All of us have a dream (or two); something we’ve always wanted to accomplish, to experience, or to become. You might use a word other than “dream.” Words like goal, Bucket-List, or “something I’ve always wanted to do before I die” also apply here. Whatever word you use, everybody has something they’ve always wanted to accomplish.
What is it for you? What’s your dream?
· Start your own company or open a restaurant?
· Go back to school and get a different degree?
· Travel the world?
· Run a marathon, sail a boat, fly an airplane, play baseball, coach hockey, hang-glide, scuba dive, or some other recreational adventure?
· Take an invention or product you created to market?
· Become a standup comedian, professional musician, successful writer, or an accomplished actor?
· Shed that thirty-five pounds you’ve put on since you got married?
· Transform yourself from a shy and insecure person into a confident, and courageous individual?
So, why don’t you?
What’s standing in your way?
What’s keeping you from pursuing your dream?
There are all sorts of reasons for why people’s dreams often collect dust under the passing years of good intentions. See if any of these sound familiar to you?
· “I don’t have a degree.”
· “I can’t come up with the money.”
· “I am too old.”
· “I don’t have any experience.”
· “I have four children under the age of 6.”
· “My spouse would never agree to it.”
· “Nobody will give me the chance.”
· “I can’t because of my illness.”
· “I’ve failed so many times I’ve lost my motivation to try anymore.”
· “It will never work.”
· “I am too…(fill in the blank)…shy, dumb, afraid, short, overweight, young.”
Ask anybody who really, really wants to accomplish something and they can describe a host of reasons for why they still haven’t achieved what they had always hoped to do.
What’s your reason? What is it that’s standing in the path between where you are right now and where you’d like to be?
· All of the above?
So let me ask you, “Are those explanations or excuses?”
Your answer to that one question makes all the difference in the world. One of the two is acceptable. The other is not. One will help you achieve your dreams. The other can ruin everything you have ever hoped for.
Let me explain the difference.
Explanation or Excuse?
Anyone with a dream is going to run into obstacles along the way. Call them problems, challenges, setbacks, issues, unforeseen circumstances, or just plain bad-luck. “Stuff” is going to get in the way of accomplishing what you’ve always wanted to do. Life is like that. Stuff happens.
Your journey is not going to be the exception. You, too, are going to run into some roadblocks on the path to your dreams. You just have to be careful YOU aren’t that “thing” keeping you from accomplishing what you always wanted to do.
I don’t want to diminish the challenges you face. Many times they can seem insurmountable. Explanations for why your journey has been so difficult are certainly acceptable. However, you need to make sure your explanations don’t become excuses.
There is a difference, you know. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to tell them apart.
Explanations are about understanding. They demonstrate an intellectual grasp as to why something is the way it is.
Explanations are an extremely helpful part of our success. Every explanation you come up with for why you are not where you want to be simply represents an understanding of which obstacles stand between you and success.
When you list reasons for why your efforts have stalled, you have identified the next steps you need to take to move forward. Your “To Do” list becomes the work you need to accomplish in order to eliminate every explanation for why you are not yet where you want to be. If there are five reasons for why you haven’t yet succeeded, you have five items on your “To-Do” list. Those are the top five things for which you need to come up with answers or solutions.
Take, for instance, the person who is trying to lose weight. They can explain to you that late night boredom and a weakness for ice cream is why they have failed to reach their weight loss goal. That’s their explanation. Now they know at least two very specific steps they need to take toward their ideal weight.
· First, they must make sure eating does not continue to be one of the ways they deal with restlessness at the end of the day. They need to find something to keep them so occupied they don’t keep wandering into the kitchen to soothe their anxiety. (Hint: Television is not the answer. It loves to be enjoyed while you’re eating stuff that isn’t good for you.)
· Secondly, they must make every effort to avoid any proximity to ice cream until they have learned to control their choices about its place in their diet. Until ice cream can remain a treat they enjoy occasionally rather than a retreat they escape to for comfort, then it’s best not to stock it in their freezer.
Excuses, on the other hand, are about denial. We use excuses to defend ourselves from the failure to follow through with our ambitions. They are offered to shirk responsibility for our own failure to act.
You can have a good explanation for why your progress has been stymied, but the moment you use it as permission to quit, it has become an excuse.
The more thoroughly you understand what’s holding you back, the less of an excuse you have. If you can specifically identify what is standing in your way and why, you know enough to start brainstorming solutions for overcoming it. You know what you’re working up against. However, once you use explanation as permission to give up on your dream, it has become an excuse. Explanations give way to solutions. Excuses simply grant permission to avoid the hard work you need to do to overcome your next big challenge.
Let’s say you want to be more active in order to lose weight and get into better shape. Of all the options out there, you choose bicycling as your exercise of choice.
Everybody knows the first few weeks are a breeze. Other than being sore in the mornings, you enjoy your new adventure. You’re inspired about the prospect of being fit again. The scale registers the loss of a few pounds as a reward for your newfound efforts.
Motivation is always high when we’re just getting started. And then the “stuff” happens.
· Your schedule at work changes.
· The weather turns cold and rainy.
· That old knee injury starts nagging at you to stop whatever you’re doing to it.
· Your weight-loss plateaus and you just can’t lose the rest of what stands between you and your goal.
· Your motivation wanes.
So you head out for another long ride on an unseasonably hot day and the rear tire of your bike is flat. Not just out of air, but punctured and in need of repair.
This is the moment of truth. This is where your next choice is either an explanation or an excuse.
Understanding that a flat tire on your bike stands in the way of you going for ride is an explanation. It identifies the problem to be solved. The solution is to repair the tire and then get out there for a ride. However, once you resort to using the flat tire as the reason for why you didn’t work out at all, it becomes an excuse. You used the flat tire to a disguise your lack of discipline in doing the hard work exercise requires.
An explanation identifies the problem to be solved. In this case, it is a tire to repair. An excuse grants you permission to go back into the house to watch more television while eating another bowl of ice cream.
The Problem with Problems
Most people look at the circumstance unfolding around them as “the problem.” Many get discouraged or overwhelmed by the sheer fact they have run into roadblocks along the way to their dream. Curiously, a few honestly believe “a dream” ought to come true without incident or inconvenience.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is
expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”
― Theodore Rubin
“The problem is EXPECTING otherwise.” That part of Rubin’s observation is so crucial. Expectations often mess with our resolve because they set us up for disappointment. When something doesn’t go quite like we expected, we are let down. If we are not careful, our disappointment can lead to discouragement, which can be a deep hole to climb out of in the face of a difficult task.
On the journey toward our dream, we do ourselves a big favor if we let loose of our naïve or idealistic expectations. They set us up for defeat. While we refer to our life’s great ambitions as “a dream,” we must be wide-awake to the harsh realities of what it takes to accomplish a worthwhile pursuit.
Embrace problems. They can be helpful. Problems are what forge the proficiency, strength, and discipline you need to see your dream through to completion. When you start seeing problems as the enemy to what we’re doing rather than as a means to where we’re going, you are setting yourself up for the frustration that often leads to failure.
“Failure is not the opposite of success. It is part of success.”
More times than not, the biggest obstacle standing in your path is no larger than the space between your two ears. Your mind can be an enormous roadblock between you and where you’re going. How you think and the choices you make either propel you forward or paralyze you.
Thinking is everything! There isn’t a single thing you do that doesn’t begin with a thought. Thoughts influence choices, and choices determine actions. Every single time.
Begin on the wrong foot in your thinking, and you set yourself up for failure before you even get started. Every time you encounter an obstacle in your path, you have an important choice to make. Will you accept the challenge in front of you as an obstacle to overcome or as a reason to quit?
Until you develop a resolute determination to tackle WHATEVER opposes your progress, you will not see your dreams come to fruition.
What’s Your Excuse?
I think one of the greatest examples of what is possible if we “put our minds to it” is watching people with handicaps do incredibly difficult activities. My favorites are para-athletes. They inspire me every time. When they do things like finish Ironman triathlons on artificial limbs or climb fourteeners (a mountain that meets or exceeds elevations of 14,000 feet) when they are blind, it usually makes me cry.
One look at amazing feats of determination like this, and it completely destroys whatever sorry excuses I come up with for why I can’t accomplish something.
Years ago, I knew a gentleman who lost his eyesight in his early thirties due to diabetes. Along with his eyesight he lost his career as a police officer. To add insult to injury, his wife left him for his best friend after her husband went blind.
None of that stopped him.
He went back to school to get his law degree. He remarried and started a family. Talents and interests he had before losing his sight took on an even more impressive stature. He was an excellent carpenter whose craftsmanship was made more amazing knowing it was done by a blind man. The whitewater rafting trips he took down raging rivers in the U.S. would have been otherwise commonplace were it not for the fact he couldn’t see a single thing. When his infant son was required to wear a full-body cast for several months after a corrective surgery, this man was an amazing stay-at-home dad while his wife went off to work each day. The example of his life still inspires me to this day.
Every time an amputee competes alongside me at a triathlon or obstacle course race, I am both inspired and confronted at the same time. If he can do a triathlon on a prosthetic leg, what’s my excuse? If she can complete a Tough Mudder without an arm, what makes me think I can’t?
My sorry excuses of too hot, too cold, too wet, too early, too late, to hard, too steep, or too high suddenly pale in comparison to what they have overcome to reach that same finish line I’m striving for.
It’s not because they are more physically capable than me. In some ways, they are less able by virtue of the complications they must compensate for as an athlete with a missing limb. Para-athletes will always have at least one additional obstacle to overcome in every race they do that I’ll never have to tackle. While we both may swim in the same cold water, bike up the exact same hills, or run in the same searing sun, a para-athlete will always do so at a disadvantage I don’t have to account for.
So, if they’re not a better athlete than me, then what is it?
The only answer I can come up with is they must be more mentally disciplined. Again and again and again, they have identified problems to be solved rather than reasons to quit. They have decided to make a list of the next thing to overcome rather than give up. In the face of an almost endless variety of obstacles in their path, they choose explanations over excuses.
And so can you.
“If it is important to you, you will find a way.
It not, you will find an excuse.”