The Virtue of Follow Through

By Sam Jolman | September 3, 2012

“Potential is good when you’re 15 years old. After that, you need to start doing something.” Chris Guillebeau

“A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Some moments change you forever.  My senior year of college I sat at a bar drinking a beer with my friend Dan, talking about life as we always did.  On this occasion our conversation took on a seize the moment kind of tone.  The last year of college will do that to you, I suppose.  We both knew in May a really responsible world awaited us.  But it was only September.  And for now we were plotting how to wring the towel of time and draw the most of life’s next few months.

In the spirit of the moment, I brought up this woman I’d seen around campus.  The golden haired woman. Dan rolled his eyes. This was not the first time he’d heard about her. I’d been love struck since our sophomore year. Every time I spotted her, he got the news.  She was gorgeous, changed my day.  She had inspired a lot of bad poetry and a few good piano songs.

“You know, maybe I’ll ask her out this year.”  I said and sat back proud of myself for being so courageous in the moment.

“Okay,” said Dan, “You’ve got a month.”

“A month… what do you mean a month?” I asked.

“If you don’t ask her out in a month, I’m going to deeply and significantly embarrass you in front of her.”

Now I was back pedaling.  I didn’t mean I was actually going to ask her out.  I was just caught up in the moment, keeping the conversation going, playing around.   He smiled as I squirmed.  He was not going to budge.

Four weeks later, with two days left of my month deadline, he dragged me across the library and into a conversation with her.  And I finally asked her out.  Two years later, I married her.

I am forever grateful to Dan. I have him to thank for my son and nine wonderful years of marriage with Amanda.  I shudder to think all of this might never have happened, might just have become a passing love struck fantasy, if he had not pushed me to do one simple thing: follow through.

A few years ago, I attended a birthday party for my friend Xan.  As he opened gifts, we took some time to share things we appreciated about him.  Another friend of his, a woman, said what she appreciated most about him was that he followed through on his word and his dreams.  I had never heard someone be complimented for this.

And it got me thinking that follow through really is a truly admirable quality in a person.  Follow through is rare, maybe even a virtue.  We all have dreams.  We all hope one day to realize those dreams.  But few people actually, continually, persistently take steps to keep at those dreams.

Xan is one of those rare persons.  He does things.  He pursues his dreams.  He talks about a lot of lofty goals.  But then he actually does stuff to achieve those goals.  And he has successes – and, yes, failures – to show for it.  Yet, come hell or high water he embodies resolve.  He has the virtue of follow through.

Follow through lets people trust us, lets them know we are people of our word.  But even more so, its a gift we give ourselves.  There is a burden to carrying around dreams, to hoping that one day when life is different or easier or not as busy, you’ll finally live out that calling or desire or dream.  One day is the kiss of death.

As a counselor, let me be the first to validate the difficult road to realizing your dreams. There is a lot that keeps us from our dreams.  And some of it is serious stuff.  In other words, this is not meant as a not be a “just go do it” pep talk. There are legitimate reasons you may not be able to move forward in following through on your desires.  That must be honored.

Yet, you will only be able to deal with those blocks while you are trying to follow through.  Seriously.  This will be obvious but no one succeeds in following through unless they try to follow through. And you cannot heal or change or grow if you stop trying to live or dream or change anymore.  The opposite actually begins to happen.  If you roll over and play dead, your dreams will haunt you and lead you to bring more damage on yourself.  And you’ll have to find some anesthesia to shut them up.  Alcohol, sex, workaholism, TV.  Trying to shut your dreams up will only wreak more havoc inside.

Let me assure you: No one follows through without having to face the same treacherous journey you will face. And therefore, no one can follow through alone.  The obstacles are too great, the fear too much, the doubts about our abilities or talents oh so haunting and gnawing. You need people to believe in you, support you, challenge you, push you, even threaten you.  Dan heroically became that guy.  I was stuck.

And be ready for God to participate in the pushing.

I work less than a mile from my house.  Yes, its amazing.  But would you believe that for the longest time I still drove my car to work?  On Winter mornings, I scraped my car windshield for longer than it took me to get to work.  Please don’t send hate mail or turn me over to Al Gore.

What’s worse, I considered myself an environmentalist.  I recycled.  I drank from a reusable water bottle.  And I thought about bike commuting for a couple years – thought about it but never followed through.

I got the most serious about it last summer when I realized it would mean permission to buy a nice new commuter bike.  My eight months pregnant wife didn’t take a liking to the idea of me spending a bunch of money.  Something to do with nesting or whatever.  Money for toys wasn’t quite in the budget.

Around father’s day last year, she called me at work.  “What size mountain bike do you ride?” she said with a chuckle.  My heart did a little pitter patter.  “Um… what?”  She laughed back, “I won a mountain bike.”

Turns out a drawing we had both entered a few weekends ago at a mountain sports festival had turned up gold for her and, out of her generosity, for me. Even that had a story to it, she said. “I started praying when we entered that drawing, hoping God might let you have a commuter bike without us spending money. And surprise, I won.”

Apparently, there is a God and He wanted me to be bike commuting.  A few weeks later, I picked up my nice new shiny mountain bike.  And it stayed nice and new and shiny in the garage for the next year.  I kid you not.  God handed me a mountain bike and I still did not follow through.  He was going to have to up the ante for me.

So he hit me where it counted: in the pocket book. This Spring, one of our used cars got a bad check up during an oil change.  Nearly $3000 in fix ups to deal with.  That’s when I decided it was time to sell it.  And I did… in three hours (thank you Craigslist). The first guy to call, came to look at it and gave me a deposit on the spot.  Since it was late, we agreed to settle the deal the next morning.

He showed up promptly at 8 AM, handed me a wad of cash and drove off.  As I sat reflecting on the deal, I realized it had been too easy.  God had to be in it.  The Divine hint came later in the day when I discovered it just happened to be Earth Day. I swore I could hear God laughing.  I think Someone wanted to get me riding that there bike to work.

And everyday I ride to work, I thank God for helping me live out a dream.  Follow through is so sweet to the taste. May you taste it soon.

What do you want to follow through on? What keeps you from doing it? Who’s helping you follow through?


  • Sam
    I really enjoyed reading this post. Amanda….what a great story. I love that you took a month to get the courage. And I love the story of the bike. Xan. He is to be admired for his courage to live his desires and dreams. Well done.

  • Oh how we need one another to receive the courage offered us. Once again, your words are gold — and compelling, darn 😉

  • Ah, you nailed it. And how nice of you to write an article about the quality I see pouring out of Steve. As you said not too long ago: God loves dramatic tension. How I respect follow through when the tension says, ‘Run!’

  • Ummmm, OUCH.
    I have so many ideas…yet feel that the busy-ness of life keeps me from follow-thru. Dang, don’t I hate the ‘victim’ in that mentality! But what to do?
    Follow thru anyway, eh?

    Thanks for the convicting words.
    ‘Scuse me while I go lace up my running shoes!!


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