A number of years back when my personal life started falling apart, at the urging of my sister I went to see a counselor for the first time in my life.
I have to admit, I didn’t really want to go. I had always considered myself a mentally and emotionally “strong” person, and believed I was capable of handling pretty much anything life could throw at me.
In many ways I still believe that; though I no longer equate being able to handle things with “strength” (resilience may be a better word). The word strength suggests that when someone can’t handle things on their own they are weak, and that’s not the case. In fact, recognizing and accepting when you can’t handle things on your own any more, and being willing to reach out for help in those situations a form of strength that often goes overlooked.
In any case, my sister was right. I was struggling with the things going on in my life at the time, and although I wasn’t convinced it would do me much good to go talk to someone I figured it couldn’t do any harm either. At worst I would waste some money and an hour of my life, so what did I have to lose?
Although it was over four years ago, I still remember some moments from that hour quite vividly. There were things she said that were true, that I either didn’t want to believe or maybe wasn’t ready to believe at the time.
And the most important of those was when she looked at me and said (paraphrasing here):
When there is a disconnect between someone’s words and their actions, always trust their actions. Anyone can “say” something; but words without actions mean nothing.
Back in the late 90’s I took a certificate program in computers (I previously has completed an arts degree, but found there wasn’t a lot of work for people with a Philosophy/Sociology background. Who knew?). At the time, Project Management was a relatively young field that looked like it would be a good career path. One of my classmates and I talked about project management together, and felt that after we had established ourselves in the IT (Information Technology) field – probably five years in, we would do this together.
Seven or eight years into my career I remember this plan, so I called him up.
“Kev, it’s Drew. Remember we talked about taking project management courses together? Well, it’s been a while and I think it’s time so I’m going to sign up. You still in?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know man. Things are going pretty good in my job and that’s another couple years of school. You go ahead, I think I’m out”.
So off I went on my own.
Obviously this is a flawed example. A number of years had gone by since Kevin and I talked about doing project management together, and things had changed in both of our lives. So it’s not like Kevin did anything wrong, or went back on his word here.
The point of this story isn’t just that his life had changed. It’s that he was still interested in project management; it’s just that he wasn’t interested in it enough to actually DO something about it anymore.
It was no longer a priority.
It no longer really mattered.
I believe this happens a lot in life, both internally and externally.
Internally we have all of these “beliefs”. Things that we say we want, or think. And often we convince ourselves that these things are true. We convince ourselves they are real.
But they aren’t.
Or perhaps more accurately, they aren’t real enough. We may want these things, but not enough to put in the effort required.
It’s easy to find barriers to the things we want in life.
We don’t have enough time, or we don’t have enough money, or there’s just no opportunity.
So we tell ourselves things like “yes, I do want this, but this isn’t the right time. I just need to do A, B or C first. THEN I’ll be able to focus on that.” We tell ourselves we will do it “tomorrow”.
But time passes, and tomorrow never comes.
When “tomorrow never comes” I think one of two things is happening.
Scenario one – we never TRULY wanted it. Yeah, we may have wanted it – but people often want a lot of things. Many say they want to be rich, but they want it to happen through a lottery winning or something. They don’t actually want to put in the time and effort to grow a business, or they don’t really want to take the risks that have the greatest potential payoff. Others say they want a “good body”, but they don’t actually want to worry about the hours required in the gym or the discipline required to monitor their eating habits.
It’s easy to want something, but do we TRULY want it? Are we willing to put in the effort? To make the sacrifices of our time and energy?
Scenario two – we may TRULY want something, but we are afraid; afraid that we would try, and fail.
And when we are scared to fail, it becomes easier to just never try. After all if we never truly try, we can tell ourselves we haven’t actually failed.
It’s a lie of course. But as humans we lie to ourselves all the times. Failing because we didn’t even try is still failing, but we can tell ourselves it’s different and maybe we would have succeeded if we “had the right opportunity”.
When things don’t go the way we want the default wiring in our brain causes us to go through all sorts of steps to absolve ourselves of any responsibility.
First we deny, and say things like “well, I didn’t really want that anyway”.
Next we blame, or justify. “Oh, I couldn’t do that because things were too busy, and I didn’t have any money, and I…”
We tell ourselves these lies, and we convince ourselves they are true. Because it’s a lot easier than actually facing the mirror and accepting that maybe we AREN’T the person we thought we were. That we don’t really want to put in the work, or we are scared to fail. That we really want life to come with an easy button.
Life doesn’t come with an easy button though; and sometimes things are hard.
Each person needs to make their own choices on what is ACTUALLY important to them. And if something IS important? They will make it happen, or at the very least they will be willing to put in effort to give them the best chance of success.
Words are easy. They are “free”. Effort isn’t.
If someone “says” they want something, and their actions don’t seem to support their words then the reality is for one reason or another, they don’t actually want it. Their true values don’t match the ones they profess to have.
My main focus in writing is relationships, and this is where you really see this.
It’s easy to SAY you want a relationship, or you want a relationship to work. But what are you willing to DO about it? Are you willing to give? To compromise? To accept that things won’t always be easy, and that things won’t always look the way you want them to? To accept that conflict is natural and be willing to work through that?
Do you ACTUALLY want a relationship, or do you just want the fun parts and the easy parts? Are you just scared to be alone?
Often, I think the answer is the latter.
We DO want the relationship. But only when it’s convenient, and when it works for us. I think of this as wanting the perks of a relationship while still wanting to act like you are single.
That’s not the way life works. Relationships are about two people, not just one.
The flipside of this is being in a situation where you want the relationship but the other person doesn’t really seem to want it in the same way.
This is a very painful and difficult spot to be in, and the situation where you truly need to understand that words without action mean nothing.
I hear stories from many people who feel stuck – caught in a scenario where they want their relationship to work but their partner doesn’t seem to want it, or seems to want it only on their own terms.
These people are hurting, and their partner doesn’t seem to really care. Often they “say” they do, and they say that they want the relationship to work. But they don’t seem interested in actually doing anything about it. Their actions don’t seem to match their words.
Words mean nothing, unless they are backed by action.
Your partner may profess to care about you and want you in their life, but you need to know it and feel it.
Love isn’t just a word, it’s an action; and it should be felt through the little things. Shared looks, smiles, affection, enjoyment of time spent together. And by making each other a priority.
When you don’t feel like a priority and love seems to be missing, it’s easy to start questioning and doubting the relationship. And no one should ever have to question if their partner actually wants to be with them.
If one person is starting to question whether other person really wants to be there, this needs to be communicated. The couple needs to be able to sit down and talk about the state of the relationship, and their concerns.
Their partner needs to be willing to listen, and both hear and understand what they are saying. And once they have heard, there has to be a lot than words. There has to be action, and visible effort.
If there isn’t?
Then they are showing what truly matters to them. They are showing that what truly matters does not include their relationship. And it doesn’t include you.