11 Jun Keep Your Promise
Why do we make promises?
What promises do we make?
To whom do we make promises?
My father taught me the integrity of a promise. He said, “A promise is a promise to keep and to fulfill. It is important that you deliver on your promises whether it is a promise to yourself or to others.”
I hope that my father’s maxim resonates with you. A promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill.
It doesn’t matter why, what or to whom you make promises. A promise is a verbal contract you give to someone. It should be an unbreakable contract. However, for many it is not; that is why you should not make promises when emotions are high. Brian Tracy, a guru of personal development, said, “Don’t promise when you are happy.” Still, every day of our lives, we make promises. We make promises to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our associates. Can we honestly say a promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill?
On November, 1979, my husband Quang, our two small boys and I flew into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from Kuala Lumpur, a seventeen hour flight. Chicago’s frigid air cut through my skin. We shivered in light, inadequate clothing.
We, along with 424 passengers on a Northwest 747 jumbo jet were anxious to get off the airplane. We had one small suitcase of our belongings. We followed a line of people to the exit doors. We moved slowly and awkwardly, clinging to each other for fear of getting lost or separated in the rush of people moving in all directions.
The airport was full of people. Everyone was in such a hurry. We were alone in that crowded airport. We were paralyzed with fear and anxiety. We knew not a word of English and had a total of twenty dollars between us.
The excitement of arriving in a new land with new hope turned to intense anxiety and fear when we found ourselves stranded and alone in the crowded airport. We had no way of asking anyone where we had to go or where someone might be waiting for us.
We were stranded – no money, no English and no connections.
Before we left Kuala Lumpur, we were told that a group of ten wonderful women from a Chicago suburb sponsored our family and that they would be waiting to greet us at the airport.
I began to imagine that our sponsors, all ten of them, would be lined up at our arrival to welcome us with open arms. Have you ever been in the situation where you had to meet someone in a strange place and you didn’t know what they looked like?
One hour passed, two hours passed, time seemed to stand still…still waiting… where were they? What would they look like? How would we identify them? And, I thought to myself, enough already. Please, please let them be here soon. From a far distance, I saw two of the most beautiful ladies in the crowd holding a sign that read “Quang Hon Tran.” I immediately felt relieved and released from that terrible fear. I ran toward them but came to a sudden stop. The fear of rejection overwhelmed me. We didn’t look anything like them. What would they do to us? What if they just took a look at us and didn’t like what they saw. What would they do? Where would we be sent? I was trembling with fear and anxiety. I took a look at my two little boys and tired, distressed husband and, summoning all the courage within me, ran to them – I cried like I had never cried before. I was like a lost child finally reunited with her parents by some miracle.
At that precise moment, I made a promise to myself that I would learn the English language and become familiar with American culture. Never again will I be in this predicament. Never again will I be invisible. Never again, will I feel this hopelessness.
A promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill. I devote my life today and every day to fulfilling that promise.
Have you ever felt stranded, alone, hopeless? What did you do?
It was very difficult being newcomers in America who didn’t speak any English or know American culture. But we were determined and, very gradually, we settled into our new home in our new country. Today, as I look back, something I know for sure about life is: It goes on!
Until this time, surviving was the only thing that mattered to me. Yet, when the fact that we had survived finally sank in, just being alive was not enough. Now, we wanted our lives to have some special meaning. We wanted the lives we lived to be an expression of gratitude for all we had received.
My burning desire to make it here, in America, and my determination to make good on the promise I made to my father had always kept me going. Seeing the shred of hope, the smallest bit of possibility, gave me the belief that I could get there, that I would keep going. I would find the way. No matter what the circumstances were. I would never quit the fight. A promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill.
I wanted to understand our new world and what was going on in the community, especially, the school environment where our children’s future was developed.
I took English as a Second Language classes at a local community college and then, after six long years of education, I obtained my associate’s degree. I realized that I needed further education if I wanted to be the kind of mother who would be a good provider and a guiding light for her children. My associate’s degree just whetted my appetite. I was thirsty for more knowledge. I decided to pursue a business degree at Illinois State University.
For me, education was the only answer. I believed education played a major role in breaking down my wall of isolation. Education opened my mind and eyes, and taught me how to communicate effectively. Education was a major key in opening the door to opportunity and promise that this country offers to everyone.
I wanted to set an example for our children and impress upon them the importance of education. I went to school full time while my husband was our main provider. He worked 70 hours a week to support our family. He gave me unending support. For my husband, he promised to love, care and protect me and I promised to love him until the very last day of my life. A promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill.
Illinois State University was 75 miles away from my home. I drove there three days a week, three hours each day. The general guideline in college is that for every hour spent in class, you should spend two hours studying. Not me! My ratio was one to six. For every hour of class, I spent six hours studying. I had a stack of books near me: an English-Vietnamese translation, a Vietnamese-English translation, the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language and text books for the classes. When I looked up a word in the dictionary, if the definition had a word I didn’t know, I’d have to look up the definition of that word, and if that definition had a word I didn’t know, I’d look up that word, and on and on. Yes, it was a painstaking process. But that was okay, because I had made a commitment that a promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill.
I slept an average of five hours a night. When it was time for midterms and finals, I only slept two to three hours at the most. It took me ten long years from when I started school for English as a Second Language to when I finally received my bachelor’s degree. I often poke fun at myself that I actually got my PhD in the University of Life.
I honor and respect myself. I know the best thing for me is to keep my promises. Learning English and getting a college degree in America was one of my first achievements.
At one point, I would look at our four young children, wondering how I could guide and protect them in this strange country. I didn’t know Western etiquette, customs, or mores. Everything I thought I knew I was viewing through the lens of my ignorance. It was terrifying.
I remember what my father had told me: “When you are a parent you parent your children from the day you give birth to them until the day you die.” I took that responsibility to heart and it had transformed me into a lioness protecting her cubs; then it turned me to a provider, a guiding light and a teacher to our children. I taught our children always do their best, be honest and keep their promises.
I remember, as a child, I watched my father make many businesses promises. His words and handshake weighed more than any contract. When my father gave his word, it was done. He demonstrated promise, trust and loyalty. These are the words of my father and they are powerful words. They are the words and the wisdom of my late father that I would like to share with you.
A promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill.
I honor my father by living my life according to his principles: promises, trust and loyalty. I have kept my promises to my father, to my husband, to our four children, to my clients and to myself. As a result of following these principles, I now have a richer, happier and fulfilling life. How about you? Make a decision today: A promise made is a promise to keep and to fulfill.