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Obstacles or Excuses?

“I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French.” – Charles de Gaulle

Most of the people who walk into my office work. And work very hard. They put in long hours, come up with innovative solutions, and do everything they can to make sure their business or project succeeds.

Most – not all.

There are some folks who come back every year to get their taxes done (or I’ll bump into them around town) and all they tell me are excuses. There is always some reason why their project has stalled. They couldn’t find the right ____ consultant for the next phase of the plan. Family responsibilities got in the way. Money was tight. They got sick. Something always just magically seems to get in the way.

All of these are things that in the short-term can of course be legitimate reasons for delays. But when they keep happening, the underlying reason becomes very apparent: the person does not have the motivation to really put in the work.

It reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The protagonist Okonkwo (for whatever faults and shortcomings he had) worked exceedingly hard and enjoyed the fruits of that labor. His father, Unoka, however was a different story.

These two paragraphs have stuck with me more than any other part of the book through the years. Unoka went to the local priestess to plead his case:

“Unoka stood before her and began his story. “Every year,” he said sadly, “before I put any crop in the earth, I sacrifice a cock to Ani, the owner of all land. It is the law of our fathers. I also kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the god of yams. I clear the bush and set fire to it when it is dry. I sow the yams when the first rain has fallen, and stake them when the young tendrils appear. I weed–“

“Hold your peace!” screamed the priestess, her voice terrible as it echoed through the dark void. “You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm. You, Unoka, are known in all the clan for the weakness of your machete and your hoe. When your neighbors go out with their ax to cut down virgin forests, you sow your yams on exhausted farms that take no labor to clear. They cross seven rivers to make their farms; you stay at home and offer sacrifices to reluctant soil. Go home and work like a man.

Sometimes it is just that simple. I’ve seen people succeed with ideas that sounded way-less-than-ideal on paper. But with hard work and ingenuity they succeeded. And they overcame significant hurdles to do so. They had to “cross seven rivers” and “cut down virgin forests” so that their plan would work.

And the other people “stay at home and offer sacrifices to reluctant soil.”

It’s entirely up to us which group we fall into. We shouldn’t delude ourselves by blaming external factors for our lack of success.

Any accounting, business, or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties.