Keeping Your Word

Be a person of your word. Your credibility lies in what you say you will do and if you actually fulfill them.

In the current fast changing world that we live in, busy lives and constant distractions have us scampering from activity to activity, place to place, face to face. Keeping our word becomes a lost virtue. Unfortunately for me, keeping my word was something I never quite learnt as a young child till adulthood.

I grew up in a lower-middle income family. My parents never brought their four children on vacation. Every so often my dad would say let’s plan a trip to here or there, and he would detail the activities we would get to participate in and we would get all excited and go to bed dreaming of that trip, and as days went by when we would ask him about “the trip”, he would say, oh we don’t have money; we can’t afford to go, next time I promise, next time. Of course, next time never came. Because next time would prove to be the same as “last time” — he would get us excited with his plans and in the subsequent days and weeks, when pressed by his children, he’d drop the bomb on a non-existent vacation we had been so looking forward to. After several repeated rounds of this over the course of my childhood, my siblings and I learnt that my dad would not keep his word on taking us on a vacation — a vacation in the Tan family would never happen. And it never did.

Keeping my word is such a lost cause in my vocabulary that I screwed up my agreement with an Irish filmmaker whom I had secured for my ride around Ireland. I found him online as I was searching for a freelance videographer who would carve out three days of his schedule to film me cycling in Ireland. I had an ambitious goal of cycling 160 miles a day (in case you’re wondering — that’s 18 hours on the bike), leaving no time to do the filming myself. Self filming while riding your bicycle takes time — you have to whip out your camera, choreograph the shot and do so from different angles, which consisted of getting off your bike, setting the camera on the ground, riding away from it, riding back towards the camera, picking up the camera from the ground, moving on to the next location. Even setting the camera on continual recording mode while mounted onto the bicycle aero bars requires riding and stopping to press the power and record button (over time I got better at it and sometimes needn’t stop riding to press the buttons — I learnt to listen and identify the various beeps to indicate the Power On/Off, Start/Stop Recording functions).

Knowing that it would take time for me to self record and knowing that I can’t afford time to do so if I wanted to fulfil my goal of riding 160 miles a day, I knew I had to look for an independent videographer to film while I focused on riding. I searched on Google and LinkedIn, reached out to thirty Irish videographers via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the respective website’s Contact Us page. Bear in mind that my pitch to them is a non-paid assignment — I had no money to pay for their services, except for the promise to split ownership of the raw footage and finished film. In my naive mind, why wouldn’t anyone wanna say yes to a pitch like that? If I’m a filmmaker and I’m looking for an interesting subject to film, I would say yes to a proposal film an Asian girl cycling in Ireland and make a kickass film out of it, even if I’m not paid to do so. Because in film, the subject is the most important thing, right? Well, so says my naive mind.

Out of thirty people I wrote to, about one third, i.e. ten wrote back saying they didn’t have time and couldn’t do the job, but out of the ten, there were three filmmakers who were rather interested and supportive of my work. I finally narrowed them down to one whom I would like to work with, and for the purpose of preserving his identity, let’s call him Reese. I looked at Reese’s work, loved his cinematography and his quick, professional response (the other two were amazing as well and it was a tough decision having to drop them for Reese).

We arranged to speak the following Sunday. I was serving in church and didn’t speak to him at the arranged time — I asked if we could chat another time instead. We arranged to speak when I arrived in Ireland the following week. When I got to Ireland, my luggage and bike were delayed and I spent several hours sorting out my delayed luggages so for a second time, I missed my call with him. We then made a third arrangement — we would meet in person the next day, i.e. a day before the race. He had an extremely packed day of photoshoot on a separate project and could only carve out an hour during his lunch break to meet me. Splendid, I said. I would assemble my bike in the morning and meet him at lunch. However, assembling my bike took longer than I had anticipated and for a third time, I missed my appointment with him. I was an hour late, and he had left by the time I got to our meeting place. I asked if he could meet in the evening after his shoot — he couldn’t because he had another appointment to attend to. At 10pm, exactly 12 hours to the start of the race, I asked if we could speak on the phone, or if we could meet in the morning at the start of the race.

His response came as a shock. He had been less than impressed by my tardiness in keeping my word — I stood him up, rescheduled and missed all three of our appointments. He was willing to help a stranger at no charge (and forgo a paid assignment he was offered for another shoot during those three days), yet I was irresponsible and failed to honor his time and commitment. I tried to explain myself: on the first occasion, I had to serve in church, on the second, my luggages were delayed and on the third, I had to assemble my bike.

Reese was adamant about pulling out of our agreement. I didn’t know what to do. It was now ten hours to the start of the ride and I had lost a videographer. I wasn’t sure I was able to self film and still cycle 160 miles a day. I called my husband and cried. My husband was mad at me and he had every right to — I screwed up. Why didn’t you keep your word to Reese, he asked. Alright, there’s no point in crying over spilt milk. Even if you don’t have a videographer, just focus on making a good film and forget about racing. Riding 160 miles a day is not your priority, he said. Making a good film is. I agreed and hung up.

I felt terrible. I had been a horribly selfish person. My husband financially supported my ride across America in 2014 and the documentary that came after. Now he was financing me to cycle around Ireland to make another film and all I wanted to do was to race — why? For my own fame and glory. To be one of three women racers in the inaugural TransAtlantic Way Race. He paid for everything and I was in Ireland not for a larger purpose, i.e. to make a film and share a positive message with others, but for my selfish ego of being in a race. I felt like a big moral let down towards both my husband and Reese.

I realized Reese was right and I was wrong. Could I have better managed my time? I certainly could. I could have taken 5 minutes out of a busy day serving in church to speak with him — surely I could afford 5 minutes? Even if the conversation couldn’t be wrapped up in 5 mins, I could have touched base with him and schedule a longer call after. As for the second missed call, even if I was flustered that my luggages were delayed, I could have jumped on a 5-minute call to explain what had happened. And finally, while I was assembling my bike, I could have planned my day better by waking up earlier, starting my bike assembly earlier; even if the process had taken longer than anticipated, I could have stopped midway to meet him nonetheless and resume assembly after. On hindsight, I could have kept my word and not missed our appointments.

Keeping my word might be inconvenient, but I got to remember that it isn’t just about my time — it is also someone else’s time at stake. When I don’t keep my word so as to keep my own schedule intact, I am throwing someone else’s schedule off balance. In other words, I am being selfish. When I don’t keep my word, I am sending a message that I prioritize my time, schedule and goal over somebody else’s.

After several texts to Reese admitting my mistake and asking for his forgiveness, we resolved the matter. Having accepted the fact that I had lost a good videographer, my responsibility moving forward was to honor my word to my husband — to make a good film. Even if I couldn’t ride 160 miles, I could ride less miles and capture good footages. And that was what I did. I met incredible people and captured many amazing encounters on film.

Right now I am learning how to video edit — I am no editor and it is challenging to learn something new as a rigid-minded adult and my learning curve has been incredibly slow. We could do so much more when we have something and someone to account to, just like a goal with a timeline is necessary else it is just wishful thinking, so please, if you would be willing to partner with me keeping me accountable to my word, sign up here. I will personally send you a 100-word update every day on my progress for the next eight weeks from Aug 16 till Oct 16 (yes, I have to transform myself from a zero video editor to a decent video editor in eight weeks). Why do I need you to sign up for this? Because this demonstrates commitment on both ends — your commitment to hold me accountable, and my commitment to keep my word to you. Will you do this for me, for us? Sign up here.

I have a busy life, why do I want to trouble myself by keeping you accountable to your project, you ask? By keeping me accountable and watching my daily progress and transformation from a non video editor into one, this journey we share might inspire you to take action and do that one thing you’ve always wanted to do, or learn that new skill you’ve postponed for years, or to complete a task you’ve been sitting on for months. If you’ll like to be onboard this accountability partnership, sign up here. You will receive a personal 100-word update from me to you everyday in your inbox, Monday through Sunday, rain or shine. I hope you’re onboard.


This post is inspired by my upcoming book Crazy Cycling Chick which will be available in major bookstores from Aug 26, 2016 and online from March 1, 2017. In it I draw stories from my childhood to form the backbone of why I did what I did — cycle across America.