Five years ago, Marilyn decided to leave her soul-squashing job and start a business that would share her love of animals. Today she’s still dragging herself to that same job and her entrepreneurial enthusiasm is weak from neglect. 

When questioned about her business plans, she replies, “Oh, I decided in this economy it was better to hang on to what I had. Besides I hate to give up my benefits and I really need the money from my job so I can remodel my family room.”

What Marilyn—and so many others— demonstrate is that whenever we ignore our dreams we rationalize it by creating a villain. It’s never our fault, for goodness sake. Someone or something outside us is standing in our way. 

That thinking leads us to look for the villain which we disguise as an excuse.

Since finding an excuse is not a creative exercise, most excuses aren’t too original. Knowing that, syndicated columnist Dale Dauten put together the Excuse-O-Matic which can be a handy tool. Just find your age and under it you’ll find the corresponding excuse not to take a risk.

 Under 30—too young

Need to get established/planning marriage/ kids/house

No experience/no credit/no capital   

30 to 40—too busy

Have spouse/children/mortgage

Too much credit/need to save for college tuition    

40 to 55—too stretched

Kids in college

Need to pay down debt/save for retirement

Over 55—too tired

Not up on latest technologies

Too late to risk capital

Concerned about losing retirement benefits

Deceased—too dead

The final and best excuse

Now I’m not a mathematician, but I can see that if you add up these excuses all you’re left with are excuses. 

If you want to amaze and dazzle yourself,  make a pact with yourself to give up, once and for all, anything that sounds like an excuse. Giving up all excuses is not enough, however. 

In the part of your brain where you’ve stored reasons and excuses, start building an Option Bank.

An Option Bank, just like the place where you store money, is a repository of good ideas, dreams and goals. Like an ordinary bank, the more you put in, the more you can draw out. 

The best way to get started at this is to convince yourself that there is never just a single option available. Never. If you begin with that premise, your creative spirit will be free to go to work. 

A word of warning: this is not the same as the frequently used expression, “I’m keeping my options open,” which usually means, “I have no idea what I want and am waiting for something to happen to tell me.” 

What I’m talking about is a proactive listing of any and every possibility that occurs to you. Here’s how to build your own Option Bank.

On a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the center. At the top of the page, write a goal that you have in the form of an affirmation. Over the left hand column write Excuses and over the right hand column write Options. 

Think of your excuses as debits and your options as deposits. Now write your lists. If you can’t simply ignore your excuses, what direct alternative can you take to eliminate or change them? 

When you repeat this exercise regularly, you’ll discover that your Option List will grow while your Excuses List will shrivel.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” Anais Nin wisely observed. 

 Keep building your own Option Bank and you’ll discover that life not only shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage, but also in proportion to one’s options.

9 Responses to “Excuses or Options: Pick One”

  1. Elle Lyzette

    This week I made a decision to resign from a job I had for 3 months, as it completely squashed my spirit when I was told I was “too creative and detail oriented” (as a Graphics Consultant ???). Took a job as a commission independent contractor in a familiar industry and feel as if a billion tons of bricks have been lifted from my shoulders. I know there is risk in working for myself, yet it is worth every moment of freedom I have again. No health insurance policy is worth living day to day in an unhealthy work environment.

    Life is good and I embrace it with vigor and hope!

  2. Penny

    This could not have been more timely. I took a job this summer just for money and in two weeks it bled my spirit dry. Today, I am taking a good hard look at all my amazing options. Thank you so much. This exercise is awesome. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Barbara Saunders

    Penny, I think the spirit-squashing, surreal feedback is a characteristic feature of today’s “normal workplace” dynamic. I was told by a manager than I was “resented” because “everyone else here is running around like their hair is on fire, and you are not.” During the same conversation, I was accused of “lack of initiative” for not calling a premature meeting that would have wasted at least a dozen of these same people’s time and required some of them to come in on their day off!

    It is crazy-making and distracting and, I think, contributes to fear, insecurity, and uncertainty that keeps people stuck in place.

  4. Deb Welch


    Two weeks ago I left my corporate job. It was something I had been thinking about for long time and many of the excuses you listed are things I uttered many times. But it came down to values – I wanted and needed to focus on my family and myself and with a corporate life I really did not have the time or energy to do that.

    So I am two weeks in to my new life. I am nervous, excited, unsure and confident all at the same time and the only thing I know for sure is that in my heart I know this will work out. I am not completely sure of the how, but despite being in a world full of unknowns I feel as sense of calm that I have never experienced before.

    Some would call me crazy for quitting before I had a solid business in place but when I took stock of what was important to me I came to the conclusion that life is too short to not try and I would rather give 100% effort and fall short than to look back and wonder “what if” or, even worse, to be dead and never to have tried at all!

  5. Barbara Winter

    Bravo! Your sentence “some would call me crazy” really jumped out at me. I’d be willing to bet money that those folks are NOT living a joyfully jobless life. As someone once pointed out (that would be me), nothing makes people who have abandoned their own dreams more nervous than seeing someone else go after theirs.

    At the very least, you can remind yourself that living your values does not include being dependent on a corporate paycheck. Remember that when someone tries to scare you with their limited notions of what security means.

  6. Barbara

    Four years ago, I left my job to follow my passion. I’ve never regretted it, even when the economy took a nosedive and my business faltered as well. I’m still wonderful, I still love my job, and I still manage to help out my two kids in college. We just pull together and are honest about what we need and what we want, and sometimes we downsize a little. We’re all still extraordinarily happy, and I wouldn’t be if I were still in my old job.

    I say to you that you can do it, if you really want to. Fear is immobilizing, and action is freeing. When Anais Nin said that Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage, she wasn’t wrong. Take a deep breath and jump off the cliff. I’m scared of everything, and I did it.

    Next on the agenda is a trip to Europe. Gonna get there. 🙂

  7. Barbara Winter

    Thanks for sharing your story. Have you got a current passport? That’s the first step, you know.

  8. Barbara

    Yup. *waves passport* I sure do, got one about a year ago. Currently searching for cheap flights, and I’ve got enough internet friends that hotels won’t be a big deal. London, Paris, Italy, here I come. 🙂

  9. Valarie

    I love this piece and know that it is one of the hardest things for human beings to do, step out of our comfort zone and be the best we can be. Excuses come easily to me and most people I know however it is important to know when change is vital and when to be brave.

    It’s all about courage and curiosity and doing the right thing. Barbara, thank you for your sage advise and sharing your wisdom with me and others. You do make a difference in this world!

    Valarie from Victoria, B.C.

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