Don’t Just Make Commitments…Keep Them

Alex Sheen is more than a man whose video went viral. He has taken his life experiences to heart and created a cause with a serious mission focused on making and keeping commitments to others. In fact, because I said I would—which was selected as CompTIA’s Future Leaders’ 2016 charity of choice—is more than a non-profit that raises funds for charitable activities, it’s a social movement dedicated to the betterment of humanity. While that may sound pretty heavy, after listening to Sheen’s story, you’ll surely be convinced of just how true that is. 

Sheen recently spoke at AMM during the joint Advancing Women in IT and Future Leaders community meeting. His life started out like many others. A young IT professional living in Cleveland who grew up in what he describes as an average household. “My father was a pharmacist for 25 years. If you were my father’s colleague you didn’t talk about him. He was simply average. Except one thing. When he made a promise, he showed up.” One day Sheen’s father got the call that no one wants to get; he had stage 4 lung cancer.

Even though he was the kind of guy to go down swinging, and went through all available chemotherapy and treatments, the disease spread to his liver, pancreas and brain, and he died on a bright morning in 2012. “In the struggle of our losses, we ask ‘why me or why our family?’ One day there is no tomorrow and all we have left are the promises we chose to keep. That day was the first time I handed out a promise card.”

These look like mostly blank business cards with the words “because I said I would” inscribed across the bottom right. On the back, you write a promise you want to make. This can be a commitment to someone else or simply something you want to do that will help others. The goal is to fulfill promises that help and inspire others. It’s essentially a “pay it forward” social movement that works to inspire people to work outside their comfort zones to improve the world.

Sheen made his first commitment during his father’s funeral. “Unfortunately, since he was an average man, there were not many there to make the pledge to. [Online,] I said I would mail 10 of these cards to anyone, anywhere.” That one action spurred a campaign that has literally spread all over the world.

“We have distributed more that 3.1 million cards to 153 countries. Everyone began posting their promise cards online.” From ‘I will take care of my sister with Downs Syndrome’ to ‘I will donate blood.’ A 14-year old in Ohio promised to befriend the kids who were left on their own during the lunch period.

In his keynote, Sheen highlighted the story of Garth Callahan, another normal dad who had put napkin notes in his daughter Emma’s lunchbox since she was in the second grade. The messages varied each day, including ‘Remember that guy who quit? Neither does anyone else’ and ‘Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games' (a great Babe Ruth quote). It may seem somewhat cheesy, but the gesture meant something to Garth, and Emma surely looks back on it with affection today.

Garth was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer and his doctor gave him an 8 percent chance to survive for more than five years. “When life is short, you begin to think about what you love. Oddly, Garth grabbed several calendars and decided to write a promise card. It said “I will write 826 napkin notes for Emma,” which would ensure she had one each day until she graduated high school. Those messages could be delivered even if he wasn’t around anymore.

 

Do What You Can with What You Have

“I receive many messages from people every day and to be honest, it’s not easy to take. I got one in particular note that made me realize it was time I left my life of comfort.” The note was inspirational and moving. “I asked for meeting with my boss and gave that letter to her. She stopped, looked up and said ‘this letter is for my daughter. When did she give this to you?’ I didn’t know her daughter was suffering depression and had been cutting herself.”

She had somehow gotten him the letter at work. And at that point, Sheen realized he was "all in.” During his talk, he went on to share a number of heart-wrenching stories of people making and keeping commitments that have improved the lives of others. Because I said I would is all about fulfilling promises. In the case of the Candlelighters Childhood Foundation of Nevada, they were able to over deliver thanks to donors who helped them pay for 100 Disney tickets instead of the 20 he promised.  

Sheen traveled more than 300 days in 2015 and though he missed home a lot, he isn’t complaining. “When you have a strong why, you can be strong. He was moved to take action to help support three kidnapping victims in Cleveland, walking across the entire state of Ohio to bring attention to abuse.  

The last story Sheen shared with the AMM audience was based on a YouTube post he recorded, with a drunk driver stating “I killed a man.” This post was both his confession to the crime and a powerful message begging others not to drink and drive. Following the release of the video, the story went viral across, leading to the driver’s arrest seven days later. “Promise made and a promise kept.”

What’s next? The because I said I would team is starting local chapters to fulfill these promises to better humanity. “Echo will allow ourselves and our group to fulfill promises. Because I said I would is not about my father or me. It’s about you. Together we can change the world."

There’s a lot that channel professionals can learn from Sheen’s movement, for the better of their families, their employers and their communities. Fulfill the promises you make and help create a better world. Whether you start a local Echo chapter or fill out a single ‘because I said I would’ pledge card. See what you can do that will make a difference. Give it a try. You never know, it may lead to a movement of your own…

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