Excuses Are Like Armpits

by Dan Walsh

How does an excuse differ from a legitimate reason?

I haven’t posted in over a week because we didn’t have an internet connection at our new apartment. I can’t post to WordPress without an internet connection so I couldn’t write.

That’s an excuse.

I rolled over and accepted my situation even though it hindered one of my primary goals for 2014 – write everyday. There were countless ways I could have kept up my writing schedule. If I was committed, I would have brought my laptop to a cafe with wifi, composed on my phone, or gone into the office early. Instead, I was content to have a “reason” not to do my work.

I won’t lie. The break felt nice. I was stressed from the move and from sleeping poorly. Taking one thing off my plate made life a little more manageable and got my creative juices flowing again. The hiatus had benefits, but these benefits were accidental.

I spent the whole week thinking about excuses. When are they legit? What’s the difference between an excuse and a pragmatic reason? There must be a way to change plans without making excuses.

The Difference Between Excuses and Reasons

I had a 3rd grade teacher who was fond of the saying “Excuses are like armpits. Everybody’s got ‘em and they all stink.” I got in an argument with him once. I hadn’t finished a homework assignment and he asked me why. I don’t remember what I said, but he said “That’s an excuse.” I was frustrated and shouted back “It’s not an excuse, it’s a reason!”

In many ways, I’ve wondered about the difference ever since.

I’ve come to realize that on the surface an excuse and a reason can be almost exactly the same. They can be said the same way and they can result in the same course of action. The difference lies in the location of responsibility.

Excuse:

“I couldn’t write because we were moving and I didn’t have an internet connection.”

Reason:

“I decided to take a week off from writing. We’re moving this week and I really need to take some things off my plate until we get settled.”

In the excuse, I externalized responsibility for my situation. The move took away my ability to write. I abdicated control.

In the reason, I maintained internal responsibility and made the active choice to take a break from writing.

Same outcome. Similar words. The only difference is who’s in charge.

Growth Opportunities

Excuses aren’t all bad though. As long as I remain vigilant when I begin using them, then they’re almost like a giant neon “Growth Opportunity Here!” sign.

An excuse is always born of difficulty. Maybe I’m traveling and can’t eat healthfully. This doesn’t mean I should relinquish my health and binge on Burger King. This is a chance to discover a better way to travel. Then the next time a similar hurdle comes my way I’ll know how to jump right over it without breaking my stride.

This works for every challenge, but only if I maintain responsibility instead of making excuses.