When it comes to doing the difficult things in life like saving money, losing weight, getting a better job or more education, creating an emergency fund, or engaging in almost any form of self-improvement, a lot of people claim to be the “special case” and say, “Well I can’t do that because I have [insert problem, condition, or circumstance] that makes it impossible for me to do it.”
Now, note that I’m not talking about people who are truly disabled, ill, or have some genuine problem or hardship that does make doing something impossible. (Although, there are many handicapped or disadvantaged people who manage to do the “impossible” every day and make it look easy, so sometimes even the impossible is possible.) The people I’m talking about are the ones who fall more into the “won’t” than “can’t” category. Their refrains go something like this:
“I can’t save money because I don’t make enough as it is.”
“I can’t lose weight because I’m genetically predisposed to being heavy.”
“I can’t make more money because I don’t want to be away from my kids, therefore I can’t work.”
“I can’t move up at the company because my boss hates me.”
“I can’t get out of debt because we can’t shed any of our obligations.”
“I can’t save money because cutting [cable, sports, private school, toys, or activities] will damage my kids.”
“I can’t exercise because I have a bum knee.”
“I can’t eat better because I’m so busy I don’t have time to prepare decent meals.”
Whatever the thing it is they’re trying to accomplish or deal with, they simply cannot because there’s some obstacle in their way. Sometime the obstacle is real and sometimes it’s imagined. It’s far easier to throw up their hands and claim to be the special case than it is to do the work that would allow them to get past the obstacle. The thing is, true “special cases” with insurmountable obstacles are pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. Most people just don’t want to make the necessary adjustments.
Many things can be overcome with effort, but it’s easier to claim to be a special case because not only can you feel better about not doing the work, others will let you off the hook, too. They’ll say, “Well, you can’t blame her for her weight. You know she talks about that bad knee all the time and can’t exercise.” Or, “Well, you can’t blame him for that foreclosure. He never really made that much money to begin with and he always said he couldn’t work extra hours or send the wife to work because of the kids.” (Note, again, before you yell at me in the comment trail, that I’m not talking about physical or mental disabilities, diseases, etc. I’m talking about the excuses people give that masquerade as special cases.)
It’s easier to cry, “Special case, here!” than to reengineer your life so that you can cut your living expenses or help your kids adjust to fewer perks while the family saves money. It’s hard to say, “We have to move because we can’t afford this house,” or adjust to getting by with one car. It takes work and uncomfortable sacrifices to find ways to save money in a tight budget. It takes courage to leave the dead end job and find something else. Many people would rather plead special cases than do anything that’s hard or uncomfortable.
When I hear this sort of thing, I think to myself, “But which would you rather be? The special case that can never do anything, or the success story that found a way?” I figure that I’m writing the story of my own life and I’d prefer to be the hero of the story rather than the damsel in distress. I prefer to be the superhero rather than the sidekick. To that end, if there is something I need to do like save money, go to school, lose weight, or get a better job, I’m darn sure going to do whatever I have to do to make that happen. Or I’m going to exhaust every avenue available, conventional and unconventional, before I claim that I can’t. And even then, I’m probably not going to give up entirely. I’m going to find a way to work around whatever my problem is and to do as much as I can within the confines of my “special case.” Some examples from my own life:
- When I was first starting out, I made less than $15,000 per year. And then there was a six month period of unemployment after I’d only worked for about a year. Yet I managed to save money by still living like a student and taking whatever work I could find. Crappy part-time jobs, doing work for the neighbors, you name it, I took it. Granted, I could only save $10 or $15 per week at first, but I did it because it was important to me to start building that safety net. I could have claimed to be a special case with a tiny income and unemployment, but I didn’t. I made it work.
- A year ago I got hurt and could no longer exercise. I was worried about packing on weight (my metabolism has never been my friend and heavy does run in my family). I could have claimed that my injury plus my genes made me a special case and just dealt with whatever weight I put on, but I made cuts and changes to my diet, stuck with my rehab, modified my exercises to accommodate the injury, and ended up losing ten pounds.
- I went to graduate school while working full time. I wanted that extra degree and I didn’t want the debt that went with it, so I kept working while I went to school. Yes, it meant that I had almost no free time and I had to be very careful with my spending, but I did it because it was important and I was determined to find a way. I could have said, “I can’t go back to school because I can’t afford it,” but instead I made the choice to do it the hard way.
Whenever I’ve been tempted to say, “I can’t because…” and then manufacture some special case for myself, I remind myself that I don’t want to be the victim in my own life. I want to be the success story, not the pity case. That’s enough motivation to stop the whining and excuse making and get my butt off the couch and out the door. So which would you rather be? The special case, or the success story? If it’s the latter, what are you waiting for?
(Photo courtesy of John Haslam)