Okay, I’ll admit it. I overslept today. I stayed up late, forgot to set my alarm, and woke up in a panic at just about the time I was supposed to be pulling out of my driveway, heading to work. I very rarely do that; in fact, I can’t remember the last time it happened.

Of course, as the self-proclaimed commandant of I-put-the-anal-in-analyze, I let my error take over my thought process and wound up considering the difference between explanations and excuses. Before I delve into it, let me say this: I look at excuses as justifications. There may be good ones and bad ones, but for the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to build on the premise that an excuse is justified, along the lines of an excused absence. Hopefully that makes sense.

As I mulled over my morning misstep, the reasons were pretty clear. I had gotten caught up in a project on Sunday night and stayed up too late. Since I was coming off the weekend, my alarm wasn’t already set, and in my overtired state, it didn’t occur to me to check. My overtired condition also overrode my internal clock, which normally wakes me up anyway. That’s pretty much an explanation of what happened–but it’s no excuse.

Get it? An explanation can help you make sense of an event, but it doesn’t necessarily justify it. Just because you can explain it doesn’t mean you (or someone else) should excuse it. If you can recognize this difference, you’ll go a long way in building your credibility. The next time you miss a deadline, are late for an appointment, or just plain get it wrong, sort through the reasons. When your explanation leads you to recognize that you can’t justify your actions, own up to it. Say “I blew it,” learn from it, and move on.

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