Reasons vs. Excuses

There has been a huge thing in our society for decades about attitude being everything, about ‘no excuses,’ about following your dreams and never ever giving up.  Hollywood glamorizes the idea constantly, especially when it comes to pursuing anything arts-related, especially acting or music.  And while they would likely be loathe to admit it, it mimics the Protestant work ethic they mock even more often than they glorify their own profession.

You get out of life what you put into it.

There are no excuses.  

The problem with this kind of attitude, no matter what you use it for, is that it is an absolute.  There are a ridiculously small number of absolutes in the universe, friends, and those are not among them.

Yes, what you put into life influences what you get out of it.  It puts the odds much more in your favor.  So much so that it is easy for someone who has achieved success after working hard to attribute their success entirely to their own choices, actions, and hard work.  They will pooh-pooh the idea of luck, or blessings, or God.  If they didn’t see the help handed straight to them, it didn’t exist.  Heaven forbid they have to share the glory.

Never mind the possibility that something could have happened at some point in their physical existence to damage their mind or body to an extent to make their achievements impossible, but didn’t.

Never mind the possibility that something in their environment could have affected them in such a way  as to render them psychologically incapable of reaching their goals, but didn’t.

Never minds the BILLIONS of factors that came together over not just the course of their life, but in the course of the existence of the world that made it even possible for them to achieve their dreams.

Because, my friends, there are excuses–circumstances and ideas upon which we rely to excuse our failure to try–and then there are reasons.  And the difference is very, very important.

Let’s give a great example:  Why didn’t Pierre Curie share Marie Curie’s 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry?  They always worked together.  He was a brilliant scientist as well.  They had shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.  Why not the 1911?  Was there marital strife?  Was there an ‘agenda’ on the part of the Nobel committee?  What was the excuse?

Answer: the REASON was that Pierre Curie died in 1906.

Of course, we can see death as an acceptable reason.  Not an excuse.  But for too many of us, that is the only acceptable ‘get out of guilt free’ card there is, both for ourselves and for others.

This is not acceptable.

Just as the idea of ‘you should never try because there is always a chance that you could fail and failure is not acceptable’ is patently ridiculous (though fully believed by many people, whether they realize it or not), this opposite extreme is equally damaging and untrue.

Some may say, ‘oh that’s silly.  Even if it isn’t completely true, it can’t possibly do any damage!’

Buddy, let me tell you how you’re wrong.

Failure is part of the growth and learning process.  We don’t like to call it that, if anything, people will say ‘mistakes’ or ‘didn’t quite make it,’ but ‘failure’ is equally appropriate.  It is necessary not only to learn what works, but what DOESN’T work, and it is necessary to know what to do WHEN it doesn’t work.  And sometimes the thing that is best when something doesn’t work is to move on and do something else, or do the current thing in a completely different way, or pass it on to someone else.

This does not make you a bad person.  However, the ‘there are no excuses’ crowd, who claim, ‘the only people who fail are those who quit’ and other absolute and erroneous platitudes as their mantras, are basically saying that you ARE a bad person.  You are the quitter.  You are the one with the excuses.  You could have made it, but NOOOO, you’re a lazy ol’ quitter.  Never mind the possibilities that you may never have been able to succeed, or you could actually be happier doing something else, or that your skills are stronger and more needed elsewhere, or that you had lost the joy in that thing, or that you had already passed the point where, even if you DID succeed on the very next try, there would be no way that you could ever get back as much as you gave up trying to get there.  Nope.  You are a quitter.  That is the ultimate failure.  And it’s 100% your choice, all YOU, so that makes YOU the ultimate loser.

In other words, not only is failure not an option, but failure includes quitting AND not doing it successfully.  That leaves only two options: complete success if you ever try, or never trying.

And we wonder why so many people don’t try?  Why they say, “I can’t do that?”  Why they give up before they begin?  Dude, life is NOT an all-or-nothing proposition.  There are a billion factors feeding into every event, success, failure, decision, everything.  Some help, some hurt.  To say that not just one person, but just the will of that person, is the single controlling factor determining success or failure is just plain not true.  Do some people give excuses?  Yes.  But there are also REASONS.  Physical reasons.  Emotional Reasons.  Practical reasons.  Priority reasons.  Spatial reasons.  Timing reasons.  All legit.  It is NOT our place to pass judgment on what was possible or not for another person, or look at what someone else was able to do and judge what we ourselves ‘should have’ been able to do.

So, please, wipe those annoying inspirational quotes off your wall.  Keep trying.  Do your best.  That’s all we’re asked to do.

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