A decade ago, I was full of hot air. And I was lazy. And depressed. This wasn’t a good combination for getting things done. I talked a lot about the things I wanted to do, but I never did them. I found reasons not to. I even had trouble keeping up my end of the household chores, which frustrated my wife.

I was a Talker.

Maybe you know somebody who’s like this. A Talker seems to know the solution to everything, has great plans for how she’s going to make money or get a new job. She can tell you what others are doing wrong and how she could do it better. But the funny thing is, a Talker never acts on her solutions and her great plans. She never gets that new job. She’s out of work or stuck in a job she hates.

To everyone else, it’s clear that the Talker is full of hot air, but he believes he’s bluffing everyone along — or worse (as in my case), isn’t even aware that he never follows through on his boasts and promises. Sometimes a Talker conflates talking with doing. When confronted, a Talker has excuses for not getting things done: He doesn’t have time, he doesn’t have the skills, the odds are stacked against him. When a Talker does do something, he often takes a shortcut.

That, my friends, is the man I used to be.

Something changed in the autumn of 2005. I began to read a lot of books. Not just personal finance books, but self-help books and success manuals of all sorts. As I read the books, I discussed them with my cousin, Nick. During our conversations, I’d sometimes lament that X was a priority in my life — where X might be exercise or getting out of debt or reading more books — but that I never had time for it. Instead, I “had to do” a bunch of other stuff instead.

“Well, then X isn’t actually a priority,” Nick would say, which made me angry. I’d argue, but Nick would point out that the things we actually do are the priorities in our life. What we say doesn’t matter; it’s what we do that counts.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but eventually I began to align my life with my stated priorities. Instead of just talking about doing things, I did them. I stopped looking for shortcuts and started doing the work required to get things done. Unsurprisingly, this worked. When I did things instead of talking about them, I got better results.

Today, I am a Doer.

In his notes on The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Action is character.” Fitzgerald meant that what a fictional character defines who that character is.

The same is true in real life: You are defined by the things you do — not by the things you think or say. If you never did anything, you wouldn’t be anybody.

10 Replies to “Action is Character”

  1. Great points and I don’t think you’re unlike many of us. Most people are talkers and only a few ever become doers. Congrats!

  2. Andi says:

    I was actually having this conversation the other day about how we view life. I told “Jane” that if I took conversations with them at face value, I would think she hadn’t had free will since 1972. Everything, was “Well I HAD to do x!” The idea that we choose to do x because we don’t like the alternatives or consequences of not doing x creates a sort of empowerment or self-determination that many people aren’t comfortable with. I’m always excited to see people transitioning to becoming Doers. And it’s a reminder to look at myself and see if I’m following through on my priorities.

  3. PawPrint says:

    In that spirit, how is the fiction writing going?

  4. This echoes this 2009 post by Merlinn Man which has been one of my favorite things on the internet for a while.

    I actually think I’m fairly good at this, though. I’m good at picking the thing that I want to do, and then doing it. My problem is that there are so many thing’s I’d like to do, I end up doing them all, and in some ways that leads me to being a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” in a lot of areas. I don’t think this is true about my career, but there are a lot f interesting hobbies that I’m just OK at, because I never focus on any one of them to get to “expert” level. I’m trying to change that lately. Just do a couple things and do a great job at them.

  5. Tyler, I can relate!

    I have always had many interests pulling me in different directions. As a result I know and can perform a little above average in each of these things, astronomy, guitar, drawing, western philosophies… and now add Harley bikes to the list among many other things things.

    At times I get frustrated that I know I’m not as good at any of these things as I could be, but I’m also trying to learn to be happy with who I am and allow myself the space to swing back and forth between all of these pursuits.

    My goal for this year is to find a rhythm that will be more productive and satisfying while also allowing the freedom to not feel trapped by monotony.

    Tough balance for me- but it is KEY for me to move from less “talk” to more “do”.

  6. Jeff tse says:

    Good post!
    I’ve been there before and for me there was a strong link between depression and not being a “doer”. When you try to be good at anything, there is going to be a time period where you are going to just suck.
    I couldn’t deal with this, I hated sucking. So I just never attempted or let others talk me out of pursuing the thing I loved (drawing). As a result I went to school for something I had no interest in and landed a job I have no passion for.
    I’m still at the same job but I try to set aside an hour everyday to draw.

  7. moneystepper says:

    Spot on – I’m very much the same.

    I’ve always been the “ideas” man, but never followed through on my talk. I wasn’t a “doer”. However, having read and listened to books and podcasts, I’ve started to build habits to take more action. One of them is getting up at 5.45am every single day in order to devote 2 hours to moneystepper every day. This comment demonstrates that, in this regard, I’ve become a doer!! 🙂

  8. Great post. I am currently in transition toward action. Who I want to be and who I currently am are not matching up and it is only action (guided by thoughtfulness) that will get me to that point. It is interesting how taking action actually causes a positive feedback loop creating the motivation for more action. Likewise, in my experience, inaction begets more inaction.

  9. It’s really easy to be a talker, and tell everybody about your grand plans and big ideas. That’s why there are so many more talkers than there are doers.

    I’ve been guilty of that myself in the past. Thank goodness that over the last few years I’ve made more of an effort to be a doer, and it’s made life much better in a lot of ways. Action, even if it’s the wrong action, counts more than mere talk.

    I actually just wrote an article along the same lines that went live on my blog today.
    “Are You Using These Excuses?- 5 Budgeting Excuses and How You Can Overcome Them”- http://www.cfinancialfreedom.com/budgeting-budget-excuses-overcome

  10. L.R. Laggy says:

    I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to act your way into right thinking than to think your way into right action.

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