The Excuses Experiment
And the astonishing results
Vanessa was in her thirties but she still vividly remembered those days back in high school when she got her report cards. She dreaded those days. She would hand the report cards to her father then sit down in her chair at the dining table.
Her father took the report cards then sat down in his chair at the head of the table. With him it was not just a matter of looking at her grades and expressing a general satisfaction or dissatisfaction. He went through each class and demanded an explanation for the grade she got in each class.
“A C in biology? Seriously? Why did you get a C in biology?”
“Because we were dissecting frogs and it creeped me out. I hated it.”
“Vanessa, that is not a reason. It’s an excuse! If you are ‘creeped out’ then you need to get over that so that you can learn.”
“You got a B in English? Really? I thought you liked English.”
“I do but Ms. Jenkins thinks my poetry is too whiny.”
“Well I’m not surprised! You’re a very whiny girl, Vanessa. You’re always making excuses! If you were to ever stop whining and do the work then you will finally find success! This better be an A next time!”
“A C- in algebra? What’s your excuse for that?”
“It’s really, really hard!”
“Vanessa, that’s the most pathetic excuse in the whole world. If something is really, really hard then you’ve got to really, really double down and learn it. You obviously did not study enough. The harder something is, the harder you’ve got to work for success. Stop making excuses and stop being such a weakling! If this pathetic C- doesn’t turn into an A then you can forget about camp this summer. Gosh Vanessa, you’re such a disappointment.”
And so it went. Her grades were the measure by which her father judged her. She was a constant disappointment. Even that one time she got 5 A’s and one B in her senior year he expressed how disappointed he was that she did not get straight A’s. She started believing that she was a disappointment and that so was life.
At the age of 35, Vanessa had a major epiphany. It happened on the day she and her boyfriend Aiden broke up. In the two years of their relationship it was by far their worst fight — and they had several. Tempers were at a fever pitch. They were both yelling at each other.
And then Aiden pointed a finger at her and yelled, “I’m done with you Van! You are such a fucking disappointment!”
And that is when all the anger suddenly drained out of Vanessa. It just dissipated into thin air. She suddenly could no longer remember what she was mad about or what they were fighting about. As she looked at Aiden she saw her father. Why did she end up with a boyfriend who was just like her father?
Looking at Aiden, whose face was red with rage, she was abruptly filled with peace. Putting her hand on her hip and tilting her head to the side, she very calmly said, “Fuck you, Aiden.”
Vanessa turned and walked towards the door of Aiden’s apartment. She left. Going down the steps she became lighter and happier and more relieved with each step. Leaving the apartment building, she felt better than she had in months.
When she got to her car she started to cry. Her father had died five years earlier and before he died Vanessa had never taken the opportunity to say to him, “Fuck you, Daddy!”
If only she had done that then perhaps their relationship could have ended in peace. Perhaps the barrier between them could have been breached.
She realized that her relationship with Aiden was a way of bringing closure to her relationship with her father. She was now finished with being a disappointment. She now lived her life for herself… and the big challenge was not to judge herself as a disappointment. The one thing that was certain from that moment on was that she was not going to let anyone else judge her as a disappointment.
The day after her breakup with Aiden Vanessa went to the stationery store. She bought a small notebook that she could keep in her purse. On the cover of the notebook she wrote, “E & R.”
The E stood for excuses and the R stood for reasons. She decided to keep a journal of all the decisions she made every day. She decided to conduct an experiment. On the left side of the page she would list all the excuses she had for making a decision and on the right side she listed all the reasons she had for making a decision. She wanted to learn how much of her decision-making was based on excuses and how much was based on solid reasoning.
It was very eye-opening to her. She realized that a lot of her excuses were reasons and a lot of her reasons were excuses. More importantly, she realized that most all of her excuses and reasoning were based on judgment.
She began to see how so much of what she listed on either side of the page was based on the conditioned habit of seeing herself as a disappointment. Excuses and reasons all seemed to have a basis in self-judgment.
Without judgment there is no disappointment. Without judgment there is no need for excuses. Without judgment there is no need to reason. She realized that judgment was a mental habit and that is how she was conditioned to react to life.
When the notebook was completely filled — and it did not take long — she read through every word of it then threw it away. She pledged to herself that she would stop making excuses and that she would stop trying to reason her reactions. Most importantly, she pledged to stop judging herself. That is when things finally changed for Vanessa.
That is when she set herself free.