Decisions without action are preparations for living without living

When all is said and done, more is said than done (Lou Holtz)

Three frogs were sitting on a log. One decided to jump into the pond. How many were left? Did you answer two? Think again. You see, I didn’t say one jumped in; I just said one DECIDED to jump in. It’s not a technical point that I’m debating, but a sad fact of life. For there’s a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

How many New Year resolutions did you decide to make that never came to pass? How many items on your ToDo list have just been lingering there, but never brought to life? A decision without action is no more powerful than indecision or no decision. Decisions are powerless unless we follow through. And when we follow through with action, we will be greeted with success. In fact, the etymological meaning of “succeed” is “that which follows,” for success is what follows action.

Decisions without action are preparations for living without living. We need to act to experience life. We either make things happen or let things happen to us. Here’s how Edward Rickenbacker (1842 ~ 1914) expressed why follow through is important, “There’s a six-word formula for success: Think things through, then follow through.”

Some people live as though their life credo is “Ready, Aim. Aim. Aim .” But once a decision is made, it is time for action. For as Theodore Roosevelt (1858 ~ 1919) said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” After all, if we do the wrong thing, at least we can learn something from our mistake. But inaction teaches us nothing, other than regret.

Often, the cause of inaction is the fear of failure. But isn’t it better to try to do something and fail than to try to do nothing and succeed? Consider for a moment the life of a lobster. When it grows to be about a pound, it faces a crisis. For it has grown too big for its shell. To continue living, it’ll have to shed its shell and grow a new one. But this takes about two days. So, until then, it remains vulnerable to attack and being eaten. Yet, there is no choice. To continue living, it must risk life itself. We are no different, for life is synonymous with growth. To develop, we need to shed our limitations and grow new powers. To refuse to act doesn’t protect us, but suffocates us.

Our decisions are the clay we use to make bricks. And our actions are the bricks we use to create ourselves. We also choose the material to work with. Whether it’s shoddy or high quality is up to us. Consider this story (author unknown) that I’d like to share with you:

“An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck but he needed to retire. They could get by.

“The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked him if he would build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.

“When the carpenter finished his work the employer came to inspect the house. He handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”

“The carpenter was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.

“So it is with us. We build our lives, a day at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then with a shock we realize we have to live in the house we have built. If we could do it over, we’d do it much differently. But we cannot go back.”

Maya Angelou wrote, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” We, too, are birds that have a song. Our song can be melodious, sweet, and jubilant or screechy, savage, and vapid. It all depends on our actions, for they are the notes of our song. Our song should be rapturous not only for our own good, but for the good of the world, for the world needs us. Here’s how Martha Graham (1894 ~ 1991) elegantly makes this point:

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” And I’d like to add that we should behave as if our actions make a difference because they do.

One of the complaints we usually make is that we do not have enough time to do everything we would like to. Of course, it’s true that time is limited. But here is an interesting paradox: the more we do, the more we can do, and the busier we become, the more free time we create. If you experiment with this premise, you’ll quickly discover how true it is.

The American Founder of Atari Computer, Nolan Bushnell, summarizes today’s topic this way, “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” So, don’t sit up and take notice, but get up and take action, for the secret of getting ahead is getting started.