:
This one is the most alluring—and challenging—for me. What else can I do with any perceived insults, slights, condescension, or limitations but wince?
Plus, what if negative interpretations of me are correct? What if they’re alerting me to opportunities to “do better”?
I now know that taking anything personally, at best, makes for a weak foundation.
Recently, a friend of mine who produces storytelling events was hired to gather five of their best speakers for an event in New York. They asked me to be on the roster.
Easy breezy! I ran a storytelling show, The Mouth-Off at the Mark Twain House for eight years. And I’ve been working in public radio for 16 years! We are made of stories!
The organizer who hired my friend didn’t know anything about me, so I sent her audio of one of my favorite stories for her to review. It was about the time I almost became the Voice of NPR in Washington, DC. (“Support for NPR comes from our members. And from hootie footie pajamas!”)
Well, the organizer did not like the story. In fact, she didn’t like it so much that she played it for a friend who—she wanted it to be known—also did not like it.
Now, I am a human animal with complex emotional circuitry running on experiences, hormones, memories, attitudes, and desires. Of course that’s gonna’ sting.
But remembering “don’t take anything personally”, I clicked into creative mode!
Maybe my voice sounds like someone who hurt her feelings once.
Maybe she’s an AM radio fan and can’t stand NPR!
And hell, maybe she just didn’t vibe with my story?
A better question is, “so what?”
Here’s a fun twist: Not taking anything personally also applies to praise.
I knew Audacious would exist someday, I just didn’t know when. So, in the years leading up to its launch, I recorded conversations with people I found fascinating.
Two of these people were women who were about to have double mastectomies because they faced cancer risk. One opted for reconstruction, one opted to remain flat. I interviewed them the day before their surgeries, shortly after their surgeries, and then a year later. It was profoundly beautiful how these two women chose very different paths for themselves.
With oversight and input from my supervisor, Catie Talarski, I put it together for one of the earliest episodes of Audacious. That episode won a Gracie Award in our first year! Named after the comedian, Gracie Allen, it’s a national award presented by the Alliance for Women in Media.
The next year, we did an episode featuring women who wholeheartedly regretted becoming parents. We won another Gracie for that.
Validation? Hell yes times ten thousand bazillion.
But should I take it personally? Hell no. After all, the awards were based on other people’s feelings as much as my rejection from the storytelling event.
So, if I can be impeccable with my word, resist assumptions, and do better, I think I can keep clear from taking things personally—even when it feels really, really good.
Going Flat, or Building New Breasts: Two Women’s Post-Mastectomy Stories
I Regret Becoming A Parent