By “flaking” I primarily mean: “to bail out of something at the last minute”.
I’ve noticed this happening a lot lately: whether it’s a service provider, a networking acquaintance, a friend, or a client, people seem to be dropping off and out of commitments left and right, and at the very last minute.
I’ve considered that maybe I’m being sensitive about this issue, as things like consideration, thoughtfulness, and appreciation of others’ time were drilled into me from an early age. I’ve considered that maybe this is a “generational” thing. But at least once a week I seem to have at least a half (and often a whole) day’s worth of commitments just disappear from my calendar. People from all walks of life, all professions, all ages.
How an Ego Perceives Being Flaked Upon
At first, this really agitated (dare I say angered) me. Rather, my ego was greatly offended. Because if *I* made an appointment to see you, then it was a commitment of my time and energy–which would not be able to be used elsewhere (regardless of whether that was for sleeping in, another client appointment, an errand, something fun I turned down because there was a conflict, or work). Clearly this was because “you” decided that there was something better, more important than “me”. And after *I* valued you enough to put off all the things I could have done!
Sometimes I’d be notified (often after the fact). Occasionally “I” then deemed it was a legitimate reason: you fell ill, you were in an accident, or there was some other emergency-like event. Most times, however, there was just something you decided was more important than me.
And quite frankly, that hurt. What’s happening?
Expectations Often Lead to Suffering
What my Witnessing Self sees from these occurrences is something that happens in many contexts: our expectations (of others, and/or of ourselves) often lead to suffering (of the ego).
No one can make me feel like I’m not of value, no matter what they might do (or not do)!
Unless of course, I’m not sure deep down that I’m of real value. That’s a whole other blog (at least)!
When we suffer this way, we can do a few things:
- Learn to let go of (or at least loosen) our expectations
- Reaffirm our higher, intrinsic value
- Explore automatic thought patterns that drive our reactions, emotions, behaviors
- “Turn it around”, either by considering how often we treat others this way, or by giving ourselves what it is we expected and wanted from the other
- Establish and communicate solid boundaries
Re-educating Ourselves about Solid Boundaries
Today I’ll speak more about the last one: establishing and communicating solid boundaries:
When I look upon people (who frequently flake) with compassion, what I realize is that they are doing the best they can. Like many of us, they are over-scheduled, scrambling, just trying to fit everything in. They are not full of malice or bad intentions. They are not trying to be hurtful. What I think we (all) really suffer from is not a lack of consideration or thoughtfulness (a friend might call it “good-old-fashioned-manners”).
What we suffer from is an inability to set good boundaries for ourselves, and to help others understand them.
This isn’t just about scheduling.
It’s about learning to listen to that body-level, gut-reaction that wants to say “no” to something, rather than trying to squeeze it in. It’s about considering what it is we really value–and prioritizing it as such from the start.
For example, I have prioritized Saturdays as spending time with my boyfriend. He works during the week, and I work on Sundays. This is the day for us. I don’t allow clients to book appointments on Saturdays. I don’t (minus the occasional subbing) take on a class of any kind. If someone else wants to get together with me, we discuss it and both get together with them, or I get together with them another day.
I also will wait no more than 15 minutes for someone. This may sound strict, but this is because I value my own time. This leaves time for traffic, running late in general, etc. And if someone calls or texts indicating such, of course I allow even more time. But this is my choice, because it’s my time.
And something more important: I do not have to feel bad about living this way. This is me showing myself the respect, thoughtfulness, consideration I previously expected from others (who may or may not give it to me). (a little of #4 above)
One last example: when I moved back to the Boston area, I took on a little consulting work in user experience (UX), which is a job I left in 2013 because it brought me to a breaking point stress-wise. In this new gig, however, I have specified the number of hours I work per week–and I honor that so they do too. (Aside: I once had a client who had a 60-hour/week “part time” job!) I am communicative about which deadlines I can and cannot meet. If I am requested at a meeting, they do not happen over my lunchtime. If I am requested at a “meeting marathon”, I get up when I have to use the restroom, get a glass of water, eat something, or otherwise just take a mental/physical break. This requires courage because the meeting goes on. It’s not always easy.
I used to worry what others would think of me for doing these things.
Maybe they would think I’m…gasp…a bitch! Maybe they would think I am “high maintenance”, or that I don’t care about the project.
But no. In fact, I’m modeling good boundary setting. I’m a whole lot less stressed, annoyed, frustrated, overwhelmed, and anxious because I do these things. When I am present, I am there 100%, and because I want to be.
What’s To Be Done?
The next time someone you know flakes, try to send them some loving-kindness. Recognize that perhaps they are having trouble setting boundaries. If you know them well, consider discussing boundaries, values, priorities. It’s not uncommon especially for peers or friends to help each other with this. Because it requires courage to “go against the grain”, it also requires support from others.
You may also consider how you can establish better boundaries for the things you value: whether that’s something at work, your family, self-care, hobbies, etc… Talk with your boss. They usually want to help you work in a sane environment. 🙂 Your partner wants to be supportive, and they want you to be happy!
Explore how often you say “yes” when you really want to say “no”. Then explore how do you feel while participating in these commitments when the time comes.
Do you flake on commitments to YOURSELF (e.g. getting some exercise, eating better)? I find many of my clients will absolutely keep commitments they make to someone else, but when it comes to themselves, they’re avid flakers!
This is just the tip of what could be said about this pattern. I feel there’s so much growth for us culturally here.
Has this happened to you? Do you have a different idea of why it happens? If you have any thoughts on this, please comment! Or if I can be of any help to you, whether in setting boundaries or otherwise, please schedule some time with me. I’d love to hear from you.