Why Your Excuses Won’t Fly – or Get You What You Want

Why Your Excuses Won't Fly - or Get You What You Want

I used to love to fly. Planes? Bring ’em. Awesome.

But 12 years ago I’d flown home from a corporate trip and it had been… well, scary, to say the least. The colleague I’d flown with had actually thanked me for requiring her assistance while I freaked out during the flight – she’d said she’d been so busy taking care of me, she didn’t have a chance to get scared herself.

I never flew again after that trip. I made empty plans to visit family and friends or go on adventures… but then I’d remember I didn’t like planes, and that was that.

In recent years, I started saying I wanted help to overcome my fear of flying. I told people that maybe I’d go visit or that I’d try to make it to the show or that I might fly down.

I didn’t really intend to get on a plane, though. I’d even turned down the offer to speak at a major venue by hedging until I’d blown the deadline and it was too late to say yes.

Oops. Sorry.

I made a show of trying to overcome my fear of flying, of course. No one likes a slacker, eh? I talked to a friend of mine who was an airline steward. I brought up my issues with a couple of therapists skilled in the fear department. I looked up information on the ‘net and educated myself. I even contemplated buying one of those courses that promised to cure me of my fears forever.

Truthfully? I was just putting on a show. I didn’t have any intention of flying, and I knew it, deep down. It was all just a bunch of excuses.

One day, my bluff got called. Peter Shallard (being the good friend he is) marched straight up to my mental desk, set his arm on it and swept all my bullshit excuses onto the floor. “I bet I can cure you in one flight. And I will personally come over there and use my Jedi mind tricks to make you get on that plane”

I was shocked, surprised and staring at the bare wood of reality. Peter had removed all my possible excuses for not flying. How could I refuse his offer?

With no excuses left to keep me “safe” and grounded (literally), I had two possible choices:

I could face the truth about my flying issues (which really had nothing to do with flying) and admit I wasn’t going to fix them, or accept his offer, book my trip and get on the plane.

12 years ago, I made a conscious choice to allow my fears rental space in my life. They didn’t bust down the door and take control of me. I let them. I handed them the key, opened the door and said, “Come on in, boys! Drinks are on the house!”

Then I sat there for 12 years muttering about them living in my basement and making excuses for their existence.

You do this too. You have all kinds of silly fears camped out in your soul. You know they’re there, even though you’re pretending hard they’re not having a party all over you.

Oh, and you make excuses for them too. Excuses that let you live comfortably with your fears. They look something like this:

  • “I can’t finish this project… I just don’t have enough time.”
  • “I want to get a better web design… I just need more clients first.”
  • “I really want to take this course… but I have too much on my plate.”

Let’s be honest, you and I. If you really, really wanted to finish your project or get a better site or take that course… you’d find a way to make it happen. And if I had really, really wanted to fly all these years, I could’ve found a way to get on the plane.

Excuses are illusions we wrap around ourselves to hide from reality. They’re lies we create so that we don’t feel guilty and uncomfortable about doing nothing. There’s always something we could do to help ourselves achieve our goals.

Unless we really don’t want them in the first place. And if that’s the case, why bother making excuses anyways?

Be honest with yourself. Face what’s holding you back. Sweep away the bullshit on your mental desk and take a good look at the bare wood of your real fears. You don’t have to do anything about them if you don’t want to (hell, I did nothing about flying for 12 years), but at least be truthful and stop making excuses about them.

Here’s the bonus: Once you name your true fears… once you actually voice what it really is you’re afraid of… well, nothing sounds so frightening anymore. It’s kind of like shining a light on the monster under the bed and finding a bunch of harmless dust bunnies.

And once you know what you’re really afraid of (you know, that thing hiding behind your excuses), then you can start actually talking about it. Getting help with it. Figuring out how it came to be there. Deciding how you’d like to get rid of it.

Or how to live with it. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you enjoy the company of your fears and they make you feel safe. Some people embrace their fears and live with them all their lives. It keeps them quite happy indeed.

But don’t make excuses anymore. Don’t pile bullshit on your desk. Be honest about why you’re not doing what you say you want to be doing. Be truthful with others, and with yourself.

And maybe one day, you’ll be ready to sweep your fears out of your life forever.

If you're ready to be honest with yourself, then I highly recommend Peter Shallard's free ebook, Seek and Destroy on shattering business roadblocks (like fear).

Discover which business profile you fit (there are ten!) learn the true reason you're not reaching your goals, and grab great tips on how to shatter the fear. (Hey – no excuses. It's free.)

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Yeah, Peter’s good at doing that, huh? LOL! πŸ˜‰

  2. As the saying goes: Just admitting it is the first step


  3. I take it this plane-getting-on hasn’t happened yet?

  4. Yeah, we all need a Peter Shallard in our lives. I have a friend who did something similar with the excuses I was making about all the stuff I said I wanted to do this year. He kind of kicked all the legs off and they wouldn’t stand up any more. It wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be, a bit like those monsters in the dark I guess.

    Well done for booking the flight. Can’t wait to read that week’s post. πŸ˜‰

  5. Alright, this post was a swift kick in my butt because these sound like my kind of excuses 😐 Sheesh!

  6. James, I had no idea you held the fear of flying so close to your heart. I am hoping your friend Peter was able to rid of it. Do you not want to go places badly enough to tell your fear to take a hike?
    My husband used to be terrified of flying, thanks to his Mother’s irrational fear = (it is irrational altogether, sorry to say, especially if you are fine driving which is the most dangerous activity, statistically speaking but then again, when were fears rational?) – well anyway his palms would sweat and he would be cold as ice during take-off. I told him I am traveling the world with our without him. He picked the former. He just faced this lousy fear head-on and hundreds of thousands of flying miles later, he now books international trips for us like people book a beach vacation an hour away. I do hope you get over that fear because it holds you back dramatically from living your life.

    • Peter has complete confidence he can solve the issue in one flight, and I’m placing my full trust in him to do so. Even that has been tough – I keep wanting to say, “Yeah but…” so I have to kick myself and keep repeating, “It’ll be fine. It’s exciting!”

      The more I do that, the more it is. πŸ™‚

      Did I not want to go places badly enough? No. Travel isn’t my motivation, and so when people told me, “Yeah, but don’t you want to see Europe???” No. Not enough to get on a plane. “Don’t you want to visit family???” Yes, but not enough to get on a plane.

      I realized (when Peter laid the truth bare) that there was a certain checklist of motivations that needed to be in place for me to WANT to fly. And they outweighed the fears… which don’t have anything to do with crashing πŸ™‚ That’s why it’s important to dig deep with fears and excuses and find out what’s really going on.

      • I should add – I intend on smashing the phobia (with good ol’ psycho magic) well BEFORE the flight. Won’t be attempting any form of brain-bending fear removal while in transit.

        By the time we bored, James will be just as bored of flying as everyone else. Perfect!

      • Fair enough on travel motivation not being high enough. I think it’s wonderful to have our own priorities and know exactly what they are – and of course, the fear is irrational so statistics are not helpful. I naturally provided one but forget it :)! I think it’s best to see what Peter can do to you when you guys set off for that trip. James, I think you might actually enjoy flying, dear friend. I do hope that you have the best experience.

    • On a side note, quoting risk statistics to people with fears or pointing out the reasons they should change their habits is pretty ineffective. Drinkers keep drinking, smokers keep smoking and small businesses stay small.

      Why? Because logic doesn’t drive the car. And stats and reasons are logical. Fears are emotionally based and thus take emotional motivators to provoke change.

      (Side note: The book Risk is an excellent read and shows just how illogical people can be.)

      • When one of my kids were in swimming lesson, a nervous mother watching her own kid would shriek or moan or fidget every time her child went under the water. “Lift her up! LIFT HER UP!”

        I leaned over to her semi-jokingly said not to worry, it would take at least a minute for her kid to drown, and with all the swim instructors around, the chances of her daughter going under that long that were pretty slim.

        Didn’t seem to calm her though, for some strange reason…

        ‘Course I’ve been on the other end of the stick too. No one’s ever fallen through the 1-foot thick plexiglass floor on the CN Tower. Still, there was no way I was going step onto it and be the first…


        • I see the effects of parents scaring their kids all the time. In the playgrounds, I’m off reading a book while my kiddo hangs upside down… while another mum keeps calling to hers. “Be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself…!!!!” And the kid looks terrified. No wonder.

          • lol – I never saw (this particular incident) that way before, but you’re right. I just felt bad that my attempt at good-natured support ended up coming off as creepy and callous…


  7. Thanks for sharing this with us, James. I think we each know when the time is right to tackle our fears (and the reasons behind them), but it’s so true that the excuses are bullshit — and enabling. I’ll be turning this post over in my mind for some time.

  8. Okay. I was not expecting the get in your face ending, but I love it. You’re absolutely correct. If we’re not going to, or don’t want to, do whatever it is then why spend all the needless effort on making up an excuse? It takes so much energy to keep the excuses alive. All of us should have someone willing to call a spade a spade and to call our bluffs from time to time.

    • For sure! Just yesterday Peter called me on an excuse as we were joking around about another area of my life, and I shot back that I was quite comfortable with the secondary gain I was getting and had no intention of changing. I was truthful with my excuse… and he laughed. No point in arguing with someone who LIKES what they have, even though something else is better, eh?

  9. Rebecca Nazar says:

    My experience was like yours. I liked flying, and then experienced a really bumpy flight, became terrified and avoided traveling for a spell.

    I, along with a dear friend, are huge fans of Ativan/Loravepam. Four pills is all you need. Two to get there, two to get home. Works like a charm; takes the edge off without knocking me out. A five dollar miracle to my mind. Just give it a test run before getting on the plane. You may be sensitive to it. It does have the ability to put you to sleep. One down side is you shouldn’t drive until it’s out of your system. I recruit friends and family. My friend simply takes a taxi.

    I took a six hour flight to Las Vegas during tornado season. The turbulence was relentless. A flight to Orlando wasn’t so hot either. Eh, didn’t phase me a bit. A gentle sedative can make a world of difference. I sense you’re going to “white knuckle it”. Good for you. That’s fantastic. Whatever gets you there, right?

    • I considered that, actually. Thing is, if you use Ativan the first time you get back on, you never really know whether it was the Ativan that made it cool or whether you just got over your BS, you know?

      I figure I’ll use Shallard magic and see what happens. Failing that, drinks. Lots of ’em.

  10. Hey James,
    I believe you can fly, I believe you can touch the sky : )

  11. I read your Forward in “Seek and Destroy” Peter and very much liked it so I’ll definitely read the rest of it.

    What really stood out for me in the Forward was that in the process of helping out other people, the other people did as much for you when they applied your advice so you could see the fruit of your labor. I think that’s what makes work most fulfilling.

  12. Besides the punch to the gut advice, the writing in this post is pure poetry. Such a gift. Thank you for sharing both the advice and your gift, James.

  13. Harumpf… I was doing nice and fine, hiding with my fears, but you’ve awoken the beast. I’m trying to say thanks. Really, I am!

  14. Flight steward:? How old are you anyway?

  15. @James : BET YOU CAN’T! πŸ˜‰


  16. I’m totally digging one, James.

    It took me 3 years to get over the fear of “doing my own thing” again. Ultimately it took the death of a family member and the strong love of my wife to slap me out of it.

    If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be there. Even though I hated it, it was hard for me to see that at the time because I had grown comfortable in that place.

    It’s amazing how much opens up when you conquer those excuses.

    Cheers to you for having the cojones to put this out there.

  17. Does this mean you’re going to be at SXSW?!?!


    πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€


    As if blogging about it wasn’t accountability enough, I can tell you that I will be TOTALLY DISAPPOINTED if you don’t come.

    I might never write a guest post for you ever again… πŸ˜‰

    Seriously, though, thanks for writing this. Really powerful post, and it put some of my own stuff into perspective.

    See you at SXSW!

  18. I’m super crazy proud of you πŸ™‚

  19. James,
    This is the best example of ‘ass-kicking your fears’ I’ve seen in a long time! Yay Peter for being the catalyst, and Woohoo James for going for it! There’s nothing as empowering as shining the light on those damn dust bunnies πŸ™‚

  20. I don’t want to be rude and not congratulate you on your big accomplishment. Bravo! But, I must tell you that the part of this post that made me stop, swallow hard and re-read was this:

    “Drinkers keep drinking, smokers keep smoking and small businesses stay small. ”

    As a reformed smoker – I had to deal with the irrational smoking while I-knew-it-was-bad-for-me mind games until one day, I just had enough and quit. Finally the behavior matched the thoughts.

    But to throw my irrational business plan (that in no way matches reality) in the same category – now that’s going to keep me up at nights!

  21. In one fell swoop you stripped me of every excuse I have ever used or intended to use….thank you!

  22. I normally don’t comment on your usually brilliant posts, but this one positively required one.

    This may be one of my favorite lines I’ve ever read on the subject:

    “Excuses are illusions we wrap around ourselves to hide from reality.”

    So. Freakin’. Perfect.

    Thank you for posting this, James. I wish you wondrous travels this March…

  23. This is really something what you have done, but yes its the right decision to face the devil and grin in is face.

    Just take a deep breath 5-100 times before you go on board and don’t forget to bless the machine and all those nice people in it. I am sure when you are in the air you will enjoy it, because you will go into the informational field which stands over all. I am really curious to see your first post after that experience.

  24. That’s awesome, James — hope you have a good time!

    It’s terrifying to stand at that gap where you have to choose a road and your life is on the line.

    You either go to the left or the right, stay where you are or move forward. If you want to get somewhere, you go down the right road and maybe you don’t know where it will take you but you’re walking and moving forward.

    My coach buddy and I worked on fear tonight and standing at that gap. By taking thoughts off of myself and onto how to help others, the road is less scary and turns into fun.

  25. Good work James! Flying’s awesome, and I always consider it an integral part of any vacation.

    Gotta take issue with one thing though. You say “Excuses are illusions we wrap around ourselves to hide from reality”, which is certainly true, but I think there are fears we have that aren’t illusions which might keep us back from reality.

    There’s a big difference between an excuse and a reason, and I find that my health causes me to say “I really want to…but…”, when the reality of my health prevents me from doing everything I’d love to do at the pace I’d love to do it. There’s a physical limitation in the first instance, but also a fear of worsening health (which most certainly has the potential to become an excuse out of self-protection).

    So I guess it comes down to being brutally honest with yourself about your true intention, and having the balls to hold up your hands when you’re spinning yourself an excuse rather than a reason.

    • Mmmmmm… I dunno, Steve. When I look at people like this, it’s hard to come up with good “reasons” for not doing what we don’t do.

      I hear where you’re coming from, though. I just think it’s a really fine line to walk.

      • A fine line indeed, and each circumstance has its own considerations and limitations. In my case it’s not a “stable illness” (for want of a better term, I’m not a doctor), and the wrong things could see me bed-ridden and unable to do much of anything.

        You’re so right though, I absolutely believe that it’s possible for “life” to surpass any condition, and I’m figuring out how to walk that fine line every day – being tough on myself when I’m making excuses but also not beating myself up when I have a valid reason to slow down.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tony Mack. Tony Mack said: Why Your Excuses Won’t Fly – or Get You What You Want: I used to love to fly. Planes? Bring β€˜em. Aw… http://bit.ly/fkjgkJ @MenwithPens […]

  2. […] mental barriers keeping you away from your writing dreams. I especially loved today’s post, Why Your Excuses Won’t Fly – or Get You What You Want. I’m always up for facing fears, cause let’s all come clean, we all have […]

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by bkmacdaddy designs, Carrie Keenan. Carrie Keenan said: Why Your Excuses Won’t Fly – or Get You What You Want http://me.lt/20ns via men with pens […]

  4. […] of this childhood event surfaced after reading a recent post by James Chartrand, who shares this fear, but to the severity of being unable to fly at all.Β  I could have chosen to […]

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TittyBingo, Royale Scuderi. Royale Scuderi said: Why Your Excuses Won't Fly | Men with Pens http://ow.ly/3FJzJ Love the honest nudge! […]

  6. […] to. But if you keep letting “life happen,” you’ll never get any writing done. Don’t make excuses. Write when you say you’re going […]

  7. […] my recent trip to SXSW, I overheard these three words often. Someone would ask a person what they did for a living and […]

  8. […] of this childhood event surfaced after reading a recent post by James Chartrand, who shares this fear, but to the severity of being unable to fly at all.Β  I could have chosen to […]

Leave a Comment