Rudyard Kipling said “We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.”
I found this little nugget of wisdom nestled in between the pages of the book I had read a few years ago (Robin Sharma’s The Secret Letters Of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari), and I remember mulling over this particular statement for quite awhile after finishing the book. I know I’ve often made the mistake of using the two words – reason and excuse – interchangeably, but let’s face it… they are actually dissimilar in their very definitions. To put it in simple terms, a reason is a cause or an explanation for something, whereas an excuse is the attempt to defend or justify something. They probably belong in the same family but they are two entirely different entities. Apples and oranges.
Then why do we not hesitate to use both terms as substitutes for each other? Do we lump the words together for ease of conversation? Or do we genuinely think they are one and the same? Or do we find ourselves using so many excuses in our lives that they mutate into reasons for the very things we were once trying to defend to ourselves and to others? Explanations contorting into justifications, and causes warping into defenses.
“And the dangerous thing about excuses is that if we recite them enough times, we actually come to believe they are true,” continues the next line in the book, another nugget of wisdom following close behind the first one.
It’s a I-think-therefore-I-am sort of thing, isn’t it? I have reasons for why I can’t do ABC, and because of those reasons, I should be excused from doing ABC. And because I have now justified the reason I am unwilling to do ABC, I will not attempt to revisit the thought of doing ABC again. A cyclical process of excusing oneself in order to evade failure, preemptively protect oneself, staying safe… but at what expense?
The amazing thing about it though is that it can work the other way around.
Reasons don’t ALWAYS lead to excuses. Reasons can, and should, spur positive changes that will inspire, challenge, and ultimately decimate the crutches (excuses) that are lame attempts to hold us back, to feel defensive, and to appear defeated. I’m not just speaking fluff – people have done it.
Being paralyzed from the waist down at 39 years of age did not stop American President Franklin D. Roosevelt from being elected to office four times. Albert Einstein was initially rejected from college for failing the entrance exam, and is yet now known as the modern Father of Physics. Oprah Winfrey was born to a poverty-stricken single teenage mother in rural Mississippi, and today, she is the queen of her own media empire and one of the most inspiring women of our times. Jim Carrey followed a very similar path – can you imagine the famous actor once lived in a van with his entire family after his father lost his job? Beethoven started losing his hearing at the age of 26, but that didn’t deter him from composing his symphony masterpieces. And how about Stevie Wonder? He has the most number of Grammy awards ever received by a single male recording artist; he is labeled as being one of the greatest performers who ever lived, and he has been blind since birth.
These are just a sprinkling of some of the influential people in today’s society who have overcome great obstacles – a lot of times, right from the very beginning of their journey. They defied the odds that were stacked against them, and never made excuses for their lack of resources. Yes, there are a million reasons why none of them should have ever succeeded in life, but they did. Yes, they had their reasons for why things were the way they were, but those reasons did not translate into excuses for allowing such debilitating circumstances to continue the same way. They made no excuses; they fought, and they emerged victorious.
(On a related sidenote: My boys and I are currently reading Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different by Ben Brooks, and loving every single story of hardworking dedication, gritty perseverance, and inspiring resilience).
Reasons will always exist, but excuses don’t have to follow suit.
The obsessive need to defend and to justify that defense is just a cover up for the fear one feels in staring failure straight in the eye, and accepting it for what it is.
Yes, you failed, but so what? Get up, dust yourself off, and try again.