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Owning your Mistakes: No Excuses

April 19, 2018

When I was a freshman in high school, there was a quote in the weight room that said “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.”  That quote is something that has stuck with me.  It has always been a reminder that excuses are the easy way out.  It is always easy to explain away why we did not accomplish our goals.  The hard way is to just do it right from the start.  In life nobody is perfect, we are all going to make mistakes and fall short.  However to me, what separates people is how they handle adversity.  Typically there are two paths in dealing with failure.  One path is to own it right from the start, to acknowledge the mistake, to accept full responsibility and then to take steps to not allow whatever happened to occur again.  The other path is to throw blame and list excuses as to why things were not accomplished.

The quote was put up in the weight room as the football program was going through a coaching revival and it was a reminder that the old ways of the past would not be accepting in more.  The changing of the guard would not tolerate excuses as acceptable reasons why the program was not improving. The times were changing where now everyone would be judged on their performance, not their reasons for failure.  Their performance would be dictated by their hard work.  No more excuses, no more free passes.  Everyone would have to own their choices and make their path.  If you didn’t put in the work, then you would not play.  Pretty simple rules to live by.  But it was a drastic change for the ways of past regimes. The program embarked on its best run in school history, with multiple state play-off appearances and league championships.

Colby Football

I have thought of this quote the last few years, as I have been coaching junior football.  I work with the offensive line and help with the offense in general, but most of my work is really just with the linemen.  95% of the time, when a player misses a block, it because of two things, their head was down or their first move was to stand straight up.  I am sure players are tired of the questions “Where was your head on that play?” or “What was your first move?”   Often times I end up with responses like this “Coach my head was up, until the defender grabbed the side of the jersey and then my head went down, but prior to the defense hitting me it was up.”  “Either your head is up or it’s down, it pretty simple.  I don’t really care about the why or the reason, you just need to make sure that it’s up.  Of course the defender is going to try and push your head down as that’s to his advantage.”  There is always a reason, an excuse why the play did not work out as designed.  It brings me back to Master Yoda from the Empire Strikes Back, telling Luke, “Try not, Do.. or do not, there is no try.” I know it sounds pretty harsh, but in a sport that is judged and scored by outcomes, that is the reality.  You either block the defender or you don’t.  You do and your team gains yards, you don’t and your running back gets tackled.  It’s really pretty simple.  But all the reasons and excuses in the world, don’t help make the block happen.   Nobody wants the list of excuses, as the saying goes, excuses are like a______s everyone has one.  To me, excuses are just ways for us to comfort ourselves to try and avoid dealing with the reality of what we don’t want to hear.  We made a mistake, we screwed up, we failed.  Excuses numb and dull this pain as it helps us to avoid taking ownership of our mistakes. When we don’t own the mistake, it’s sort of as if it didn’t really happen because it was the factors (aka excuses) that caused the problem, not us.

Ownership of mistakes is a huge deal for me.  One of the quickest and best ways to learn and grow from mistakes is to own them 100%.  I think it’s only then, that a person can move forward.   Listing out excuses on why things did not turn out as planned, to me, is simply a way of not wanting to take ownership of that mistake.  It’s a way to throw blame around so that nothing sticks on you.  It’s a great way to muddy up the waters so it’s hard to see anything, hard to see the real truth.

During the summers when I was home from college, I worked for the Riverview School District, doing maintenance work.  The main job was to mow all the grass fields and areas at all of the districts sites, but the job also included a bunch of random tasks, painting parking stalls, pressure washing roofs, delivering the annual school supplies and assisting with the relocation of classrooms during construction projects.  During my first summer working there, it was a Friday the boss and most everyone else on the staff was out on vacation that day.  That summer I worked as a team with Sean Smith, who had graduated from high school a year before me.  Our task for the day was to head up to Cherry Valley Elementary and clean out a bunch of old computers and junk that was put into a portable, temporarily during construction.

We took a large box van that the district owned and headed up to the school.  Since we knew the job was going to basically just be manual labor, I wanted to get the box van as close as possible to the building as I didn’t want to have to carry the items further then was necessary.  We were going to load them up and carry them out to then be disposed of properly.  Being 19 or 20 and not used to driving a large box van, I didn’t think much about the height of the van.  As I was trying to drive the van in between two portables, I was only looking at the height of the cab, thinking that I had plenty of space, however that is when I heard this horrific scraping sound.  I then try to back up to try and get out of there, but it was no use.  The side of the van hit the gutter on the building, ripped off a section of the gutter and bent it all up, while leaving a huge scrape on the side of the van which ended with a puncture spot on the wall of the van.  I had put a hole in the van, along with a huge scrape and had destroyed a section of gutter on a portable.  Not good.  We did the only thing we could do, finished the task at hand.  At the end of the day we returned to the maintenance facility, parked the van in its spot and I went home.   I didn’t say anything to anyone on staff about what had happened, only Sean knew.  On Monday morning, I showed up for work, everyone was back from vacation and they were all outside in the yard looking at the box van, talking about the damage to the vehicle.  Unfortunately as I was hoping, the weekend did not wipe away the events that occurred on Friday – the van was damaged and the damage was my fault.  The head of maintenance was a good man named John Marks.  He asked something to the effect of “I know these marks were not here before I went on vacation, can someone please fill me in on what happened?”  I looked at him and said that it was my fault, I was driving it when the damage occurred.  I then explained to him what happened and also told him about the damage to the portable at Cherry Valley.  After my explanation, I went about my day, then at the end of the day, John called me into his office.  I was thinking man I am going to get a butt chewing, docked pay or maybe even fired.  Who knows what will happen, but it can’t be good as damaging a district vehicle can’t lead to anything positive.   To my surprise, instead of a lecture, I ended up with a thank you.  He said that we was taken aback by my honesty.  Since nobody saw what happened that day, thus if I had said that I didn’t know what happened, that would have been the storyline.  There was no proof that I was responsible.  He summed things up with something like this.  “After working for the school district for many, many years, the reality is that nobody is ever honest about damaging district property, since it’s a government job, it’s easy to deny things in cases like this as nothing typically ever comes of a case like this with no proof and nobody is ever going to look into things as it’s not worth anyone’s time.  The easy thing would have been to just say that you don’t know anything about what happened and that would have been that.  By being honest you basically open yourself up to scrutiny by your own choice.  “That doesn’t happen in government work.”   He was thankful for my honesty.  In the end, it made for a situation in which more trust was formed, because I had owned up to my mistake, I didn’t make any excuses and dealt with the consequences and fallout, even though I could have lied and made excuses to get out of things.  And yes I was invited back to work there the next summer.

My hope is that my boys learn to own their mistakes and shortcomings and choose not to make excuses, but to learn from their errors and grow as a person during these times of life’s trials. They need to know that in a world that judges based upon outcomes, excuses really don’t matter and will lead to a house of failure.




One Comment leave one →
  1. Glenn Thistlethwaite permalink
    April 19, 2018 6:36 am

    David, It would be a better world if all adults and children learned this lesson and acted this way. Thanks, Glenn

    Sent from Glenn’s iPad Mini


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