When I was a first officer in the airlines, one of my responsibilities included the preflight inspection. This proverbial “kicking the tires” began with checking pressure gauges and the plane’s structural integrity, and usually ended with me searching for a ramp agent for the code to get back into the jet-bridge.
On one particular flight from Greensboro, North Carolina to Memphis, Tennessee, I made a small, yet costly mistake. While opening the panel that revealed the gauge for the crew oxygen level I noticed the power wasn’t established to the aircraft yet, which was needed for the check. I decided I would continue the rest of the preflight and then circle back to this particular panel, which I left open.
By the time I had scuttled around the entire plane—having crawled under the wheel wells to check the fire detection loops and poked my head in the aft avionics bay, etc.—needless to say my brain had jettisoned the whole open panel thing.
As we departed toward Memphis, immediately after we raised the gear, a loud whooshing sound filled the flight deck. Having completely forgotten about the panel being open, we both assumed there might be a structural issue with the plane and prepped for a return to Greensboro.
We had yet to burn off the enroute fuel, so we would have to do what’s called an “overweight landing.” It’s nothing unsafe, but prior to a subsequent departure, a mechanic must review the aircraft to ensure no damage was incurred due to landing heavier than designed—this would cause a lengthy delay.
Upon our return to Memphis, I headed for my boss’ office for the “carpet dance.” I confessed my error, which undoubtably caused havoc for most of the passengers and cost the company thousands of dollars—probably more than my first officer’s yearly salary at the time.
I may have made a huge mistake but what I wasn’t willing to do was make excuses.
Truthfully, in my decade of working with the next generation, what I’ve seen separate those that succeed—personally and professionally—are the ones that refuse to make excuses.
Here’s the thing, I get why we are tempted to make excuses. It’s about self-preservation. Whether it’s an insecurity we haven’t dealt with or a consequence we’re trying to avoid, we think making an excuse is like a get-out-of-jail-free-card, when in reality it’s waving a giant sign that reads, “unreliable,” or worse: “entitled.”
So when you’re tempted to make excuses—feeling entitled to a traffic-free commute; an always fun, never boring existence; a problem-free life; or that corner office from day one, prevent yourself from becoming toxic by making these three simple course-corrections instead:
1. Make allowances (in your schedule).
Murphy’s Law is still active today: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”—from alarm clocks to relationships. Whether it’s trying to squeeze one more thing in before leaving, hitting that snooze button or putting off a tough conversation with a friend, too often we’re so busy with the here-and-now that we’re sacrificing the what-could-be. We’re wasting time and making excuses for why we’re not getting the important things done. We’re busy being non-productive. Learn to say “No” and build some margin into your schedule so that you can:
2. Make—and keep—commitments (to people).
Jesus teaches to “say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t’” (Matthew 5:37), which translates to: “When you are going to do something, just say yes, you will do it, or no, that you are not going to do it.”  As Yoda says, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” We must fight against the on-demand, social-media driven, culture that values fanship over friendship—making people objects in personal platform building versus co-heirs with Christ. Commit to people; don’t treat them like fans. Honor their time and contributions and value the time spent with them above the satisfaction of the activity itself. And should you fall short in this area (as I often do):
3. Make it right (immediately).
Let’s face it, we’re all going to find ourselves in a situation where we can make excuses. However, the best thing you can do is just own it—and then take steps to make it right and prevent it from happening in the future. Swallow your pride, apologize, learn from the consequence and make it right. That’s your response-ability. Remember, “it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17).
From my experience engaging with educational, business and industry leaders, I can assure you: if you want to be toxic, stagnating personally and professionally, make excuses. But if living your God-given calling is your heart’s desire when it comes to making excuses, take the advice of Bob Newhart playing a counselor in the MadTV skit about a woman with an irrational fear of being buried alive inside a box: STOP IT!
 Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew (p. 146). New York: United Bible Societies.