For all of my 20s, I would list family as one of my top priorities. But there was a problem.
From 18-23, I was a lost soul trying to find his way at college. My priorities were getting drunk, acting in plays, and scrounging endlessly to find ways to eat and pay my late bills. Then I failed school and didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or what skills I could offer the world.
And from 23-26, I was reborn and dove headfirst into self-improvement. I started making money, working out, and building the habits for a strong and capable life. I did all the things I wanted to do and weeded out the things I didn’t. I pushed myself to new and scary heights. I crawled out of the hole of a life I dug for myself in my early 20s. I learned sales, started podcasting and making videos, and became mindful and stoic.
But something was missing.
In all those formative adult years, I never once felt like a good son, brother, or nephew. I would say I valued family, but my actions told a different story.
I called and visited when it was convenient or fun for me. I avoided helping my mom out with simple things around the house. I would say I was going to do things and not do them.
The strange part was that I knew this wasn’t the way. I felt slimy every time I told my mom I’d help clean out the attic, and then would stay at a friend’s house and show up hungover in the middle of the afternoon. It was draining and deeply disappointing to everyone involved. And she would say so.
This all tugged on one of my deepest-held fears: Am I going to be a neglectful dad? Will I be incapable of sacrificing my own desires for the sake of my family?
Then three huge things happened that changed everything:
- I moved out of my mom’s house.
- I started a life coaching business.
- My grandpa started to decline.
In the summer of 2020, my friend from middle school reached out and asked if I wanted to get an apartment with her. She was also living with her mom at the time.
We moved into the apartment where I’m currently typing this blog in October of that year. I felt closer to my mom and sister almost immediately.
The place is only 16 minutes away from their house. But the space between us created room for us to miss each other.
But I still didn’t genuinely feel like I wanted to make quality time with family a priority. And that scared me. What was wrong with me?
My mom has done more for me than any other human being. Why didn’t I jump at every opportunity to help her with whatever she needed? Why didn’t I actually care?
Cut to April 2021. As part of my life coaching certification, we each got paired with a coaching partner. My partner, who is one of my closest friends today, was coaching me.
I came prepared with a question: How do I change how I feel about my family?
I was sick of my actions not matching up with my words. If I didn’t change my habits, I knew I’d regret it forever.
I wanted my mom to tell people that I made her life easier, more fun, and less heavy. I wanted my sister to see me as someone she could come to for anything. I wanted my dad’s side of the family to view me as an active and present member of the family.
So I asked my coaching buddy, “How do I change my mindset? Is it possible to alter how I feel emotionally? Can you force yourself to be motivated to do something you don’t feel compelled to do?”
He held space for me. He asked me incredibly powerful and thought-provoking questions. He helped me find the answers I already knew that were hidden beneath the surface.
By the end, everything was clear.
“I’ve been going at this all wrong,” I said. “You can’t just force your mindset to change. I have to change my behaviors first and let the beliefs come afterward.”
My emotions and motivations were out of my control. What I did, how engaging I was, how often I showed up…These were completely within my control.
So I added family time to my weekly system. When planning my week on Mondays, I couldn’t finish without having some form of quality time or conversation. Phone calls. Lunches or dinners. Visits at my mom’s.
What felt like a chore at first quickly became activities I thoroughly enjoyed. I wanted to do things with my mom. Our conversations were more fun. We laughed more. I was curious about how I could help her.
That’s been my journey these past two years. I’m about to turn 29, the age my parents were when I was born.
All those years I blew my mother off. I can’t get those back. While I’ve forgiven myself, it’s still my deepest regret. But I can do everything within my power to be a great family member now and from here on out.
When my grandpa started to noticeably decline in 2021, I changed my habits around driving down and visiting my grandparents. Once every two or three months. Because of that, I got way more hours in with them before my grandpa passed away last month.
If I didn’t do that, I’m positive I’d be thinking, I should’ve spent more time with him. I should’ve shown more appreciation while I had access to him.
But I didn’t. While I was down there with my dad, grandma, and aunts, all I felt was, I’m so glad I’m here. I’m so grateful I prioritized seeing him more this past year.
And I feel the same about my mom and sister.
Something heavy just happened with that side of my family—a story I’ll share in the coming weeks. But I was thrilled to see that my immediate responses have been: How can I be there for my mom? How can I make things easier for her? How can I show up for my sister?
These aren’t things I felt in my early 20s.
I got coached last week. She asked me, “Do you think your mom would say all the things you want her to say about you…today?”
With watery eyes, I replied, “Yes. I think she would.”
I hope that’s true.
- Words are lovely, but you are what you do consistently.
- You can change your values and motivations by changing your behaviors first.
- Live in a way that would make the people you love say great things about you when you’re not around.