Excuses are reasons past their prime

6 07 2017

When, exactly, do reasons become excuses? 

I’ve been wondering.

I was having coffee on Sunday with three dear friends whom I don’t see as often as I’d like these days. At first, we talked about normal life stuff: food, our crazy schedules, the difficulty of maintaining perfectly groomed toenails. When you haven’t been together in a while, it takes some “warm up” talk before you get comfortable and start sharing what’s really going on in your life – how you feel, not just what you’ve been up to.

When we got to the real stuff, I listened with compassion to my friends’ concerns, as they did to mine. But afterwards, thinking about what I’d shared, I couldn’t help but wonder: was I holding onto reasons so tightly because I was, in fact, using them as excuses?

Many of the things that trouble us in life are not of our own choosing, and even the things that initially are choices often turn into things that are beyond our control. One example: you choose to have a child, but once they pop out you are basically SOL in the control department. Another example: I chose my job, but that doesn’t mean that, in any real sense, I get to choose how each day in that job unfolds. Mostly, I try to manage the chaos and hope for the best.

There are reasons, often good ones, for why things turn out the way they do. Which is fine – end of story – if the way things turn out is copacetic. But when it isn’t? When we’re unhappy or uncomfortable with where things are (where we are)?

How long do reasons remain reasons in that unhappy or uncomfortable space? When do they morph into excuses? I haven’t exactly figured that timing out yet.

But I do know that change has happened for me.

If I’m honest, I realized it when talking with my friends on Sunday. As I told them the reasons for my 80-pound weight gain and loss of physical fitness, I heard it in my own voice. “Menopause,” I said. “Medications,” I added. “Mobility challenges!” And that’s when I heard it: the false, tinny note of self-excusation.

What might have been reasons to begin with are not any more. Now, they’re just the excuses I use to justify inaction. Realizing this totally sucks. Now, I have to stop making excuses and make changes instead. And the fact is, making changes is hard. There’s also no guarantee that the outcome of these changes will be everything I want it to be.

But the eventual outcome isn’t the most important reason to change. A much more important reason is to be able to say, without reasons or excuses, “I’ve done the best I could do.” No matter what else happens, I’ll be really glad when I can say that again.

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What I Allow

22 06 2017

“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”  –Robyn Davidson

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  • In 1975, Robyn Davidson moved to Alice Springs, in Australia, to work with camels in order to prepare for a trek across the desert.
  • In 1982, Sr. Helen Prejean agreed to be the spiritual advisor to a death-row inmate named Elmo Patrick Sonnier.
  • On December 10, 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill climbed a 180-foot-tall, 1500-year-old California redwood tree in order to prevent it from being cut down.

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Recently, I came across something called the five second rule. No, this is not about dropped food. This rule is used to help get you unstuck and moving forward. The basic concept is this: you have an idea about something you could/should/wish to/want to do (ask a question in a public forum, clean your bathroom, take dinner to a friend convalescing from surgery). Such ideas come to us all the time, but often we don’t act on them. The longer we take to act, the less likely it is that we will take the action at all. The five second rule suggests counting backwards from five, challenging yourself to act on your thought or idea within that five seconds – thereby short-circuiting the tendency to (through procrastination or fear of failure, etc.) forego action.

Since reading of this concept, I keep noticing how many times I think of something to do yet do nothing. It is not only astounding – it is deeply disturbing. It is disturbing because part of the noticing process has been paying attention to the self-talk that keeps me from action. How humbling is it to really hear myself rationalize laziness, excuse sloth, forgive weakness, and cave in to fear.

At the same time as this heightened self-awareness, I have been reading Tracks, Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her trek across the Australian desert accompanied by four camels and a dog. In the final paragraph of her memoir, Davidson shares the thought I quoted, above, about what she learned. Two important takeaways in that one short sentence:

  1. You are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.
  2. The most important part of any endeavor is taking the first step.

Davidson goes on to say that, like all important life lessons, these two need to be re-learned, over and over throughout our lives.

After finishing the book, I set it down and thought, “I should go for a walk.” Unbidden, my brain began the process of counting backwards from five…four…three…

“Alright!”, I told myself, grabbing my tennies. After changing my shoes, I headed outside, and spent about an hour walking around my neighborhood. Thoughts of Davidson’s trek – the fact that she had an idea but zero skills or experience to back it up, yet did it anyway, blew my mind. And it led me to think of other people I’ve admired who said yes to a thought or idea, not sure where it would lead or how it might turn out.

Sr. Helen Prejean and Julia Butterfly Hill, both social justice heroes of mine, came to mind. Neither of them knew, when they first took action on an idea, that it would become a life-altering choice. The idea came – in the form of an invitation or a creative solution to a problem – and the first step was taken. The path revealed itself over time, just as Davidson’s trek wound its unexpected way through the Outback. For Sr. Helen, next steps took her into the international spotlight as an advocate for those sentenced to death. For Julia, that first choice led to 738 days living in the tree which became known to people everywhere as Luna.

It is easy to think of these women, and others like them, as extraordinary; to think of them as possessing something special with which the rest of us were not gifted. But I’ve had the good fortune to break bread with both Sr. Helen and Julia, and I’ve discovered that this kind of thinking is, mainly, a cop-out. They are lovely, wonderful, fiercely loving individuals – but they are not some special subspecies of homo sapiens. They are not that different from me or you.

If, as Robyn Davidson suggests, we are as strong and powerful as we allow ourselves to be, then these women have opted to allow strength, resilience, individual personal power – love – to flow through them. If Davidson is correct, the biggest difference between them and me is this issue of “allowing” myself to be powerful.

I’m not off on any quests through hostile landscapes, nor will Susan Sarandon be portraying me in a movie any time soon. Still, isn’t it time to seriously consider life’s most important question? Will I continue to sit on my couch making excuses, or will I allow myself to be as strong, as powerful, as I am capable of being?

“The question we need to ask ourselves is not, “Can one person make a difference?”  Each and every one of us does make a difference.  It is actually impossible to not make a difference.  So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What kind of a difference do I want to make?”  http://www.juliabutterfly.com/