The Reason Is...
A reason is a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event. It’s an excuse for our failure.
I overheard a conversation while grabbing a few groceries the other day. A mom was asking her son why he got a failing grade on an exam at school. As I hear, all to often, he started his response with a simple phrase I’ve heard a lot over the years…
The reason is…
Then he went on to give this long, drawn-out explanation as to why he didn’t have time to study because was too busy between basketball practice and his part-time job. Plus, he added, he intended to study the night before, but his girlfriend was having a bad night and he had to text her for hours to make her feel better while he was watching his favorite NBA team play on TV.
I was waiting for the family dog to be dragged into the conversation.
You know, the dog ate his textbook (and his class notes) so he couldn’t study for the exam.
Reasoning has many definitions, but the one I want to focus on for today’s leadership insight is this:
A reason is a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.
It’s an excuse, nothing more and nothing less.
The reason is ____________. (Fill in the excuse of your choice.)
Even very famous people have given some bizarre reasons for their bad behavior for a long time.
In 2009, actor Woody Harrelson attacked a TMZ photographer at LaGuardia Airport. His “reason” for attacking the photographer and smashing his camera? According to CNN, he thought the photographer was a zombie.
The actor Charlie Sheen completely wrecked his hotel room at the Plaza Hotel in 2010. His “reason” for trashing the hotel room? According to the Huffington Post, an allergic reaction to his medication.
During Winona Ryder’s trial, Entertainment Weekly reported her “reason” for shoplifting (according to testimony by a Saks Fifth Avenue Guard who detained her) was that she was preparing for a movie role and her director told her to “try it out.”
Ben Franklin once noted that anyone who is good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else. A couple of hundred years later, George Washington Carver quipped a similar opinion of “reasoning”:
“Ninety-five percent of failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.”
There’s a LOT of truth to those statements.
Should have, could have, almost, thought I was going to…how many times have we attempted to rationalize our failures, minimizing them in some way, rather than simply (1) owning them, and (2) learning and applying the lesson failure is trying to teach us?
There’s an old adage I share when I’m speaking from a stage, training in a business, or coaching a client. It’s a simple, but powerful truth that we need to acknowledge if we want to be more successful and get ahead in life.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the same results you’ve always gotten.”
Simply put, you will NEVER have more doing the same thing.
Expanded, this means you’ll never have MORE if you think, talk, and act the same way you’re thinking, talking, and acting right now.
Remember, thought precedes action. Action is our saying, doing, and becoming.
Simply put, as you think, you say, do, and become.
If you want to say, do, and become more, then you have to start thinking in a new and better way.
Here’s the problem.
It’s easier to rationalize (to make excuses) than it is to change.
In fact, I heard it said that making excuses has become so commonplace in society, it has become it’s own distinct style of communication. Apparently, we love rationalizing our failures because it keeps us from the harsh reality that we are to blame.
But until you OWN your failures, and stop rationalizing them, you’re only going to get more of the same.
One of my mentors, Chris Robinson, says it well, “It’s not that you can’t. It’s that you won’t. And that choice is yours.”
If “I can’t” means “I won’t”, that means you’re stuck, where you are, as you are, unwilling to change.
So, what’s the solution?
You’ve got to STOP making excuses, START owning your failures, LEARN the lessons failure is trying to teach you, and you’ve got to APPLY those lessons to your life.
We fail for a number of reasons. Lack of effort and a lack of discipline are often the culprits. This is followed closely by a lack of planning or a lack of persistence. Sometimes it is unrealistic expectations, a lack of research, or simply because we failed to ask for help or assistance.
Whatever the REAL reason for our failure, note who is responsible. It’s always us.
Failure rightly used, helps us grow, improve, learn, and become a better version of ourselves.
But it starts with owning failure…and realizing the root cause of failure stares us back in the mirror.
When you make an excuse or attempt to rationalize a failure or mistake, what you’re really doing is trying to absolve yourself of responsibility, obligation, or duty. How is that helping you? It’s not. Making an excuse is a refusal to challenge the status quo way of thinking, saying, or doing by giving yourself a “reason” why. That’s nothing more than an attempt to justify failure.
Thomas Edison could have justified his 10,000 failures before he finally figured out how to make the incandescent light bulb. Rather than make excuses or rationalize his failure away, he owned it, learned from it, and kept trying. I love his response when asked about his failures:
“I didn’t fail. I simply discovered 10,000 ways not to create the light bulb.”
He understood that you will never have more doing the same thing. So, in the words of John Maxwell, Edison failed, early, failed often, but kept failing forward. It’s one of the reasons he became one of the most prolific inventors in the modern era.
I enjoy the game of golf, and when I was younger I played it a lot. Today, not so much. I was meeting with a sales team in California and was invited to go play golf at a local 9-hole course. As expected, it wasn’t my best game. I mishit a lot of shots, lost more than my fair share of balls, and left more than a few putts short of the hole.
My golf buddies were kind. They offered several encouraging comments, but I could either make excuses for my game or own the fact that I was out of practice, and it showed. I chose to own it, enjoy the time in the beautiful redwoods of northern California, and have a fun day.
When I got home, I thought I’d hit one of the local courses and I could get my game back on track in one round. What was I thinking? I chose one of the most difficult courses in town, surrounded by water on multiple holes, and baptized nearly a dozen balls in the first nine holes.
My wife asked me when I got home how I played. My response, “I was consistently inconsistent.” She asked what that meant and we had a great laugh as I told her I did a better job of baptizing golf balls in the lake than hitting greens in regulation…or even hitting them at all.
Yeah, I could have made excuses, and believe me, I could have thought of a lot of them. The reason I put that ball in the lake is I used the wrong club. The reason I put another ball in the lake is that I had a bad lie. The reason I put three balls in the lake from the tee box is the wind kept pushing my balls toward the water. That would have been a perfect shot except for that tree limb sticking out over the fairway.
But all those excuses didn’t change the fact I was out of practice, and it showed.
I could lean into “The reason is…” or I could own it.
As someone who’s highly competitive, I really wanted to lean into the former, but I knew if I wanted to improve my game, I had to lean into the latter.
That is a lesson we can all learn and apply to our lives.
Let me leave you with this thought…
Leaders are not content to stay where they are, as they are. They challenge the status quo. They own their failures, learn from them, and apply what they learned so they don’t repeat those same failures in the future.
So, you have a choice.
Keep doing the same things the same way, and nothing changes in your life.
You stay where you are, as you are, stuck and unmoving.
Or you can embrace failure as a teacher, learn the lessons she’s trying to teach you, apply them to your life, and keep moving forward. Change is required to create a new and better outcome.
The reason is…
As you think, you become.
Once you stop thinking, you stop becoming.
Ben Franklin and George Washington Carver were right.
As you think about failure, you become a failure.
The reverse is also true.
As you think about success, you become a success.
The reason is…
It all comes down to a mindset, one of failure or success, and that choice is yours.
To borrow the words from the ancient Grail Knight, guardian of the Holy Grail:
“You must choose, but choose wisely.”
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