No Excuses: A book review by Bob Morris

No Excuses: Take Responsibility for Your Own Success
David Neenan with Eric Lucas
Morgan James Publishing (2011)

How to avoid becoming a sea squirt

We cannot control or even influence much of what happens to us but we can control how we respond to it. Peak performers respond to setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve. Jack Dempsey once suggested that “champions get up when they can’t.” I agree with David Neenan, “Taking responsibility for [one’s] life is both courageous and liberating. Facing life’s challenges leads not toward darkness, but toward the light…I believe fervently that we all have the power to choose our destiny, despite what comes our way.” This is precisely what Viktor Frankl has in mind when suggesting that “the last of human freedoms is being able to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

What we have in this book are 22 brief chapters within which Neenan shares everything he has learned about the importance of personal accountability. He immediately establishes and then sustains a direct, personal, almost conversational rapport with his reader and the emphasis throughout the book is on what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Here is a representative selection of chapter titles (with comments added) that suggest the thrust and flavor of Neenan’s approach:

Chapter 2. “Go for It: The only failure is not to participate”
Comment: Woody Allen once claimed that 80% of success is showing up.

Chapter 5. “Growth: You can’t learn less”
Comment: Derek Bok once suggested, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Chapter 11: “Human Dynamics: Communication is the response you get”
Comment: Don’t assume that your intended meaning is always what others graspChapter 18. “Excuses: The ‘reasons’ we duck responsibility”
Comment: Dante reserved the last and worst ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserved their neutrality.Chapter 19. “Legacy: Spreading the opportunity”
Comment: My favorite passage in Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

I selected the title of my review based on material provided in the Introduction, notably David Neenan’s clever discussion of sea squirts, “a large and numerous class of ocean creatures known as turnicates” who are seafaring adventurers.

Frankly, I was and am struck by similarities between sea squirts and humans: “But as maturity sets in, turnicates find a handy rock, send out a holdfast, and cement themselves to a spot where they will spend the rest of their lives sucking up whatever comes their way. They cover themselves with stiff, unyielding membranes compared to ‘tunics,’ thus the biological name, and stay put. Forever. No longer needing to move, they begin their existence as adults by digesting their own cerebral ganglion. That’s their brain.”

In a book written with Eric Lucas, David Neenan provides eminently practical advice to those who now feel that they have few (if any) career growth opportunities, are frustrated about that, and determined to take responsibility for their own success – or failure – rather than spend the remainder of their lives “sucking up whatever comes their way,” including alibis, excuses, accusations, and other forms of neurotic self-justification.

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