A number of years ago I owned and operated a time management business. I specialized in working with time-starved individuals. Most of my clients were c-suite executives and business owners although I worked with a number of Hollywood actors and A-list personalities – the common denominator being they all wanted more time. I eventually sold the business to an employee but before I did, I took with me valuable lessons. One particular experience stands out.
Perry was one of my clients. He was an outlier among my target demographic because he was retired. He and his wife had multiple homes and an extended family. The demands on their time were different than most of my clients yet they juggled a bit more than they could handle and I agreed to take them on as clients. One afternoon as I was helping them coordinate a large gathering at their oceanfront residence, I mentioned that based on that day’s tide chart they would need to relocate the location of their lobster bake. This upset Perry. He reacted in anger, he was inappropriate and appeared to pout about not being able to control the tide. He raised his voice and stormed out of the room.
Unfortunately, I had seen grown men sulk before, but it was what happened next that I’ve never forgotten. Perry’s wife said to me, “I’m sorry about that. Perry’s father was a jerk when he was young and that’s why he acts that way.” I was stunned. She made an excuse for her husband with such nonchalance that it was immediately clear she had done so many times.
Reason vs. Excuse
Perry may indeed have had a reason to be rude but that did not give him the excuse to behave that way. And that nuance is something that neither Perry, nor his wife, will likely ever understand. It is also a nuance that is likely lost on many. And now, as the pandemic continues to cause friction and showcase the best and worst of humanity, the fine line between reason and excuse has frayed and at times seems to have blended into one.
Let’s say you, like Perry, had a father who was a jerk. Or, you were born into poverty or an abusive home. Maybe your parents were alcoholics or perhaps you’ve struggled with addiction or experienced homelessness. Maybe you were raised in wealth and grew up entitled with all the things you could ask for, but parental love and attention weren’t included. Maybe you escaped a brutal regime in your birth country, were separated from your parents and started all over here.
The point is – every one of us has a reason to be a jerk. Or to be miserable. Or to quit. Or to fail. But no one has an excuse to be or do any of those things. Ever. Yet we fall into the habit of rationalizing our choices and behaviors. Some call it the blame game. We rationalize our denial and we rationalize our limitations because we’ve convinced ourselves that our reasons give us an excuse.
A ‘Bag of Reasons‘
Whatever circumstance we were born, married, or fell into comes with a weight. That weight can be like a cumbersome ‘Bag of Reasons’ we carry around and, in some cases, we eventually drag it behind us because it becomes so heavy. In Perry’s case, his wife was helping him carry his bag around. We all have a reason the bag is there but we do not have an excuse to harm others – including ourselves – because we’re carrying the bag. You may have a bigger ‘Bag of Reasons’ than someone else but that doesn’t give you a free pass to anything. You aren’t allowed to be a jerk, entitled, incompetent, a bully or – you get the idea – just because your ‘Bag of Reasons’ is big and you’ve chosen to carry it through life.
Perry allowed his father’s behavior toward him as a child to define him to the point that his wife was apologizing and making excuses for his behavior 70 years later. Extreme? Yes. Uncommon? No. Perry is just one example among many. And just like Perry, if you continue to carry your bag around it will influence every aspect of your life. Your personal relationships. Your professional life. Your spouse. Your parenting. Your colleagues. Your ability to communicate. And, your ability to respond appropriately to things like the ocean’s tide causing you to be inconvenienced.
And now, as we navigate and attempt to mitigate pandemic living, we all have something in common. The pandemic has landed in nearly everyone’s ‘Bag of Reasons’. The reasons for delays, backlogs, increases in prices due to supply and demand and more are profound during this time. The excuses, however, for poor service, the inability to keep employees, for incompetence and on and on, are not.
There are reasons and there are excuses and the line between them is subtle, yet substantial. We all have our reasons but a ‘Bag of Reasons’ is not a gateway to an excuse.
Make your words meaningful,