I was once engaged to a romantic, handsome, wealthy, poetry-writing man. It was the early days of the tea company, and I had little in the way of resources. I’d get a poem and a plane ticket on a Friday afternoon in my inbox. He’d take me to Hawaii on a whim. He’d secretly pay my rent. He would arrive with flowers and a new dress. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
Considering I was in abject poverty not too long before this relationship, I felt like I’d won the jackpot of good fortune. He loved me, knew how to open my heart, and when he asked me to marry him, it was like my very own fairy tale. I loved his mom, I loved his sister, and I loved his lifestyle.
Soon, he bought a substantial property with several houses on it, and we began the exciting process of setting up our home. The property needed clearing, it needed a lot of work, and he went out and hired a big team of workers to go about the process of clearing fallen trees and rubble from the land.
One day, I came home from the tea company for lunch. I was going to surprise him—because even back then, I worked long hours and rarely saw him before sundown. As I snuck up the back side of the property, I heard him yelling at the workers. He was yelling because he was mad over something and he was saying it wasn’t his responsibility to buy them lunch.
In that moment, I saw a sad future. A man who yelled at day-laborers? A man who wouldn’t buy the men lunch during their 10-hour work day? As a fair trade activist, this made my blood boil. As a woman in hopeful love, it broke my heart. I immediately made plans, broke off the engagement, and moved out. Luckily, the guest house I’d moved from had just become available for rent again. I found that respecting workers wasn’t just a program for my tea company, it was a non-negotiable in all areas of my life. Economic disparity or paying someone never gives anyone permission to mistreat or belittle another sentient being.
This is what happens in life, writing, business, and relationships. We see something as one way and then it shifts suddenly—in a flash of insight—and we are moved to change course. We realize in these moments that we’ve been given a gift, which initially feels like a loss.
We have to clarify and stick to the non-negotiable elements of our character that define our future, and that give a top, bottom, and sides to who we really are. It’s not always sense-making. I remember going to therapy and the therapist said, “But, he’s a good man, why can’t you work it out?” I didn’t go back to her. I’d realized my non-negotiable in this situation: Whoever I would have in my life would be kind, generous, and have a fair trade mind and heart—even when I wasn’t looking.
People show you who they are sooner or later. People deserve the benefit of the doubt, always, but when you are observing them, you will be able to see who they are by how they treat people in everyday interactions. In the private moments they think no one is looking. You have to be able to respect the people who you interact with on a daily basis in your career, your writing circles, in your company, and in your home.
Who are you when no one is looking?
If you say you want to write and then piddle around avoiding it, it must be a negotiable.
If you say you want to start a business, but you keep doubting your ability, it must be a negotiable.
Take a look at the negotiables you’re displaying in your days and really decide who you want to be and how you might be negotiating that.
Writing for me? Non-negotiable.
People in integrity? Non-negotiable.
Anything to do with the well-being of my children and the planet? Non-negotiable.
Time to meditate: Non-negotiable
Love above all: Non-negotiable
What are your non-negotiables? Have you defined them yet? What are your non-negotiable commitments to yourself?
As I raise my children, build businesses, manage a household, help others achieve their dreams of being authors, and write my own passions onto paper, I am reminded of character. I am also reminded of those who are the exact same person on stage as off stage. Who have characters that are as kind and true in private as they are in profession. I am reminded of this romantic relationship where I suddenly saw the true character and realized the money, the comfort, the wealth and romance could never be enough to replace my non-negotiables.
What non-negotiable goals do you have for your life? And for your character?
Would you yell at your assistant and then go onstage claiming women’s empowerment?
Do you claim you want to write and then go on Facebook every time you sit down to focus?
Do you claim you want to change the world and then continue to buy into the current one?
Do you claim to be a healer and then treat your own body with carelessness?
What non-negotiables do you possess and profess publicly, and then what do you follow through on in private?
Because now is the time for integration. Today is the day your non-negotiables can become even more clarified and then fully-lived, connecting the dots to your holistic personal and worldview.
I’ll meet you in the comments, I can’t wait to hear what your non-negotiables are.
Here’s to your blooming, ever-evolving character!