Updated on 09.19.14

Lip Service: What We Say Vs. What We Do

Trent Hamm

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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  1. Becky says:

    RE: we were pregnant with our first child

    “We” are not pregnant. Your wife was pregnant.

  2. Leah says:

    Trent, did you pay off your (unsecured) debt before leaving the job?

    Also, Becky, you are technically right, but it’s not a huge deal. Let’s just pretend Trent said “we were expecting our first child.”

  3. Lots of people use that phrase and it makes me crazy too. Some people must think it’s “cute”. I don’t. So, I’m with you Becky.

  4. Rachel says:

    Can’t we all just get along? *ducks and runs* :)

  5. kristine says:

    I am just not understanding how 4 of the 5 related posts relate? Surprising, as there have been numerous posts on priorities and personal integrity here. I was actually interested in reading more/similar posts, but ING vs HSBC didn’t quite hit the same emotional chord. Must be an oversight.

    Ditto on the “we” pregnant thing. The only thing I find more irritating that is supposed to be cute is cards “written/signed” by infants, done by a parent with a crayon in fake child scrawl. A heartfelt adult thank you from the parent has much more sincerity.

  6. getagrip says:

    What you say versus what you do is most easily read by your own kids, who are more likely to follow what you do versus what you say to do.

  7. Tizzle says:

    I came here to say I very much enjoyed this article. [I’m one of those irritating readers who subscribes via rss, and rarely clicks, and has adblock on my computer, even for sites I wouldn’t mind supporting.]

    So much of what I read, I think ‘oh if only so-and-so would read this’, but this one I could actually apply to myself. It gave me something to think about deeply.

    @Kristine #5 — Aren’t the related posts usually automatically generated? I know wordpress does it that way.

  8. Ed says:

    Trent, how would this post be different if TSD didn’t take off for you? Would you still feel you made the right choice if you could hear your kids’ chatter, but you also had a stack of bills you knew you couldn’t pay?

  9. Kandace@pantrydiva says:

    Nice post, but didn’t the children just awaken from their naps? I don’t know how three children can just take one nap among themselves.

  10. Kate says:

    Thanks, Trent, for this one. It is so easy to get tied up in one aspect of our lives (for you it was being successful in the business world and making lots of money to buy “stuff” and it is that way for so many people) that it gets difficult to step aside for awhile and think what really matters. I admire you for taking the risk to make your dream a reality.

  11. kristine says:

    Yes, and the risk was taken at the right time. The best time to take a big job/financial risk is when the partner has full time work with benefits, and you do not yet have kids, OR, your kids are very young.

    Once kids hit middle school, such risks leave them vulnerable to location uprooting during adolescence, and it can cause them great emotional distress, depending on the child, of course. The upside is great, but I am torn on whether putting the family at risk of major stressors (financial difficult and loss of the child’s social network) is a fair thing to do. Once the kids have their own social groups, everyone must be on board. Stability can’t be overrated.

  12. Amanda B. says:

    I see nothing wrong with saying “we were pregnant”. Trent is a family oriented man and it shows solidarity. Pregnancy does and should affect the whole family, thus the family is pregnant. Kind of like “we were fighting cancer” or “we are in the military”. And before anyone gets huffy we, the Baldwins, have been all three this year so I’m qualified.

  13. Roberta says:

    Re: “I told other people about this, too – my children were, flat out, going to be the center of my life.”

    Sometimes rather than making pronouncements, quietly going about being what one wants to be is the more effective path. Then at least there is no ‘lip service’ to start with. One can still keep track of goals and confront any lag in living up to them, but at that level it’s an internal personal accounting rather than a question of living up to what has been said aloud. Then again, some people find that having a spoken goal easier to achieve since others are aware of it.

  14. Luke says:

    Good points, Trent. I appreciated what you said in regards to the effect on one’s reputation.

    @Tizzle #7

    Even with AdBlock, it is easy to allow adds from a specific site. (I use it, and there are only two sites I have allowed–a shopping site, and this site.) The ads here are minimal and unobtrusive (by design), so I could find no reason not to unblock the site!

  15. Kevin says:

    I agree, the “we are pregnant” thing is annoying. Obviously, only your wife was pregnant.

    You wouldn’t sit your friends and family down and say, “Guys, we’ve got some bad news. We have cancer.”

    Their reaction would (quite reasonably) be, “What!?! That’s awful! But seriously, which one of you has cancer?”

    It’s the same thing.

  16. Riki says:

    I agree with Amanda — I think using “we” shows solidarity and togetherness. Trent is a very involved father and I think it’s touching and meaningful statement.

    I’m all for pointing out grammatical errors or other sloppiness, but this is being picky.

  17. Esme says:

    I think its sad how the majority of posts so far are nitpicking/whining about Trent’s turn of phrase. Everyone knows full well what he meant. Expressions and turns of phrase are often regional or familial, and even if its not a phrase I would use, there’s nothing wrong with it. He contributed biologically to the pregnancy, he’s a part of it. Let him have his own voice-or is that too radical a thought? Geez.
    Anyways, yes, I agree with #13. I wouldn’t personally make pronouncements about a commitment to a change in my life, as I find this works better for me.

  18. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Kevin Cancer is the same as pregnancy? Ok…

    All you folks can think about is to complain about Trent’s use of “we”? Some of you really need a life.

    Related posts are usually picked by some kind of WP addon. Assuming Trent is using the one I think he’s using, it basically indexes words and phrases and tries to find some with matches to the current one. Sometimes it work and sometimes it doesn’t.

    And before I forget, great post Trent. Reminds me to pay a bit more attention to what I’m doing as opposed to what I’m saying about what I’m doing.

  19. Josh says:

    Who cares what/how Trent says every little detail, the point was clear and obvious, which is what matters.

    Nits get zits.

  20. Deborah says:

    Ditto to #18.

    Picky, picky, picky.
    This is TRENT’S blog. He can write it as he wishes.

    I think I’m going to stop reading the comments and just enjoy his blog.

  21. Louise says:

    Great post, Trent! Really made me think, and I’m going to pass it on to others.
    I’m sorry that some people can’t seem to enjoy something without picking it to death over small details. #17 Esme Right on!

  22. socalgal says:

    Thanks to Esme, Deborah & Louise. For some reason, Trent has attracted the most negative commentators to his blog & I find it tiring. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Or how about this: if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. Trent, you must have one thick hide by now! Keep up the great work & ignore the negative Nellies out there hiding behind their computer screens.

  23. Jeanette says:

    In a world where people talk about how important their children are, but then place everything else, including work, before them, it’s refreshing to hear someone talk about their children being their primary focus (one assumes you also give equal time to your wife as spouses and co-parents).

    Too many folks use the excuse of “I work so you can have everything” in jobs they hate, that take their time, energy and soul, and leave nothing or little for their families. In the end, all the kids remember is that a mother or father or both are MIA. Having “everything” or the “best” is far less important than HAVING the presence of one’s parents.

    However, we know that for some families, running one’s own business is not an option. Not everyone can do as you have, nor do they have a spouse in a job that has benefits to cover the family.

    We do what we can as best we can.

    It’s possible to love your kids and have them as a priority and still have to be away from home.

    So, it’s great that it works for you and I hope it continues to work, Trent.

    For the folks who can’t make their passion work as an income source, there are still plenty of ways to ensure that your kids come first in many other ways.

    The more parents make it clear that no matter how committed they are to their work, they are also committed to their families and require work to be flexible enough to allow them some leeway, the better for all.

    Well-raised children who get the love and attention and interest they require to blossom as people and citizens are exactly what society needs.

    In my life, I can think of all the people I met. The ones whose parents were “present” were, for the most part, good folks and good citizens. The rest struggled, often dumping their pain and hurt on others. (As well, of course, on themselves.)

    To me, being a parent is a major commitment. One that requires much sacrifice. It’s not about spoiling the kids or making them the center of the universe (a mistake some generations of parents have done in response to the neglect they felt growing up.) or even giving up your own identity.

    But it is about understanding that being a parent doesn’t really stop for at least 18 years.

    Good parents are few and far between. Doing what you can to learn how to be one and then BEING one should be supported.

    As for those who are getting all upset about “we”. People, seriously, this is what you focus on in this soul-bearing post?

    I’m a nitpicker with words myself, but honestly, when you are a couple, what happens to one, IS what happens to “we.” You can be an I and still be a WE, too.

  24. Mark says:

    This is so true Trent. It’s easy to pay lip service to something but following through on our promises is much more difficult.

  25. Evita says:

    I am puzzled. From many of your previous entries, you gave the impression that you were so stressed out by your job (or what it had become) that you could not wait to get out. Now you say that you loved it and that your decision to quit was family-based.

    Whatever…. good for you to now have a life that you enjoy.

  26. divajean says:

    Someone ultimately does have to provide for the child. And ultimately, that may require some time sacrifice to keep a job.

    While I feel blessed that my partner and I are able to allow for one stay at home parent, it does come with my sacrifice of needing to put work first at times to keep the security of having a job… you know, that crazy thing I do each day to keep them in a home and with food on the table? Having been thru unemployment recently with 4 kids and my partner relying on me to find work, I would do anything to keep my current job secure. I think there are many who feel as I do too.

  27. Tizzle says:

    Thanks, Luke. I’ll look into that one of these days. I probably wouldn’t block if ads weren’t so invasive, but I’m not claiming to be righteous here.

  28. marta says:


    Agreed. Not to mention the blurb on his second book refers to a “job he couldn’t stand”. Whatever, indeed.

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