“Decide what to be and go be it,” sing the Avett Brothers in their song: “Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise.” The song is as catchy and hyper-positive as the rest of the Avett catalogue, but boil it down to its roots and you’re left with a sermon as simple as it is challenging: Hey you! You can do anything! But you have to actually, you know, go do it.
That’s an easy concept to grasp, and tough instruction to follow. My fingers can crumple a photograph of Mount Everest, but I would probably die trying to climb it.
But while we know big actions, such as deciding to climb a mountain, require us to get up and go do something, we often forget that every action carries consequences. Very little or maybe none of what we do is neutral—we’re pulling ourselves in one direction, or pushing ourselves the other. Right now I am drinking a milkshake, and it’s making me fatter. My brain activity is slowing, and although my creativity experienced a momentary spike, it has long since unspiked itself. What I really want to do is close my laptop, pop downstairs, and sit on the couch. Maybe I’ll browse Twitter on my iPad, or maybe I’ll watch a couple episodes of Arrested Development. I just want to lounge. Thanks, milkshake.
But lest you think I am some kind of lazy sloth-man, I’ll have you know I’ve recently started running. An incredible feat, I know. What a trooper. What an inspiration. OK—it’s nothing crazy—but I’ve been running three days a week for the last 10 weeks, and I’m getting better at it. For a guy who has never seriously followed any exercise regimen in his entire life, this is worth a minor celebration. I enjoy the endorphin rush, and overall I have substantially more energy than I had a month ago. Thanks, running!
These are obvious examples: Milkshakes can make us fat, and running gives us energy. But you and I make hundreds of little, course-altering decisions every day. We choose to walk, or bike or drive. We choose to sit in front of the TV or sit across from a friend. We choose to tip our barista or give him attitude for messing up our drink. We become who we are without even thinking about it.
I want to be more generous. But I’ve found it difficult to actually be more generous. I recently drove with some friends to Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts at the inane hour of 3 in the morning. I got out of the car and headed toward the door. On the way there, a man in tattered clothes quietly asked if I had any cash. I might have said no, or maybe I didn’t answer. I don’t remember. I do remember reaching the door and pulling the handle. I slipped inside. Lost in the saccharine fragrance of oil and sugar, I bought myself a maple-coated old-fashioned. I ate it. Delicious. Then I drove home.
The thing is, Voodoo Doughnuts is cash only. I had cash on me. I could have given the man a dollar. I could have bought him a doughnut. I didn’t. It was an innocent decision, but instead of becoming more generous I became more doughnut-ous. Bummer.
When it’s daytime and my ambitions are anchored to the sun, I point my nose there and proclaim to the world that I want to be a better human. But when faced with the opportunity to do the things I supposedly value so highly, I don’t always follow through. Do you?
Of course we can’t do things all on our own—we need God to provide a path, but we have to move down that path. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He parted the Red Sea and then told Moses “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on” (Exodus 14:15). Move on. Take the first steps.
All of our decisions matter, even the little ones. Every second matters. We’re always moving toward something and away from something. That doesn’t mean that we should stress out about everything, but it does mean that we should be thoughtful about how we spend our time—and after being thoughtful, we must make actual changes in our lives. Do you want to be healthier? OK, start exercising and eliminate unhealthy food. Do you want to read great literature? OK, actually read great literature instead of tabbing infinitely between Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Do you want to be a good writer? OK, actually try writing something. Hey—that’s what I’m doing now!
Maybe this go get ‘em attitude is as naively optimistic as that Avett Brothers song. I hope it is. We can do anything! But we have to actually, you know, go do it.
Grahm Doughty is a human male from Portland, Oregon. Connect with him on Twitter @grahmdoughty.