Thinking vs doing

It's not often that one sees a limo for sale, especially on someone's front lawn with a price tag of $2,500.  The limo wasn't new, it was a late 1980s model, but it was still a limo.  I used to drive past that limo weekly when I was in college.  I was intrigued, I had the money to buy it, and there were so many things I could do with a limo.  Eventually my daydreaming led me to what I thought was a brilliant idea.  I would buy the limo and start a late night taxi service.  Who wouldn't want to be picked up in a limo after a night in the bars and taken home in luxury?  I thought the idea was great, my friends thought it was great, everyone thought I was onto something.  The problem is I never bought the limo, I just talked about it.  Eventually the limo was sold and the dream died.

Everyone has ideas.  Almost everyone has a few innovative ideas.  Many have completely unique ideas.  Very few act on any of their ideas.  Most ideas are like my limo, they sound great, friends love them but they never move beyond a daydream.

I'm the firstborn of my brothers and I tend to be a perfectionist, or at least I desire perfection.  It's a firstborn trait (all firstborns are nodding in agreement right now.)  The problem is perfection can never be achieved.  My usual course of action would be to come up with an idea and then start to think about the implementation.  I either would get lost in the details or I'd begin to work on it and would stop when I realized I couldn't complete it perfectly.  My perfectionism was holding me back.

The problem is I'd never start on anything, or if I started I couldn't complete anything.  I had dozens of half started projects laying around to never be completed.  I could come up with incredible ideas, but execution and follow through were nonexistent.

Many of you are probably living the experience I did for years.  You have great ideas and poor execution.  Maybe you start to never finish, or you finish and are so disappointed with the results you never try again.

So what was my breakthrough?  There wasn't one specific moment in time, but a variety of small experiences.  The first was writing this blog.  I could take an investment idea, detail it for the future and act on it.  Each time I wrote up a company I took action on an idea.  Having written out my thoughts helped me take action and invest as well.

The bigger breakthrough was a home improvement project I undertook in 2011.  The basement was authentic to the 1940s, cinderblock walls and a cold uneven cement floor.  We decided we'd like a little more space and because I hate paying for things I can do myself I decided to build the basement myself.  Over the course of six months working an two to three hours at night after my wife and son went to bed I finished the basement into a very usable space.  I put up a ceiling, walls, wired outlets, lights, everything.  Complicating the project is the basement floor isn't flat, every 2x4 in the room  had to be custom measured and cut.  But slowly, night by night I made progress.  Some nights it was hard to tell I did anything.  Other nights I'd finish a wall or hit a significant milestone.  But regardless I kept pushing forward.  I created a habit by working on the project consistently, and completed the basement.

There were times during the build that I doubted what I was doing and worried about getting things just right.  But I kept reassuring myself that with construction any mistakes could be fixed.  Either by repairing, or destroying and rebuilding again.  Thankfully I didn't have to make any major changes, but just knowing in the back of my mind I could if I needed to helped me push forward and finish.

Finishing the basement gave me continued motivation to write on this blog, and start a business.  CompleteBankData started out as a germ of an idea, and through a continued habit of slow consistent work we produced a completed tool.  This past year I launched the Oddball Stocks Newsletter and built a new yet to be released iteration of CompleteBankData.  All of these projects loomed large and seemed impossible before they were started.  But by taking them a small step at a time I was able to accomplish things I never thought possible a few years ago.

By taking consistent steps forward towards a goal I was able to break through the fear of not finishing.  I'd like to think I've finally moved from never finishing to always finishing.

No matter what the task there is always ambiguity.  We never know ahead of time how things will work out.  But the only way to find out is to give it a try and move forward.  In trying new things we learn a lot about ourselves.  Over the past four years I've discovered strengths I never knew I had as well as discovered some areas where I need improvement.

There is probably an area in your life where you keep thinking about taking action but haven't yet.  Maybe it's fear of the unknown, or fear of not knowing all the details, or fear of not finishing.  Maybe it's time to stop researching an investment and finally invest.  Or maybe it's time to stop thinking about a new job and go find one.  Or time to start a business you've been thinking about for years.  I don't know what it is for you.  I know for myself I have an exciting set of projects that I'd like to complete in 2015.  I don't know how many will be successful, but I do know that everything I start I'll finish.

It's time to go out and get started...


  1. I watched "Touching the Void" yesterday (highly recommended). It is about an injured mountain climber with a broken leg that manages to get back in time to base camp against all odds. And you can guess how he manages that impossible goal: by constantly setting small goals such as "I want to reach that rock 10 meters away within the next 10 minutes". If you break up a task in small sub-tasks you can accomplish almost anything it seems!

  2. Great article, thanks for it. It is true that life starts behind the comfort zone..

  3. Perfection is the enemy of the good.

  4. Lets see some pics of that refreshed basement!?!

  5. Great post, Nate. A lot of times, life is about capitalizing on opportunities. And taking action is always a prerequisite for seizing that opportunity.