“When _______, I’ll start ________.” Is that an excuse or a valid statement?
Sometimes you legitimately need one thing to happen before another thing can happen. You can’t drive your car until someone shovels the driveway. You can’t go to work until you are dressed. You can’t eat dinner before someone cooks it.
Other things are clearly excuses. Consider these…
I’ll start exercising when the weather warms up.
I’ll focus on my business when the kids go back to school.
I’ll figure out a plan after I graduate.
What’s the difference between situations such as not driving before the driveway is shovels and waiting for Spring to exercise.
In the first case, you are waiting for something that you can control. In the second, you are not.
If you are saying that you can’t drive until the driveway is shoveled, then the next logic step is to shovel the driveway. You can shovel it faster or slower. The way and speed at which you shovel will determine the timing and effectiveness of the next step of driving.
In fact, if your goal is to drive somewhere, there is no better course of action at this time that to pick up that shovel and get to work.
In the other case, if you are waiting for warm weather to exercise, then there is no next step. The only step you have is to wait. It’s not your fault. There’s nothing you can do. So you sit on the couch, watch Netflix, and eat chips.
Prerequisites Are Not Excuses
There was a period in my business where I was in an R&D phase, determining my audience and offer. There was no revenue, so I worked weekends doing gig work to pay the bills. This meant I was working 7 days a week. Naturally, some compromises had to made during that time in terms of relationships, health, etc.
Sometimes I would talk to people about health and relationship goals, explaining that I am doing what I can at this time, and that I am making no further efforts until I’m able to stop working weekends. They would object that I was making an excuse and should start taking action now.
They were wrong. I had neither the time nor focus to dedicate to that, and doing so would have taken energy away from the focus on getting revenue so that the weekends could be freed up, making space for other areas of attention.
Driving business revenue was a prerequisite for focusing more on my health and relationships. Once I achieved that, resources were freed up and could be redeployed towards these new goals.
What’s the difference between prerequisites and excuses? A prerequisite is something that you have agency over while an excuse is something you are powerless over.
As soon as I determined the right offer, found the right strategy, or gained the right clients, I could move to the next things. Focusing on those next things would have compromised fulfilling the prerequisite.
On the other hand, no matter how hard you work, spring will not come one day sooner. Thus, there is nothing to be done.
Another way to know if it’s an excuse is if it lets you do less work. During my R&D period, I was doing a lot of work. A lot of work. But it was not on my exercise or diet.
If you can justify a lack of action with the idea that there’s nothing you can do anyway, especially if your alternative activity is leisure, then we’re talking about an excuse.
Leisure and Recreation Can be Prerequisites Themselves If You’re Careful
The danger of the thinking above is that it may not leave space for proper self care. As you find yourself fatigued or even approaching burnout, you may interpret your need for rest as an excuse.
This is not necessarily so.
The key element of a prerequisite is that if gives you a next step which you can follow. Perhaps you have a big project, and you want to take two days off to get centered and focused. That is now your next step. It is clear and measurable: Take two days, become clear and focused, start project.
In fact, it is possible to make excuses for not taking time off and make excuses for not taking care of yourself.
If you were looking for a black and white, clear cut life solution, this isn’t it. But the concept of excuse versus prerequisite can be a very valuable one when considering your choices.
Michael Whitehouse is The Guy Who Knows a Guy. He is a networking concierge, connecting people to people they need to know to grow their business and improve their life. He is also the host of the daily Morning Motivation podcast at https://www.morningmotivation.fun.