My mom can often be particularly insightful and, dare I admit, even right. I discovered this hideous truth at a young age and spent a good part of my development rebelling against it.

Being a daydreamy child inclined to ponder the wonders of the universe or the interesting pattern of speckles on the ceiling (such wonderful swirls!…), my mom was forced to frequently remind me to complete tasks. Consequently, we would find ourselves engaged in verbal sparring.

Mom: “Are you done?”

Me: “Almost. I’m going to do it.”

Mom: “Going to isn’t doing.”

Throughout my college years and adulthood, I’ve often recalled the wisdom in my mom’s retort. While it has been many, many years since my mom and I have found ourselves in opposing corners of this verbal boxing match, the impact of that powerful rhetorical right hook has always smarted around my ears.

See, although the passing of time resulted in my being older and taller, I am very much still that daydreamy child from long ago. I am expert at starting tasks without accomplishing the resolution of completion. I am “going to” do an astounding number of things, but my “going to” has manifested in very little “doing.” 

What is striking in my mom’s attack is the sheer practicality of it all. As well-intentioned as I might have been to wash the dishes or clear the table or tie my shoes (which took positively ages), intention alone resulted only in encouraging a haughtiness that was, quite frankly, ridiculous. I took offense at having to be reminded to actually, physically act. (Granted, while the task remained incomplete, I had very little to substantiate my affronted approach, but I found that claiming an indignity was wildly enjoyable, if ineffective.)

Was my intention not in itself worth noting?, I would protest. Do we not lionize  that Little Engine merely for thinking she could? I was merciless and, unfortunately for my mom, well read in Little Golden Books.

What I have discovered, though, is that we thrive on thinking, like the Little Engine, that we can. We ascribe incredible value and acquire solace through believing in the possibility of action. That all we need do is flip the magic switch that turns on action out of intention. We crave inspiration. We see Rock Balboa in our ceiling speckles and play epic musical scores to incite surges of passionate intent founded on perceived ability.

And more often than not we are right. Maybe, like that Little Engine, we can. We certainly very often intend to.

What I have also discovered, though, is that all too often my inspired intent seldom leads to a completed objective, and I am fairly confident that I am not alone in this. We often make grandiose speeches about what we can achieve, or write lengthy manifestos about our goals, but regardless of whether we intend to tie our shoes, complete a degree, travel, lose weight, or volunteer, the inspirational accouterments serve only to fashionably adorn our goals, distracting us from the reality of incompletion (I relish opportunities to make up words).

Eventually, we have to move from “going to” to “doing.” At some point, the speech is over and Rocky gets back to his restaurant; the violins and snare drums stop.

Offering myself on the altar of full disclosure, to finish my dissertation, I have to actually sit in front of my computer, document opened, and write. To learn Italian, I have to actually study conjugations, vocabulary, and pronunciation. To become a yoga teacher, I have to actually build a home practice and seek out opportunities to teach. The Little Engine actually had to pull the train up the hill, did she not?

In short. I have to turn my “going to” into “doing.

So, I say to my mom, touché and well played. In this the year of my pursuits, I again recognize the wisdom you so very often had to repeat.