“I can’t,” she said.
An excuse then followed.
I suggested an alternative, which brought forth another excuse. Her rapid-fire <I>Why Nots<P> slapped my words to the side before they’d traveled an inch past my lips.
She couldn’t meet a man because. Couldn’t change jobs because. Couldn’t take classes because. Couldn’t lose weight because.
She kept adding bricks to her wall of excuses. Had it so high there was no way she could achieve any of the things she claimed to want for her life. Yet at the same time, that wall protected her, as it kept her from failing. You can’t fail if you can’t try, and you can’t try if you’ve got a big honking wall of excuses preventing you from putting yourself out there.
“It’s not my fault,” she said.
“I would if I could,” she said.
“I just want it handed to me on a platter,” my in-the-head-but-not-out-loud voice said for her. “Delivered to my door, and then laid at my feet.”
I didn’t know her well enough to fully speak my mind, but later, I kept thinking of things I wish I had said. Wished I’d told her that her excuses aren’t a safety net, but a trap. One that will keep her unhappy and dissatisfied and missing out on so much of what life has to offer.
Just last week, I was skimming a writing-related newsletter by Hope Clark, a South Carolina writer and speaker, when I ran across Clark’s piece about writers whose reaction, when confronted with an opportunity, was to immediately say why they couldn’t do it. She said they did so without flinching. Without even stopping to consider how they might.
“So many writers see the obstacles before they envision the opportunity,” she wrote. “They feel the pain before they get injured. Flinch before they are pricked.”
I loved what she said next. She told those people to go ahead and be afraid.
“Go ahead and hold back, fearful of what to do next, because that just gives me and all these other people the chance to pass you by and make something of ourselves.”
By thinning themselves from the herd, they leave more for those who are willing to try. The thing is—most people are every bit as afraid, but they still manage to push themselves. And sometimes, the most doggedly determined aren’t even people.
There’s a video making the rounds on the internet of a determined honey badger that lives on the Moholoholo Rehab center for wildlife in South Africa. This badger, named Stoffel, is a total Houdini, and the video features some of his many escapes. (Click here to see video.)
He unlocks fences, digs under walls, unwinds wire. Enlists a second badger as his assistant. After walls are constructed—which his keepers dub the “Honey Badger Alcatraz”—Stoffel climbs a tree and rides the branches down to freedom. After the tree is cut down, the badger digs up rocks and uses his strong hind legs to roll them into a corner, where he climbs to freedom. After the rocks are removed, he makes mud balls, which he then stacks and climbs.
The film of this badger’s many escapes include him maneuvering a tire to the wall, carrying a large stick on his back, finagling a garden rake into an element of escape. Time and again, he finds a way to scale that wall.
What I found most interesting is that Stoffel mustn’t truly want to escape, since once he’s free, he just hangs around (or tries to break INTO the home of a conservationist who lives at the Center).
It seems the badger’s goal isn’t what’s on the other side of that wall, but in finding a <I>way<P> over that wall.
So many of us, when in our own Alcatraz, will just sit and stare at what keeps us confined. We won’t even try to escape. We’ll just sit, snugly unhappy under a blanket of excuses, feeling sorry for ourselves.
And at the end, we’ll be wrapped with regrets. Wishing for relationships we were afraid to have, for chances we didn’t take, and decisions we waited too long to make.