Kill Your Excuses or They Will Kill You

By Gary Z McGee, The Mind Unleashed

“You are alive only if you embrace (some) volatility.” ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Excuses are like assholes, everybody has one. But there’s nothing saying you can’t take the necessary steps toward overcoming them.

Excuses are little bastard killjoys that will suck the joy out of your life if you let them. They are psychological hang-ups, tantamount to mental tripwires or psychosomatic speed-bumps. If you allow enough of them to pile up they can turn into a near insurmountable wall that will prevent your comfort zone from stretching into healthier horizons. Such walls are stifling. Deadly even. Deadly to creativity. Deadly to vitality. Deadly to living a life well-lived.

Lest you fall victim to living a life half-lived, it’s paramount that you kill your excuses before they kill your joy. Pick-off those little fuckers with the slingshot of your courage. Line them up. Take aim. Get out of your own way. Risk defeat.

Sometimes overcoming excuses is as simple as gritting your teeth and taking a leap of courage into the unknown. Sometimes it’s more complicated than that. But when it really comes down to it, it’s either overcome your excuses or become overwhelmed by them. Here are a couple ways to kill your excuses before they kill you.

Riskaphobia and the art of self-overcoming:

“I prefer a short life with width to a narrow life with length.” ~Avicenna

Fighting for the better at risk of the worst is far superior to shirking the better in fear of the worst. Similarly, worst case scenarios should not be avoided at the expense of healthy progress; healthy progress should be embraced at the risk of worst case scenarios.

This matters just as much for striving toward enlightenment and utopia as it does for striving toward healthy evolution. The journey is the thing, but the journey must not be risk-averse. Otherwise, the journey becomes a stagnation, a stifling comfort zone, a stubborn torpor, an unproductive inertia.

Otherwise, we don’t get anywhere but where we are: stuck, fixed, caught up in the daily grind, inflexible. Which is okay if “where we are” is perfect. But since perfection is not possible, we should always be willing to risk upsetting the all-too-precious apple cart of the status quo in order to progressively evolve into a healthier species.

Here’s the thing: Life is risky. A life well-lived is riskier still. And a creative life is riskiest of all. But the only reason we’ve made it this far as a species is because a tiny minority of our ancestors were prominent risk-takers. They dared to push the edges of their secure culture despite the insecure status quo. They embraced adventure despite the adventure-less majority. They overcame their fear despite the fearful mainstream.

How did they do it? They overcame themselves: their fears, their doubts. They overcame both decidaphobia and riskaphobia. They strategically decided to act courageously despite the potential risk.

Had they not creatively adapted to new environments and overcome the vicissitudes of life, our species would have died off long ago. Creativity, adaptability, and self-overcoming all require risk. So we might as well become better risk takers. We should do this despite the decidaphobia and riskaphobia of the masses. Otherwise, their reticence, their on-the-fence vacillation, their cowardice, will stagnate us all and prevent our species from progressively evolving in a healthier way.

As Alan Watts said, “What one needs in this universe is not certainty but the courage and nerve of the gambler; not fixed conviction but adaptability; not firm ground whereupon to stand but skill in swimming.”

Antifragility and the art of becoming better gamblers:

“Success is failure turned inside out.” ~John Greenleaf Whittier

Developing the nerve of a gambler is the key to killing the excuses that plague you.

Beyond flexibility, beyond robustness, there is Nassim Taleb’s concept of Antifragility. Where fragility loses from disorder, and robustness breaks even, antifragility gains. Being antifragile is being a thing that benefits from disorder. A good mythological example is the Hydra. When you cut off one head, two more take its place.

Before rebirth (caterpillar), we are ignorant, codependent, and fragile. After rebirth (Phoenix), we are knowledgeable, independent, and robust. After well-practiced multiple rebirths (Hydra), we become wise, interdependent, and antifragile.

The key to adaptability, indeed the key to becoming better gamblers, is to transform our independent inner-Phoenix that is resilient to disorder into an interdependent inner-hydra that gains from disorder.

Because here’s the thing: we will fail. We will fail again and again. We will make excuses. We are fallible and imperfect, after all. We are prone to make mistakes, sometimes even despite our best efforts. So, the question becomes: what can we do about it? Samuel Beckett had some great advice on the subject: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Seen through the lens of antifragility, mistakes are more like steppingstones, pivot points, and serendipitous improvisation than setbacks or hang-ups. Failure just becomes new information along the path, and it can even be an improvement in the process when it inadvertently diverts us from the typical and leads us into the atypical or even the mystical.

An artist, adventurer, or gambler can easily look back on his/her life’s work and see how mistakes and failure played a critical role in providing steppingstones that helped them climb out of creative ruts, daily grinds, and existential depressions. Whereas excuses were almost always fragile handicaps.

As artists, as gamblers, we need only be courageous and daring enough to fail, and fail quickly, with our next step, and then be double-dog daring enough to fail better with the one after that. It’s all a process. It’s all art. It’s all a gamboling gamble. What matters is how courageous we are with the process. The more daring we are to fail and to improve upon our failures, the more likely we are to live a life of fearlessness, and the less likely we are to live a life half-lived wallowing in excuses.

Our ability to capitalize on mistakes with imaginative improvisation (interdependent antifragile hydra) rather than woe-is-me victimization (codependent fragile caterpillar), makes us more adaptable to the life-death-rebirth process of fearlessness and less likely to grow stagnant, stuck in a rut, and obstructed from expanding ourselves into further self-overcoming.

It’s a matter of living life to the fullest, knowing mistakes will happen; rather than merely existing, fearful of making any mistakes. As Bob Dylan once said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” Indeed. He not busy transforming through antifragile rebirth is busy dying through fragile stagnation.


Image: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock. 

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