Lip Service: What We Say Vs. What We Do

Charities. Our family commitments. Our work commitments. Our political beliefs. Our spending choices. Our savings and investing choices.

So often, we give lip service to these things, saying that we find them important and even, on some level, believing that they’re important, but when push comes to shove, they’re not really important in our lives.

A good way to explain this is to use the example of why I decided to leave my last job before taking up The Simple Dollar full time.

When my wife and I found out that we were pregnant with our first child in 2005, it was a life-changing moment. I decided, on a very deep level, that I would never allow myself to be the kind of father who wasn’t there for his children, no matter what. I told other people about this, too – my children were, flat out, going to be the center of my life.

My son was born, and what did I find myself doing? I found myself, if anything, focusing more intensely on my job than before. I was traveling constantly (at least it seemed like it) and when I wasn’t traveling, I was often spending weekends fixing problems that had cropped up at work. Even on the day he was born, I was engaged with conflicts about my job.

It finally came to a head when I was traveling for work in 2007. My wife called me to tell me that my son had taken his first steps in our living room. I was excited, but as I sat there alone in my hotel room after hanging up the phone, I realized that I had just been paying lip service to the idea of being dedicated to my family.

It was what I wanted on some level and it was what I told others about, but when it came down to the choices I was actually making, my family wasn’t my top priority.

I had a choice to make. Was I going to live up to my words and promises, both to myself and others, or was I going to allow all of my pledges to my family be mere lip service?

In 2008, I walked away from a job I loved very much into a very scary unknown path, with uncertain income and an uncertain future. I had as many bases covered as I possibly could, with writing opportunities and other freelance work lined up, but leaving behind a secure job I loved very much was scary to say the least.

Today, I know it was the right choice. The stress and personal conflict of my previous job was immense and I’ve found that, over the past two years, I’ve ben able to be the person I wanted to believe that I was. I am a father and a husband that is there for his children when they need him. I am the kind of father who can spend an afternoon at the park with his kids and is always right there when they need help or advice or a hug.

Reflecting on this has made me ask myself what I pay lip service to in other areas of my life. Charities? Financial obligations? Spending promises? Statements to family and friends and loved ones?

In what areas of my life do I talk big but fail to really follow through?

I don’t feel that I give enough to charities, but I usually keep my charitable giving quiet. Sometimes, I don’t feel that I hold as strongly as I should to my spending pledges – I give in sometimes and spend more than I should, particularly on items like board games that I can easily share with friends and loved ones.

What areas of your life do you talk about and think of as important to you, but you fail to follow through on?

This is more important than you think. A person who pays a lot of lip service without a lot of action can easily develop a negative and unreliable reputation among the people around them. On the flip side, people who actually live up to what they say are viewed as reliable and are given a positive reputation among the people around them.

Reputation is valuable. Your reputation precedes you and helps (or hinders) in building future relationships. It helps you when you need help the most: with projects, with job hunts, and so on.

More importantly, to me at least, when you’re actually living up to what you’ve promised to yourself, you feel far more empowered on a day-to-day basis.

My life has drastically improved since I stepped back and chose to become the person I always told others that I was. At times, I miss my previous work greatly, but when I hear my children chattering away (as I do right now, since they’ve just woken from their nap), I know with every ounce of my being that I made the right choice.

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