What does no excuses feel like?
One of the themes that I write about is what it feels like to go through life with chronic pain or chronic illness. It’s one of the things that I write about because I don’t think that it’s easy in this culture that values strength and hides weakness to hide pain and the things that might hold us back (if we let them).
I hope that it’s fairly obvious that when I write a story to publish it, and the story is about me, that although I’m writing from the first person, I’m trying to talk about all of us. A story isn’t worth much if it isn’t something that connects with the reader and makes them feel something or imagine something or drive them to action in a brand new way.
Tonight, I was thinking about what I was going to write, and out of some of the conversations Chris and I have been having about life and work, I want to share a strategy that I had that helped me get through college when I was still sort of re-learning how to walk.
I got to college after having my hips replaced, and having spent most of high school either not walking at all or in the hospital or rehabbing. My high school experience was pretty…lets say unique. Depending on how you look at it, I was heading into college without much prep (since high school had been more about being in bed than studying), or I was heading into college as the kid who had refused to stop pushing forward.
In reality, both are probably true.
I didn’t get anywhere near the “typical” high school experience. I spent more time at home and in a lot of pain than I spent in class or studying, so I wasn’t as prepared for college as I might have been.
On the other hand, I had taught myself to walk again and more or less hadn’t realized that there was an option called “giving up” and was pretty determined to get through this next phase of life. There’s something to be said for having your hips replaced and getting back up again, I suppose.
But I was heading to college, and I remember my father taking me aside and giving me some incredible wisdom that I still carry with me today.
He told me that there would be some times that I’d probably be in pain or be suffering in college, and there would be times that I’d need to listen to that and rest, but most of the time it wouldn’t matter if I had more to deal with than my classmates would. I’d need to find a way to push through.
He told me I had the choice to let my life circumstances get in the way of doing the work that I wanted to do, but if I started living that way in college, there was a good chance I’d be holding myself back from what I could accomplish. And that was a choice I could make every day.
I didn’t want to live with any excuses. I knew that this was something I’d simply have to deal with.
And what I came to realize in college was that plenty of my classmates had their own private struggles they were dealing with. One friend of mine had to quit the soccer team to work because his dad had gone to prison. Other friends had incredible anxiety and depression that made it hard to get out of bed.
I’m not sure how to compare any struggle I might have with any of the things I knew my friends were battling, or with the more hidden pain that people have but don’t want to share with the world.
And I figure there are people all around us battling through massive amounts of pain whether we know it or not. And a big reason I write is to honor those stories and that pain, and the refusal to let it drag you down.
So after my dad told me I had a choice to let pain be an excuse or not, I knew that I had a choice. I could fall short and have an excuse, or I could find a way to get done what needed doing. To do well in spite of whatever might come along.
So each year I’d walk into all my professors’ offices to have a really brief conversation.
Hey, I want you to know I have this thing going on with me. I’d like you to be aware of it in case I need you to understand why I’m moving a bit slow in class from time to time. But I also want you to know that I’m not interested in this pain being something that I use as an excuse for not doing the work. If I need help or extra time, I’ll let you know. But if I ask, I want you to know that I actually need the help, not that I’m making any excuses.
Hope this helps.
Austin W. Gunter
Originally published at www.austingunter.com on September 20, 2016.