Unpacking Excuses — The Legitimate Ones, the Not-So-Legitimate Ones, and Everything In Between
The dishwasher noise is distracting me.
I should order our meat for the month.
Those LinkedIn notifications have been there an awfully long time, maybe I should check them.
The topic I was planning on writing about isn’t ready to be written yet.
I’m just so exhausted.
Shoot, I don’t have a dress for Adelaide to wear to my cousin’s wedding in two weeks.
I wonder when our rowing machine will be delivered today?
A list of excuses for why I don’t want to write this week. (But seriously, the dishwasher is really bothering me. I had to make it stop.)
So let’s talk about excuses today vs. the realities of life.
The scenario I see all the time is a client is trying to make progress on their goal but some very legitimate-sounding things happen in their life. They need to help an aging parent, a pet is sick, kids are going back to school, they get sick themselves, the grandkids are visiting, and so on. One of my clients even had her house burn down.
What I see happen with coaches is their clients come to them with these scenarios and they either totally buy into the story and let the client off the hook, or they play hardball with the client and make the client feel like it’s their fault and they should just ignore the situation and get back to work. I have absolutely done both of these before.
Because now what I understand is that both can be true, plus a spectrum in between. It’s all about how we perceive our situation and what we make it mean. Our self-doubt can also get pretty sneaky and disguise itself as a legitimate-sounding situation and use it to its advantage.
There are lots of times that life legitimately prevents you from working
When you have a sick child, or when your laptop crashes, you pretty much have no choice but to stop what you’re doing and deal with it. Yes, you could borrow a laptop. Yes, maybe someone else can look after your kid. But regardless, it’s still going to cause an unexpected disruption to say the least. And that’s not mentioning the big, huge bombshells that could come like a scary diagnosis or a death in the family.
I have some tips later for mitigating these interruptions, but ultimately, we have to treat ourselves with compassion and grace. Part of being human is having human experiences like these, and we’ll never be able to prevent them or manage them completely. As entrepreneurs, most of us don’t have paid vacation or sick days to fall back on, and we can’t just “take leave” and come back when we’re ready. (And I realize this is different in all parts of the world, and employees in Canada typically have more social assistance than other places, but entrepreneurs are pretty much self-reliant everywhere as far as I know.)
There are lots of times when the excuses don’t hold up and are pretty shallow
Like the ones I had today. I just needed to sit my butt down and get writing. They were in procrastination territory because I didn’t have a clear plan and it was something I didn’t want to do. Some of the things I listed I just dealt with (like stopping the dishwasher and texting my friend to see if she has a dress I can borrow), some I’ll put on a list to deal with later. And I’ll take a little break during my writing to have some chocolate cake ;)
Sometimes these can get into self-doubt territory, but often they’re about managing your environment, yourself, and your plan. Taking a small step into action might be all you need to tackle the bigger thing and forget the excuses. More like running through a sheet of paper instead of a solid brick wall.
But what about the ongoing demands on our time and big things that take us away from our work?
Things like caring for family, a big move, ongoing health challenges, among other things. These are where the lines are blurred between something you control and something out of your control. You have some level of choice about how much you let the thing stop you or not. In these situations, there is often self-doubt that swings you towards the side of getting derailed by the demand. This is completely normal, and a totally human thing to do.
If we’re facing self-doubt, our Protector will use very legitimate-sounding things to keep us safe. If you take the moving example, one person might maintain a regular work schedule (maybe working a little less than usual) and handle the move in non-work time, or hire someone to help with the move. Another person might agonize over every detail of the move, focus on that most of the time, and do very little work in a completely unfocused way. If your work is especially confronting or challenging, your Protector could see the move as an opening to avoid your work as a way of keeping you safe from those risks.
Neither of these scenarios are wrong; the goal is to be in choice about your response. It’s when you end up doing the second option but are frustrated that you’re not able to get more work done that you run into a problem. This is where working with a coach, or even a therapist, can be especially helpful. Being able to identify the differences between an event that temporarily and necessarily takes you away from your work and an event that is helping you avoid your work is an important skill.
It’s worth noting the societal pressure that are placed on women to be the primary caregiver, and we’re often the default partner or sibling to handle caring for family. Beyond that, one of the ways self-doubt can show up is as a martyr, so you can end up with a double-whammy here. It becomes a lot to untangle!
How to mitigate the impact of a big, unavoidable thing
These are long-term, preventative practices to make your business more resilient to whatever life throws at you:
- have some savings (or at least stay on top of your debts and keep expenses to a minimum)
- design your work for flexibility
- work with great clients that understand the humanness of life
- keep lines of communication open even when things are going great
- ask for help, and have a support system lined up (Virtual Assistants are awesome for this)
- diversify your income
- have appropriate insurance
- get to know yourself and your patterns so you can tell when you’re stuck in a self-doubt loop
What to do if it’s self-doubt that’s driving your derailment
- create a courage-based plan and start doing the easiest, most doable things first
- work with a self-belief coach or therapist
- try some experiments to get you out of your rut
- review the types of procrastination to make sure you’ve addressed the non-self-doubt obstacles
- consider setting better boundaries between you and other people or just for yourself
- know that every minute you have the chance to make a different choice
- surround yourself with people who lift you up and bring out the best in you
Just know you’re not always going to get this right and shit is gonna happen. None of this is black and white, and every decision we make is nuanced and layered. We can just do our best and try to get through it with grace.
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