We speak in a language of “wants” in our society. It’s amazing how it screws us up.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll recall, places basic “needs” above “wants.” This means the things we need – food, water, shelter, warmth – have more importance to us than things we want, like a high-speed internet connection or One Direction videos or pictures of Vanilla Ice. Okay, maybe I’m alone on the last one there.
The way we talk about our lives, however, is increasingly out of touch with this needs/wants hierarchy. Young girls go all “FML” when they get an iPhone 4 for Christmas instead of an iPhone 5. Oh noes! Adolescent insolence is nothing new. More shocking is the way we as adults twist our words, making needs out of wants. It’s a very adult thing to do. And equally full of crap.
Want to lose weight? Don’t most of us? But do you really? Or are your “needs” – like your need to sit on the couch and watch Downton Abbey, wake up 30 minutes later, or your love for cheeseburgers - getting in your way?
That sounds stupid, but we all do this. When asked if we can do something, we respond reflexively with the very adult-sounding “I don’t have time,” and then we post how high our Angry Birds score is on Facebook. When facing a decision on something worthwhile – like advancing our education, volunteering for a good cause, attending a seminar, or going to the gym, we cop-out by placing something on the needs scale that isn’t a need – or doesn’t exist at all. I was going to help with that cancer-research thing, but I’m just too busy. My toaster really needs cleaning. It’s true. It’s disgusting.
It used to really bug me that parents would walk past toys in the store, children squawking behind asking for said toys, and their parents would respond with “we can’t afford that.” In some cases this was probably true. For many, though, it’s just another Easter Bunny lie, isn’t it? Why don’t these parents say what they really mean? Perhaps because “I’m not buying you another ten dollar piece of crap that you’ll play with for ten minutes and then whine at me until I break down and buy you another ten dollar piece of crap” is a bit more complicated. Sometimes the truth is more difficult, whether you’re telling it to your children – or to yourself.
“Own your sh*t.” That means take ownership of what comes out of your mouth. Make your words the truth: it’s much more freeing. Lying to yourself and to others, those little white lies about what you “must” do, about the horrible 1st-world restrictions placed on your life that prevent you from being greater, doing better, accomplishing more, is adding nothing but gibberish your life, making it less valuable because it’s more full of poop. It’s perfectly fine to want to read Fifty Shades of Grey again instead of helping with the church bake sale. But don’t blow them off with “I’m too busy” or some lameass excuse about having to recover from a spleen injury and then go lay on the couch. Own your laziness. Just tell them “no.” Why is “no” so hard for us?
One day Jim came over and asked if they could borrow Frank’s axe to chop firewood.
“No,” said Frank. “I’m making soup.”
“Making soup?” said Jim. “What does that have to do with borrowing your axe?”
“Nothing,” replied Frank, “But I don’t want to loan you my axe, so what difference does it make what excuse I give you?”
Own your sh*t. Frank owned his, but recognized that Jim probably needed some lame excuse to back it up. Can we admit to each other, without a bunch of lame excuses, that we just want to do what we want to do, and we don’t want to do what we don’t want to do? Is that so hard?
I’m not talking about “The Secret”, or some magical way to talk your hopes into realities by speaking it into existence. I’m talking about how we all deny ourselves peace by a) prioritizing the worst and b) justifying it with words that, well, suck. We deserve a fancy $4.00 coffee every day because we work so hard, but we apparently don’t deserve a retirement because we spent $4.00 on a cup of coffee every day of our working lives(Financial Advisors call this the cup of coffee analogy). We protect our faults by covering them with ennobling phrases instead of just saying “no.”
Know someone like this? It’s very humorous to watch people excuse away things as if they get paid according to the number of excuses they generate. One excuse isn’t enough – I will therefore provide you with seven(!) reasons why I cannot do the thing you asked me to do. Some people are comical enough to do this with every request, no matter how simple.
“You want to get coffee on Tuesday?”
“Oh, I would LOVE to, but I can’t. I have my annual review coming up the next day, plus I have to make Susan’s lunch that morning and Becky asked me to a meeting I can’t go to because I’m already totally booked but my diet prohibits coffee, so that won’t work and we have a wedding to go to that coming weekend plus I am just SWAMPED with the McKenzie project.“
No means no folks. Just say “no.” Once will do. No one needs your seven excuses. They don’t even need one, really. It’s always comical to me when someone posts an event on Facebook and invites people. The reactions are funny. If you’re throwing a party, what’s important? The people who can come, or the people who can’t? The people who CAN, right? And yet, for every event on Facebook it’s interesting to witness the people who post why they cannot attend AND a reason, sometimes several.
We don’t care. At a very basic level, life isn’t about those who cannot attend our parties. It’s about those who can. Such is life. It's the CAN, not the CAN'T, that is important.
It’s okay, really. It’s okay to want cheeseburgers. It’s okay to love to watch Survivor: Albuquerque instead of taking that course on Picasso’s paintings. What’s most frustrating isn’t that we prioritize these things poorly. If I had a dollar for everything I wanted to do but haven’t done, I would have a whole bunch of dollars. Whoop de doo. Hello, life. Who cares about all the things we haven’t done that we meant to? What’s frustrating is that we act as if it’s just too hard for us to make simple changes to our lives, and then we build a mountain of crappy evidence for our lifestyle defense case, just in case anyone asks and we have to defend ourselves in the court of What Are You Doing With Your Life. Guilt much?
Excusitis: “No, I cannot do that thing that will make me/our society better. I HAVE to take my wife/offspring/gerbil in for their flu/bubonic plague/tequila shots that day.” So you’re totally busy. All day.
Full disclosure. I happen to have a penchant for zombie video games. This is about as useful of a skill as being able to tie balloons around my waist with hairbands. I’m telling you this not so you’ll take pity on my perverse attraction to games in which I have to shoot things that are dead until they are really really dead, but so you understand that I, too, have useless things in my life that attract me away from my more noble efforts, like working out, planning healthy things to eat, painting the trim in our house, flossing the cat, or railing against American Stupidity.
But I own it. I don’t make excuses for what I don’t want to do. I accept myself for being pretty lame some days, and semi-productive on others.
Own your excuses. If you don’t want to work out, admit it – don’t claim you are too busy. We do what we want, when we want, for the most part, don’t we? When was the last time you REALLY wanted to do something – REALLY – and couldn’t find the time to do it? We aren’t slaves to our lives, though we do have definite demands on them. Saying “yes” is great and all, but it shouldn’t be this hard for us to say “no.”
Let’s all own our sh*t. Let’s all revel in our guilty pleasures, acknowledge we aren’t perfect, and try to move forward. Keep it real. “No, I can’t go help you move your couch because I want to sit on my ass and catch up on Game of Thrones.” “No, I won’t be on the condo board because I am a lazy bastard who enjoys beer too much. Sorry.” Or this oldie but a goodie: simply “no.”
Wouldn’t that be refreshing?