Ep. #21: Big “Buts”

We all suffer from big “buts” that are holding us back. These are the excuses we make for not trying. These are the excuses that hold us back. Listen to this episode to find out how to dissolve a big “but” and get it out of your way once and for all.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is for every listener who is struggling under the weight of a big “but” as in, “I want to do something, BUT here’s the reason why it’s not going to happen.” I’m Kelly Hollingsworth and I’m happy you’re here because our reasons for not succeeding seem so real and so legitimate, but really they’re just imaginary obstacles that are keeping us from getting where we want to go, so today we’re going to talk about how to keep the big “buts” from getting us down.

Before we get started I’d like to welcome any new listeners to the podcast this week. If you’re just joining us, this is a podcast for serious entrepreneurs who are serious about success, but who feel weighed down by all kinds of things that are preventing them from moving forward, taking action, and getting the results that they want.

And this brings me to today’s topic. A big reason we don’t get the results that we want is the “buts” in our lives. “But” isn’t always a problematic word—sometimes it’s merely a word of contrast. We use it to compare two seemingly conflicting ideas. I saw this with the sangria I made for my party this weekend. They said they liked it, but they didn’t ask for more, so which is it? I don’t know exactly…

In any case, a more problematic use of the word “but” isn’t in the contrasting sense, but in the negation sense. “But” is a word we use when we’re about to negate whatever we just said, as in, “I’d really love to go, but I have to stay home and wash my hair.” The “but” negates the idea of really wanting to go, because no one has to forego what they want to wash their hair anymore. That’s why dry shampoo was invented.

“But” is also the word we use when we’re indicating the impossibility of anything other than what is being stated. As in, “you can’t help but feel sorry for her.”

This use of “but,” where we’re indicating the impossibility of something, is where our limited thinking comes tumbling out of our mouths, disguised as a law of the universe.

So now let’s take a look at some examples to see how these limiting concepts play out in real life. Here’s one of my favorites:

One day back when I was managing my hedge fund, and I was also consulting with other hedge fund managers, and I was feeling particularly frantic about a whole lot of things that were going on that day, I was talking to a friend, and I said, “You know, so-and-so’s boyfriend is a landscaper. He works in the summer, and he takes nine months off every year and goes to some lake in the South and hangs out at his lake cabin. For nine months. I must be doing something wrong. I should become a landscaper.”

And she said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. But then you’d have to take out a yellow page ad.”

I still think about this exchange because I find what she said so fascinating. She was basically conveying two ideas with this “but.” The first is that when she said “yes, that’s a great idea,” she didn’t mean it at all. She negated it with the “but then you’d have to take out a Yellow Pages ad.”

The second thing that fascinated me was the impossibility embedded in that idea. As if placing a yellow pages ad is a brick wall against which my whole plan about my hypothetical landscaping business had to crumble.

This was an interesting take on things. There are a zillion reasons that a landscaping business isn’t a terrific choice for me. One of them is I just don’t like being dirty that much. But the task of calling up the phone book company and buying something is definitely not one of those reasons. Shopping is one of my strong suits, I can promise you that. If that’s all that stands between me and a cushy life as a landscaper, count me in.

So an important thing I’d like you to notice about big “buts” is that often they’re just an illusion. They can seem really enormous, but on closer inspection there’s actually nothing to them at all. They pop like a soap bubble as soon as you even look at them.

Another thing about big “buts” is that they’re always in the eye of the beholder. They’re not something we have to take on if we don’t want to. For my friend, yellow pages ads are clearly a big problem. For some reason she’d be reluctant to take one out. Whatever those reasons are I don’t know but that doesn’t mean I have to have a problem with them.

So what I’d like to offer to you today is a suggestion–to start noticing other people’s big “buts.” When people say “but,” whenever you hear that word, start listening for the limitations of the speaker, and for the things that they perceive as impossible but that are really very plausible. Not impossible at all. Once you see this in others, it’s a lot easier to begin seeing it with yourself, and it’s fascinating to watch how we all limit ourselves and what’s possible to achieve in our lives.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to that this week as I’ve embarked on the complete eradication of sugar from my life. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, episode 20, what I mean by eradication of sugar is sweeteners in all forms, real and artificial, natural and man-made. And for me, this also  includes most fruits because I’m very sensitive to sugar and sugar in whatever form makes me look and feel terrible. Another reason I’m doing this is because, for me, sweets beget more sweets. Whenever I eat a little I just want more and it’s a whole ugly scene that I just don’t want to live in anymore.

And it’s been very interesting to watch the reaction to this decision I’ve made. There have been a lot of “buts” from concerned bystanders. “But you need something,” is a big one. Every time I heard this, I asked for clarification, and what is the “something” that I need? And the answer was always along the lines of, “You need something to consume that will make you feel better—something to assuage negative emotion and brighten an otherwise dreary day.“ “Something to live for,” one person said.

And this is how they get you, isn’t it? it’s also how we get ourselves. The idea that life is painful or somehow less than satisfying on its own, so we need to bolster it with something that hijacks our attention and focus and harms our health, is just an idea. It’s just a thought, and in my mind the opposite thought is actually what’s true and serves us a lot better: Life is infinitely more satisfying when we’re not using substances to numb ourselves from its joys. Because here’s the thing: you can’t be selectively numb. If you numb out for one reason, you’re numb to everything. And that numbness, that’s when we feel real pain. It’s the pain of missing our lives because we’re anaesthetized. When we feel this pain, we often get into a vicious cycle of wanting more of the anesthetic that’s causing the pain in the first place.

So that’s another thing I’d like to offer you about “but.” Look for the lie. Look for the conventional but false wisdom that’s we’ve swallowed hook, line, and sinker that’s making everything less than what it could be. I promise you, if you look for it, you’ll see it. We all tell ourselves lies that hold us back.

For example, I sometimes coach would-be financial services professionals on taking regulatory exams—I’ve taken a bunch of them, tests are pretty easy for me. These include things like the series 7, the series 3, the Series 63… all of those tests that no one wants to take but you have to take them if you want to get into certain types of business. Often frustrated candidates for these exams come to me after having failed two or three or even four times, and what they say is, “I want to pass this test, but I’m brand-new to the business. I can’t pass this test because I don’t know anything about this business.”

The first thing to notice here is the impossibility embedded in what they’re saying, and how false it is. These financial services exams are entrance exams. They’re the first thing the candidate has to do. You must pass these before you even get into the business. So lack of industry experience is wholly irrelevant, but it’s the reason that these candidates don’t even study. They’ve decided they’re not going to pass, so why bother with studying? What’s worse, they use “but” to conceal the fact of this damaging decision about not studying, even from themselves.

So that’s another thing I’d like you to notice about our big “buts.” We use them to make our limitations seem more palatable. Our unwillingness to even try goes down much easier when we have an excuse as a chaser.

And here’s where things get really interesting with these candidates. Remember where I said that “but” negates what comes before? Invariably, when these candidates tell me they want to pass the test, but they can’t, what lies just beneath the surface of that is that they don’t really want to pass the test. There’s something about passing the test that scares them. It feels too big to step into the role that the test requires. It feels like too much liability. They’re not sure they can make it in that new job, or have negative thoughts about the role.

Try this on with your own uses of the word “but.” Look for where it negates what came before, and then turn that on its head. If you say, “I’d love to pass that exam or lose weight or start a successful business, or reach any goal or achieve any accomplishment, but I can’t do it and here’s why,” take what comes before the “but” and test the opposite statement for its truth. I don’t want to pass that exam. I don’t want to lose weight. I don’t want to start a successful business.

Look at the reasons the opposite, the statement you’re negating with the “but,” is true. I promise, if you look, you’ll find something that’s revealing and that’s holding you back. You’ve got to look at this stuff and bring it into the light of day to see how well it stands up. Mostly it doesn’t. Every monster seems big and scary and all-powerful when it’s lurking in the darkness beneath our beds. When it’s lurking in the darkness of an unexamined, unmanaged mind is also when it seems big and scary. But if you just shine a flashlight into what’s going on in there, you can dissolve the big scary monster, and then it’s not in your way anymore.

The second idea with “but” that I’d like you to take with you today is to look for the false impossibility in it. So many of us hold ourselves back by thinking that something is necessary to move a business forward or achieve another goal, but doing that thing isn’t within our capability.

There are typically two lies embedded in here, in this use of “but.” The first is that the thing we think we can’t do is necessary at all. As in the case of a yellow-page ad for my fictitious landscaping business, often it’s not necessary. It’s possible to run a very successful business, in landscaping or any other field, without coughing up money to the phone book folks. The second lie is that the thing is out of your reach. As with the first lie, this generally isn’t true. It’s just a sign of limited thinking that keeps us stuck.

My friend, for example, was thinking that a yellow pages ad was impossible. We all know that it’s not.

Here’s the last thing I’d like to offer about our big “buts” for today. Often “but” is code for “I don’t want to work that hard.” To this, the best thing I can offer is this: work is exhilarating. When we really dig in and get something done, we feel alive. It’s the avoidance of work that exhausts us, depresses us, and weighs us down. Think about it. Have you ever put your head on your pillow after truly setting the world on fire, and thought, “Man, I wish I hadn’t accomplished so much today. I’d give anything to have shirked a task here or there and left it for tomorrow.”

I’m willing to bet no. I’d also lay an equal wager that the stuff that’s depressing you and making you feel terrible and anxious and frustrated and awful, is the stuff you want to do but you haven’t done it yet. The problems you want to fix, but you haven’t fixed them yet. The places you want to go but you haven’t gone to yet.

This, my friends, is the stuff that keeps us up at night. It’s also the stuff we regret at the end of our lives. And the way it happens is with our big “buts.” We have to get out from under these if we want to enjoy our lives and do our important work in the world.

I’m heading into my most important work, and I hope you are, too. If you’re feeling stuck and need some help, let me know. kelly@richandthin.com. And with that I’ll close. I hope you have a great week and do some terrific work in the world, and I look forward to connecting with you next time.

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