Does failing to deliver on my commitments mean I’m an unconscious jerk?

Can you say you're going to do something ... and then NOT do it ... and still be in integrity? You might be surprised.

Is God so powerful that he could make a rock so big that even he couldn’t lift it?
                                                                                    George Carlin

Tough question, eh?

Another tough one is: ‘Do I do what I say I am going to do?’ 

What if your answer is ‘no?’ 

Does that mean you’re a horrible person? Unreliable? Weak? Is this why your wife or husband often gets mad at you?

The question is intimidating. I included it in a recent blog on integrity. After reading it, a client wrote me: “I felt so much pressure from it … if you do exactly what you say you will do in a job like I do, it is a lot of pressure.”

I wrote back that I don’t think it’s possible to deliver on 100 per cent of what we commit to. It’s perfectly fine to answer ‘no’ and be OK with it.

I imagine some readers might be surprised by that. ‘O’Connor … how can you write that it’s OK not follow through on a commitment, and still be in integrity?’

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. You don’t need to do absolutely everything you say.

But only if you make your choices consciously.

Before diving into this apparent contradiction, what do I mean by ‘conscious’ in this context? For many people, the word is like Jello.

In this case, being conscious is a state of awareness. You might call it being mindful or awake. It’s like observing what your mind is doing rather than just being yanked around by it.

When I’m unconscious, I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing or thinking. I’m lost in thought, reacting and giving into impulses, compulsions, and even addictions. It’s the way that we spend the majority of our time. Consider how you can have a shower and it’s as if you weren’t even there. Your mind is whirring away on other things. 

But when you’re conscious, you’re aware of what’s happening. In the shower, for example, you feel the warm water and the slippery soap. 

The same goes when I’m making choices, especially those that have an impact on the commitments that I’ve made to people, including myself. When I’m conscious, I’m aware of my choices and their consequenes.

I think the best way to exemplify how being conscious relates to integrity is through a story.***At breakfast, Peter told his 16-year-old son Bobby that he’d pick him up at his high school at 4:30 p.m. after his basketball practice. At 4 p.m., Peter is standing in his office where he oversees cyber security for a small online retail company when he receives an urgent message on his phone: the call-centre computers have a serious virus.

He realizes that unless the issue is resolved quickly, the evening shift may have to be cancelled.

Peter considers for a moment that he could pick-up Bobby, take him home, and return to the office. But he determines there might not enough time to resolve the virus issue in time for the 7 p.m. shift. An outage would negatively affect sales, but it would also means those employees will earn less money that week. 

He is thinking that he should stay, but what about Bobby? He recalls that Bobby has taken Uber a few times from their house to go downtown. Peter figures Bobby would be comfortable with taking an Uber car.

Ultimately, he believes this solution will allow him to ensure Bobby gets home safely and he can deal with the virus.

He sends a text: “Bobby. Sorry about this, but I have an emergency at work. I’m going to stay here to make sure it’s handled. Call Uber. I’ll settle up with you at home. OK?”

Bobby responded, “OK Dad. See you at home.”

Peter put his phone down. He realized he felt crappy, kind of down. He didn’t like the decision he made, but he felt it was the right one. He opened his laptop and got to work.

On his way home a few hours later, he thought: “I need some make-up time with the boy. After dinner, I’ll ask Bobby if he’d like to shoot some hoops.”***
 If you were witnessing this episode like a judge on some integrity reality show, would you rate that Peter is still in integrity despite not living up to his commitment to pick up Bobby?

I would argue, yes, Peter could feel a sense of integrity because he made his decision consciously. He discerned that the circumstances warranted a difference choice than what he initially committed to.

He was responding to the situation. He didn’t just react. He was aware of what he was doing, and how it would impact others.

Sometimes, we must make choices that we don’t like. That can include choosing not to deliver on a promise or a commitment.

Notice that it’s a choice. Making a choice is a conscious act.

That allows me to answer the question, ‘Do I do what I say I’m going to do’ with a no, and be OK with it.

I may not like the choice, but it’s the best that I can do. And I know it.

The themes of integrity and accountabiity are pillars in my coaching, as well as my change management workshops called Walk Your Talk, which I’m slated to deliver at the PGA of Canada’s Tee Talks Live conference on Nov. 26.

Click here for more on my Walk Your Talk workshops and here for a previous blog on accountability.

For info on the workshops or coaching, drop me a line at or visit


About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!