If I were to ask you why your life isn’t exactly as you want, what would you say? You would probably give me a “good reason” for why you don’t have the career, partner, home, finances, or family life that you are striving for. I have met a lot of people over the years who have a lot of good reasons for why things can’t be done. These people have perfected the art of making excuses, though they don’t see their reasons as excuses. What I have learned is that any excuse can be overcome, and that for most of us, life always gives us another choice.
In Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the author explains how even in the midst of the horror of Nazi concentration camps, certain prisoners were able to rise above the injustice and show compassion towards others, and even bring good humour and hope. My sister visited Rwanda two years ago and met a man who had made peace with his neighbor, the same neighbor who only a few short years ago, murdered his family members and destroyed his home. Helen Keller was born without the capacity to see, speak, or hear, and yet she lived a full and meaningful life and paved the way for those who came after her.
All around us, people demonstrate the capacity to overcome horrendous life circumstances, and yet we still get stuck in making excuses. Maybe your life circumstances are not that extreme, or maybe from where you sit, the obstacles seem insurmountable. Either way, you are stuck for some reason. The following are the top five reasons I hear in my workshops and private sessions about why people don’t have what they want in their lives.
1. Change is Too Hard
Classic. Change is too hard. This is the number one reason people give me for why they are stuck. Usually, it is a complaint about someone else, such as “He/she will never change!” And yet, we are changing every day. Think back to who you were ten years ago. Chances are, you have changed. Look at the tastes and preferences you had as a teenager to who you became in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and so on. Each decade of our lives brings certain attitudes, values, and experiences that help us develop more fully into who we are. My oldest participant at a workshop was an 82 year-old woman who barely spoke any English. We were discussing how beliefs are passed down intergenerationally, and how the best way to shift a family pattern is to recognize it and refuse to repeat it. She watched and listened attentively, her grand-daughter interpreting for her as I went along. Finally, she raised her hand. She told me, in her broken English, how she was determined to change her patterns, because she could see her great-grandaughter was struggling with the same insecurities as a 4-year-old that she had struggled with her whole life. She said, “I have to change to save my grand-baby. Tell me how to change!”
It is never too late or too hard to change. What is hard is deciding that you really want to. Do you really want to change? Do you really want to have the great life you have been waiting for? Because it might mean you have to give up your old sob story. It may mean no one feels sorry for you anymore or tells you how proud they are of you for overcoming your odds. Chances are, people will assume you have always had this great life, and you won’t get to tell them how you picked yourself up by the bootstraps and proved everyone wrong. See, true change requires that you let go of your old story about how they/life/God did you wrong. You have to see your life as a series of choices, some of them conscious, some of them not, about what you do and do not deserve. As long as you believe you do not deserve something, it will be impossible to attain it. But as soon as you shift your mind, and start acknowledging that the buffet of life is simply waiting for you to dig in, change becomes easy.
So what about those other people? You know, the ones who will never change? Well, the strangest thing happens. When you begin to change, you will start seeing them differently. All of a sudden, you will start to notice the tiny changes they are making, the small attempts they are making at becoming better people. Or, they will simply melt out of your life, without any effort on your part. Don’t believe me? Test it. Spend the next week praising that thorn in your side (this works best if you do it behind his or her back) and notice how things change. It’s easier than you think.
2. Not Enough Money
My business coach once told me that we only make as much money as we can handle. If you look honestly at your finances, they will be a reflection of how responsible you have been with your money and/or how much you believe in scarcity. Let me explain. If you are being financially irresponsible with your money, there is probably a reason for that, which you can address, move through, and then talk to someone who knows how to get you back on track. For you, money seems to slip away from you whenever you get it, which is usually rooted in a deep-seated belief that you don’t deserve it. Look at other areas of your life where you are thriving, and see if you can apply the same approach to your finances. For example, if you have an abundance of friendships, why are you able to maintain those? Is it because you are consistent, reliable, and available? Now, apply those qualities to money. Can you commit to consistency by paying your bills on time? Can you be more reliable by spending within your means? Can you be available, and make your finances a priority, getting the help you require? You know how to do this, you just haven’t practiced. The more you practice, the easier money will come to you and, more importantly, stay with you.
On the other hand, there are people who are very responsible with their money. They budget, plan, and save, and they live within their means. And yet these same people, who seem to have a handle on things, complain to me that they are always broke. I don’t get it. When you have a nice nest egg tucked away, no credit card debt, investment properties in two countries and extra padding in the bank account, why can’t you buy the name-brand ketchup? The challenge here is that scarcity is running the show. People who grew up in wartime or who had to immigrate to a new country in difficult times will have internalized this feeling of “there is never enough”, and will pass it on to their children. Of those children, some will either rebel by being financially inept or irresponsible (see above), while others will adopt the same tight-fisted, “we-can’t-spend” mentality. So while the nest egg grows, the family lives as if they are broke. This void of scarcity keeps growing, because the more people accumulate, the more it seems like there isn’t enough. This can be very demoralizing for the primary income provider in the family, as he or she ends up feeling like no matter how much they bring to the home, it is never enough. Start addressing your issue around scarcity, and you will probably notice it comes up in other areas as well. If you feel like you don’t have enough time, love, recognition, etc., these are all cries from voice of scarcity. After all, it’s your money and you have a right to enjoy it.
Remember, money has an energy. That little piece of paper of plastic only has value because we say it does. If you allow money to come to you and you are also generous with your money, things will start to change. Respect money for what it is, but be careful you don’t put it on some unattainable pedestal.
3. Not Enough Time
Have you every been so engrossed in something you loved that you lost track of time? Have you every been doing something you hated and felt like time slowed down? Time is another one of those tricky subjects with a simple solution. You do have enough time. You just don’t always spend it well. Think about all the wasted time you spend in mind-numbing activities. Think of how useful you make your commute time or your waiting around time. Whenever one of my clients tells me they don’t have time to read a book I have recommended, I suggest they keep in in their car. That way, if they are stuck in an avalanche or spending “just another twenty minutes or so”, at the doctor’s office, or end up arriving early somewhere or have to wait an extra half hour for their teenage daughter to stop socializing after school, they have the book with them. I know what it’s like to feel short on time. Ask any new and nursing mom, and she will tell you she never knew how a whole day could go by with so little “productive” activity. Some days you will get a lot accomplished, and other days you won’t, but rest is just as important as doing, and when you schedule in downtime, you will be happier when the productive opportunities come. Time is not as static as we think, and it can be used in more ways than we can imagine.
Time is not ours alone, as we happen to share this planet with thousands of other creatures that don’t seem to get so stressed out about time. You will find you have more time if you let yourself link up to what is happening naturally around you. Spring is a time you are likely to get a lot accomplished, as the days get longer and the urge to purge is in the air. In Winter, however, slow it down! Don’t feel guilty for curling up with a good book or nesting at home with the family when the days are dark and cold. People of the land know this, in every continent. Each land has it’s weather, and if you get lined up with your land, time will start working with you.
4. No One Supports Me
Here is a tough one to break out of. Why? Because we all need to feel supported in our endeavors, but many of us want to be supported on our own terms. There is a split that happens in the mind when it comes to support. Many of us have been raised on the hero-myths. These are the stories that teach us that it is possible to overcome all obstacles. And even though some heroes have sidekicks, most of the heroes in the stories of our childhood have to face adversity alone. So here’s where the split happens. When life gets tough, there is a part of you that thinks you have to get through it alone. And yet, as studies have shown, we are social creatures, and groups find more lasting and creative solutions than individuals can. There is also the metaphor of “sharing the limelight”, some strange belief that if you actually do ask for help, the eventual accomplishment will lose some of it’s glimmer. So now you are stuck in a catch 22, where you actually have people who want to to support you in your projects, but some small part of you deflects or even resents that support. All of a sudden, it starts to feel like no one supports you.
If this is one of your excuses, I have a challenge for you. Hunt out one or two people in your circle who actually think you have a good idea, that you are on to something important. Let them be your base. Then, listen to those who seem unsupportive. They may have valuable information for you that would save you time, money, and effort. Usually, if those we love are unsupportive of our plans, the plans need to be re-worked in a way that considers what is best for all involved. Last, notice the little ways in which even the nay-sayers support you, which may have nothing to do with the project or idea you are working on. Once you are really clear about why you are moving in this particular direction, what you notice about the people around you will start to shift. After all, in the end, they say they want what’s best for you, right? And the final trick – integrate your own inner critic. This is that part of you that finds fault with every plan and sabotages your projects before they even get off the ground. Once you are not subconsciously self-destructing your good ideas, the people around you will seem more supportive.
5. I Don’t Know what I Want
When people come to me with this last excuse, I ask them a simple question: “What have you done to find out?” It is amazing to me how many people use this excuse without actually taking steps to find out what they want. There are many ways to find out what you want. A quick one is to notice the people who you are jealous or envious of. Chances are, you want some of what they have. You can create a vision board, write a wish list in your journal, or surround yourself with people who seem to know what they want. The strategies are many. What I want to discuss here is the deeper opportunity within this excuse.
Not knowing what you want is a luxury that is offered only a few times in one’s life. It peaks most strongly in late adolescence, and moving forward, most people either don’t ask themselves what they want, they feel they have all they want, or they believe it’s impossible to have what they want. If you are in the second category, and feel you have all you want, hats off. Please use your life as a model to demonstrate what “having it all looks like”, so more and more people feel like they have permission to live the great life. If you are in the third category, believing it’s impossible to have what you want, please read and re-read this article, and know that not only can you have what you want, it is easier to get it than you have believed all these years! You may also want to engage with the teachings from the great spiritual philosophers of our era: Dr. Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Carolyn Myss, Ekhart Tolle, Pema Chodron, Iyanla Vanzant, and the list goes on. Pick up an Oprah magazine, and wake up to what people all over the world already know – the great life is possible!
If you are in the first category, and don’t know what you want, take a few deep breaths, and know that this is simply a choice-point in your life. The roads are many, and as my teacher Henri McKinnon said, the question is not “Which path should I take?”, rather it is “Which path should I take first?” We will change our direction in paid work at least five times in our working years. And that is not just changing jobs, that is changing careers! The relationships we have with family and friends will also change and evolve, as will the place we live and even our favorite places to eat. So allow yourself the freedom to dream, and make friends with the discomfort of not knowing. It is only by taking the next step that we make our way up the mountain. Not knowing all the answers means you still have room to grow, and once you stop growing, you will become rigid. So let yourself be uncomfortable with the not-knowing, and practice the hundred and one techniques there are for finding clarity once you have made peace with the “meantime”.
So that’s it. Those are my thoughts about why the top five excuses don’t really hold up. So the next time you are about to use one of them, remember that you always have a choice. You may not have a choice about what happens to you, but you always have a choice about how you will respond. And how you respond, my friend, makes all the difference!