When I was in sixth grade I lived in an area filled with kids my age. It seemed any time of the day I could go outside and find someone to have fun with. Whether football, hide & seek or skateboarding, it was all readily available. Times were tough financially for my family, but none of that mattered to a kid with playmates to occupy the days.
One day in particular, I suffered a few cuts and leg bruises. In fact, by the close of this day I would have about 10 stitches in my knee and some other bumps to go along with that. Here’s what happened, a kid named Nathaniel or as I called him, Nate was riding his bike. Before I can continue, let me preface this story by saying I use the term ‘bike’ very loosely. Keep in mind this is a time of transition for my mother, who is a newly single mother and divorcee. So I was learning how to make due with whatever I had. Many in the neighborhood would comb the area for parts to build a bike. You could find a tire, a frame and then partner with someone else who had the rest of what you needed. In a few days you could have a fairly functional bicycle. But whether it was safe is another story all together.
I ended up borrowing such a bike from Nate. As was our custom, when you prepared to ride, there was a list of do’s and don’ts; a sort of disclaimer. I ignored Nate’s warnings and after a few short peddles I pulled back on the handlebars to pop a wheelie. The handlebars moved, but the front tire stayed on the ground. I ended up doing a flip off the backside of the bike, tumbled a few times and quickly learned I landed on glass. Let’s just say my mother was not pleased she had to spend the evening in the emergency room.
As I thought of this experience, it reminded me of the many disclaimers we give out to people as we meet them. We say things like, “Be careful, I’m an angry person” or “I’ve been abused so I have a tough time trusting others.” All this information, while it may be true, doesn’t necessitate being revealed to those you meet. Often it is more of an excuse for limiting behavior than it is a disclaimer for their protection. I began to put together the most commonly used disclaimers so we can use them as a checklist to avoid over sharing.
•I’m still a work in progress: I set out to address this one first, because as a coach I hear it a lot. As pious as it sounds, it is most often a cop out! I’ve found that people who are sincere about transformation and development have little use for this excuse. The ones who are content in staying stuck will throw this out quickly. It’s their badge of honor to justify unproductive behavior. Ask yourself, how long is long enough? And at what point should certain work be complete?
•Loyalty should mean unlimited tolerance: Wrong again. When I coach a person through tough relationship issues, the question of loyalty often comes up. I believe that loyalty should NEVER become a prison. If you live in a state of feeling obligated to pay someone back for standing by you, it leaves room for manipulation. What we do should be freely given with no strings attached. Too often that is not the case. I know people who have been incarcerated by their loved ones for decades because of a kind deed done. As much as it is appreciated, love and loyalty do not mean an automatic pass for eternity however.
•I’m doing all I know to do: This is an easy one to fix. When we know better, we can do better. If you ever find yourself in the situation where you feel limited because of a lack of knowledge, what you must do is expand your skill base. The level you are on is supported by the information you have. To go to a higher level, it will take importing more. Without it you will always be too short to reach your next assignment. You will stretch and out of sheer frustration lash out that people should be patient because you’re deficient. But the only reason you are deficient is you haven’t positioned yourself for greater capacity.
It took a couple of weeks for my wounds to get better. To this day I bare the reminders of my stunt. Experience is a tough instructor to learn from. But I feel I have walked away with some valuable life lessons that have carried me through tough times. At the top of the list is understanding that I can make progress or I can make excuses, but I can never do both.
“Excuses are tools of the incompetent
which create monuments
Those who specialize in them
are seldom good in anything”