06/10/2013 12:05 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2013

The Perfect Excuse: How We Allow Ourselves to Stay Stuck

Recently I met Abby, a woman from Orlando... who hated Orlando. She wasted no time in telling me why Orlando was such a terrible place to live.

(For readers hailing from Orlando, please note this was just one person's opinion -- and certainly not the opinion of this writer. After all, how could someone not love the happiest place on earth?)

I couldn't help but ask Abby what felt like an obvious question. "So... if you hate it so much, why do you stay there?"

She had her answer at the ready. "My parents live on the East Coast, up in Virginia. They are getting older and I don't want to be too far away."

For most, this would be a perfectly reasonable, can't-argue-with-that-one answer. But not for pesky old inquisitive me. "I understand your point," I said, "but I'll just say that when my dad was sick a few years ago and I needed to be by his side, I knew he was just a plane ride away. And so are you, no matter where you are."

She shrugged and looked away, so I quickly dropped it. But a few hours later she found me in the crowd. "I've been thinking about what you said, and you're right. The reason I've stayed in Orlando has nothing to do with my parents. It's because I don't know what I want to do next in my life. My parents were just the perfect excuse to stay where I am because I don't know if I'm ready for change."

We can all relate to the perfect excuse, can't we? That inarguable little nugget of a reason that allows us to stay stuck in a situation that makes us unhappy, that allows us to stay in the misery we know instead of branching out into the big, scary unknown?

That perfect excuse almost always has to do with loved ones, people we couldn't possibly hurt by meeting our own selfish needs. Yet often times, when we go a bit deeper, they just aren't true.

A few other examples I encountered in just the last few weeks:

  • A woman sitting next to me on a plane told me she was in a somewhat abusive marriage but could never leave it because she couldn't do that to her kids.
  • A colleague told me he didn't really like his job but his wife wanted to retire soon so he couldn't leave it... or even put his resume out there.
  • A peer told me she had a toxic friend in her life but couldn't do anything about it because it would disrupt the other friends in the group.

This reasoning all seems perfectly logical and, more importantly, noble and inarguable... allowing people to move forward with their heads held high, continuing to stay stuck in situations that don't work without even exploring change (which, let's face it, is a scary concept for most of us).

These kinds of excuses are perfect because they sound so right, and we feel righteous for sacrificing our own needs for those we love. But they aren't always true.

Now, let me be clear.

I know we have obligations, and our loved ones matter. Sometimes we do need to do things or stay in situations because that's what's best for them.


Other times we use our loved ones as our perfect excuses and they don't even know it. We never even tell them we're unhappy, or ask them how they'd feel about a change. We just move forward believing we are acting out of pure love for others, when those very people might prefer us to make change if it made us happier.

How do you know if you're living the perfect excuse?

  • Think through the situations that make you unhappy, and why you haven't yet acted or explored different options.
  • Recognize the reasons you tell yourself -- and others -- that you can't create change right now.
  • Dig deep... ask yourself if they're really true. Talk to those you are sacrificing for and ask them how they feel.

If you aren't quite as stuck as you've allowed yourself to believe, begin slowly exploring other options, one step at a time, to make your life better.

After all, in the end, your happiness is really up to you.

That's what Abby found out, too. She thanked me for calling her on her perfect excuse, and she began thinking about new places she might live.

And something tells me her parents will be thrilled when it happens.

This week:

Begin by recognizing the things in your life that don't work -- but that you've told yourself you can't possibly change. Note if you've really just created the perfect excuse to stay stuck.

Then call yourself on it, or ask someone you trust for their opinion.

Start there, own it, and tackle the idea of exploring a change. Go as slow as you need to, but go.
In the end, the unknown might be just what you need.

Now go do good... and do it well.

For more by Deirdre Maloney, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.