Curing Excuse-Making Syndrome

It feels good to externalize responsibility but that often causes life failure.

Posted Aug 29, 2015

a2gemma. CC 2.0
Source: a2gemma. CC 2.0

Might a root cause of your problems or of someone you care about be caused by what I call excuse-making syndrome?

Successful and contented people, while acknowledging that external factors often play a role in success, tend to focus on their own errors and failings and what could be learned from them. They're said to have an internal locus of control.

Unsuccessful, discontented people are more likely to blame their workplace failures on others. They assert that their failure is primarily caused by a bad boss, poor processes, poor coworkers, inferior product, racism, or sexism. They blame their relationship failures mainly on their partners. They blame their inadequate life on parents, a bad event in their past, society, and/or bad luck. They're said to have an external locus of control.

Of course, externalizing blame not only relieves a person of responsibility but mitigates against their growing. If you think your failings are mainly not your fault, you go through life complacent that you're fine and need make no more than modest efforts at self-improvement.

How much of an excuse-maker are you?

Of course, in the abstract, few people would label themselves an excuse-maker, unwilling to take responsibility. It may help you assess yourself more accurately if you imagine that everyone who knows you well were to place you somewhere on the continuum between, on one end, taking your full share of responsibility for failures and working to improve, to on the other end, always blaming your failings on factors outside yourself. On average, where on that continuum would you be placed?

Cures for excuse-making syndrome

If you think you suffer from excuse-making syndrome, might any of the following help?

Choose easier goals. If you've experienced failure after failure, it's hard to keep blaming yourself--you'd get despondent. Perhaps you need to play in a league in which you won't strike out so often---Not everyone can play in the majors. Should you work for a less demanding organization? Choose a career in which the competition isn't so brililiant, driven, and well-adjusted? Look for a romantic partner who won't make a fat salary nor win a beauty contest? Play sports with laid-back potzers rather than would-be titans?

Realize you'll be better liked. No one likes a whiner, an excuse maker. Everyone likes people who take responsbiility even when it's not all theirs. Don't we respect the leader who says, "Many factors were at play but I take primary responsibility. The buck stops with me."

Realize you'll have more success. Don't trust me when I say that locus of control is a key differentiator between successful and unsuccessful people. Think about the people you know. Do the successful, contented ones usually blame their failures on others? Now consider the unsuccessful ones.

In conclusion

I'm skittish about posting this article. After all, it's a lot easier to tell people to stop belly-aching that to do it. And many people that blame others are having a tough life, including lousy luck. Indeed, the older I get, the more I realize that luck isn't equally distributed across people.  But net, I feel that raising the issue is likely to do more good than harm. I hope you agree.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

More Posts