On the common error of confusing reasons and excuses

A very good friend of mine recently wrote a great post on pushing through excuses to do the things you love, even on days when you’re not in the mood to do them. And it lit a fire under my ass. Steph’s good at lighting fires under my ass. It’s one of the (many) reasons I love the woman.

A month and a half into my most recent bout of travel, I had a lot of excuses for why I wasn’t living up to the goals I’d set for myself. From keeping up with regular posts on a shiny new blog site to the photo sets that remained sorted, but unpublished, on my desktop, to the neglected runners that had only seen about 6 km of Indian trails to the deadline for travel submissions to an anthology that had come and gone. . .why wasn’t I keeping up with this stuff?

Well, there was the initial round of unexpected culture shock I’d been slammed with upon arrival in Delhi. Paired with general jet lag, it took me a couple days to find my feet. Then there was the general minutia of getting set up in a new place you’ll be traveling in long term; arranging a working sim card, laying down the initial frame-work of your route and just developing a general sense of how basic things work in the area, from food to transportation to usual social rules.

And I felt like any time I had left I wanted to use to squeeze every ounce out of Delhi I could, while I was still in the city. Rishikesh, I told myself, I’ll get things sorted in Rishikesh. It’ll be calmer there. And all the time I was telling myself this, little warning bells were going off in the back of my mind that reminded me this excuse sounded awfully familiar, even if the locale didn’t. It sounded an awful lot like a pattern that had been tried and failed already.

Still, how much can pile up in 10 days, right?

Rishikesh was quiet, technically, but still filled with its own set of frustrations. Lining up the Enfields turned out to be quite the time vampire, as did, unexpectedly, sorting out a 3G internet connection via a USB key. And at the end of a long, trying day, it always seemed a much better plan to chill out around a bonfire with the local travelers than it did to hit the grind of attempting to pound out words on a laptop that was lacking the connection I’d need to upload the post upon completion.

Then there was the bout of food poisoning. And needing to take the bikes on a test run. And the approaching date of Holi for which we wanted to be in Vrindavan. And. And. And. . .

And it was all bullshit.

I knew that truth the entire time, but somehow managed to avoid looking directly at it. Traveling doesn’t have quiet moments. Not unless you lock yourself away from all places and people entirely. And then what the hell would you write about? Hell, even then there’s the distraction of the internet (which I did manage to set up in the end).

Steph made the same point in her post: It’s easier to come up with excuses for why you’re not doing something than it is to buckle down and do it. Better? No. More enjoyable? Not even. But easier, yes. Easier to float through life on auto-pilot, dealing only with what you have to, than to make the conscious decision to act, now, of your own volition.

Sometimes there are valid reasons to put things off. The moment when I’m heaving my guts up into my en suite toilet is not the time to chide myself for not going out for a run that day (which is not to say I didn’t have that conversation with myself all the same). Sometimes life does just full out sock you right in the mouth and excess things need to get dropped just so you can manage to stay on your feet.

But few things really fall into that category. Most obstacles we face are ones we, ourselves, are at least somewhat responsible for. Many things we tell ourselves we need to do are, in fact, things we choose to do; things we choose to do over other things. Because we’re afraid. Or feel trapped in a pattern. Or are unwilling to make the sacrifice.

There were a lot of things I thought I wanted to do in the past, but could never seem to find the time for. From unread texts to unused gym equipment to unwatched documentaries, I had a task list a mile long that I hadn’t scratched anything off of in a very long time. I used to think it was because I just didn’t have the time. Work was demanding, and it felt like any pockets of ‘free’ time I had were needed to refuel energy and sanity reserves just to get through the next round of it.

Which was a half truth. Work was demanding and I did often feel drained. But that wasn’t why I wasn’t doing those things. I wasn’t doing them because I didn’t care enough about them. If I did, I would have made the time.

The hard truth of the matter was that I didn’t actually want to do them. I wanted the acknowledgment that would have come from accomplishing them, from hanging them on my mantle, so to speak. I wanted the personal pride and the feeling of a job well done. . .but I didn’t actually want to do 50% of the specific tasks on that list. I wasn’t willing to put the hard hours in. Which was why I kept finding reasons to put it off.

And the other 50%? I’d try and cram them in when I could, or do a half-assed job of them. Because I was burned out from work and was trapped in the mentality that it always, always came first. Before rest, before pleasure, even before the relationships in my life. Work first, then whatever else you can manage to call up the mental faculties to manage.

Which was why I ended up making the very difficult decision to leave a trade I’d spent 7 years honing. Or at least to take a break from it. I still love tattooing, and remain eternally grateful for everything it has given me but right now, at this moment in time, I just don’t know how to make it and a life work. And there are other things that I want for myself, more than it. So I need to shift my focus, to realign my priorities such that the first thing I do is the thing most important to me.

Flash back to the present day and the unanswered messages and the disorganized desktop and I’m feeling that maybe that was all bullshit and I just have some serious motivational problems. I’d thought long and hard about this – about wanting to stay active, wanting to write, to share more of my travels with people – so why wasn’t I doing it? Shit, did this not matter to me as much as I thought?

Cue fire.

Oh no, some rough, hard part of me replied, none of that shit. I know you want this so sit the fuck down and grind it out. You’re not so far behind, it won’t take so much to get back on track. And then you keep at it, stop with the fucking excuses. Make it work. If you want it bad enough, you will.

The current prevalence of phlegm in my lungs might be preventing me from pounding out those push-ups but nothing was stopping me from organizing those photo sets and getting them live. Or from laying down the blog posts that had been spinning around in my mind, including this one.

And so, a couple days later, I’m back on track. Finished with the puttering about and caught up to the present day and ready to stick with it. Because this is important to me. This, and other goals I’d set for myself, other projects I want to devote myself to. Some of which may very well fall through, because that’s the other thing that makes us put things off: the fear of failing entirely at something new.

But if things do fall through, it damn well won’t be because I didn’t give it my all.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to get all the small things tidied away before we can embark on the BIG projects, but the truth of the matter is most things need to get accomplished in the in-between spaces, with a messy desktop and unfinished things around you. We need to be able to ignore those distractions, the unswept corners and the uncertain tomorrows, and focus fully in what time we can carve out on the things we’re most passionate about.

If we love them, we will.

So how about it – what, that you want for yourself, have you been constantly delegating to your back-burner?

And, more importantly, being honest with yourself, why is it really still there?

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One thought on “On the common error of confusing reasons and excuses

  1. “And, more importantly, being honest with yourself, why is it really still there?”

    Good one. And, designated fire-lighter or not, I’ve got shit on that list, too. But, hey, it wouldn’t be a list if I couldn’t periodically re-examine and purge the crap out of it.

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