Is It a Reason or an Excuse? Maintaining Your Self-Respect in the Face of Life’s Challenges

Is it a Reason or an Excuse

Have you ever used a reason as an excuse for not doing something? If so, you’re definitely not alone!

As usual, the more I notice this tendency in myself, the more I see that all of us do this fairly frequently – whether we realize it or not. Sometimes there are genuine reasons for why we can’t or shouldn’t do certain things. When that’s the case, we need to honour that in ourselves – but does that mean we can’t challenge ourselves to do more, to try something new, or to hold ourselves to a higher standard?

When we use reasons as excuses, we often unwittingly keep our lives small and stale – even while we ask ourselves questions like “Is this all there is?” or “Why am I so bored or unhappy in my life?” Sometimes this tendency also creates crippling anxiety and indecisiveness, or an inability to let go of a past trauma or event so that we can move on.

But the fact is that the more we allow ourselves to use excuses, the more stuck we’ll remain.

You may already know that I have Crohn’s Disease. This can be a very difficult illness to navigate – it’s often quite painful and debilitating, and there is no known cause or cure for it. I’ve now had this condition for over 40 years. I’ve been very sick with it at times, and found myself quite addicted to many of the medications that the doctors prescribed for me for a lot of years.

But it wasn’t until 1987 that I realized my life was basically going nowhere. After reaching a devastating personal bottom, I finally decided to put an end to my addiction – a decision that put me on the road to recovery, one positive choice at a time.

Next month I’ll be celebrating 28 years of recovery from addiction. I’m a lot more holistically healthy now because I’ve learned how to take much better care of myself, and I’m so grateful for that!
I’m now careful to deal with my stress in healthier ways and I keep myself on a strict food plan that I know my body can best handle. Even with such precautions, because of the unpredictability of the symptoms, my life still sometimes feels ruled by this condition.

I know that all of you out there who struggle with any form of chronic illness – whether physical or mental – can understand what I’m talking about.

A few years ago, I was planning to go on a trip to Asia with my friends. I was excited, had my flight and accommodation booked and had even purchased the travel insurance for my pre-existing condition. I wasn’t as healthy then as I am now – and I actually felt extremely scared about making that long trip with its many uncertainties. When the time came that I just knew I couldn’t make the trip, I was totally devastated.

But I just wasn’t ready – for many very good reasons. The last thing I wanted to do was go there and be sick – that was not at all the point of the exercise!

Now, three years later, my friends are going again and really want me to come. I still have the same chronic, unpredictable medical condition – but because I’ve continued to practice my all-important self-care, and have more tools with which to handle stress – and because I’ve assembled a dream team of healers who assist me, I am stronger and healthier than I’ve been since my diagnosis 40+ years ago.

What decision will I make?

Today I know that I have a choice about how to see this opportunity. Even though some of the uncertain challenges I faced then remain the same now, if I don’t go this time, I fear I’ll be dealing with excuses that actually can be mitigated and handled.

Could I live with myself if I did that? Can I plan this trip in such way that I can stay as healthy as possible? How will I feel about myself if I don’t even try?

I know this is a huge example but I could easily give you smaller ones too – can’t we all? I can be a great procrastinator, from doing laundry to writing my next blog piece. Trust me, I’m just like everyone else who sometimes wants to stop the world and get off for just a little while.

But when I feel like this, I make sure I’m honouring that as a choice – rather than telling myself lies about why I’m doing it. It’s really important for me to be completely accountable and honest with myself today – this is a huge part of what keeps me clean and sober. If I really can’t do something – and there is an appropriate reason for that – I will practice what renowned author Tara Brach aptly calls radical acceptance: “It is what it is. So be it. How will I choose to handle that situation and move forward?” But if I’m making excuses from a place of fear or discomfort and trying to lie to myself, I know I won’t be able to get away with that for very long. It’s much more self-respectful to ask myself “Is this a reason, or is this an excuse?”

How does this play out in your life?

Perhaps you have a large, somewhat daunting goal like finally becoming free from an addiction. Maybe you know you need to be setting (and maintaining) healthier boundaries with the addict in your life. Or it could be that a series of smaller issues are yours to address. Will you be able to maintain your self-respect if you lie to yourself and others about these kinds of choices?

You can start by asking yourself this simple – but not always easy – question:

“What do I really need to do – or not do – in order to respect myself?”

Can you get past the excuses and accomplish what is necessary? As well, can you make friends with your true reasons and have your own sense of radical acceptance, if something truly isn’t possible for you?

Let’s stop hiding from ourselves and become willing to live our own best lives!

Are you ready?

Candace Plattor