Dave Chappelle on Making Excuses and How to Quit
Below is a transcription of this video.
I recently watched Dave Chappelle’s comedy special — specifically the one called “The Bird Revelation”. Say whatever you want about Dave Chappelle, but he’s a guy that inspires me to be bold in service of finding the truth. That said, if you get offended easily then don’t watch it.
So one of the things he talked about was “weak spirit”. I don’t want to ruin the bit for you but he described an imaginary scenario that involved Louis CK and Martin Luther King Jr. And he described what would happen if Martin Luther King Jr had had a weak spirit and quit his life’s work and backed out of the civil rights movement. And the insane part in this story is that Louis CK would have been to blame for all of it.
It was a powerful way to illustrate what it means to have strength in the face of a challenge. It helped me see that we don’t give up on stuff when it strengthens our spirt.
And that’s the part I want to address. When we have “weak spirit” we look for excuses to give up. We look for someone to blame.
I’ll give you an example.
I was 13 and had just made the middle school football team. I was spending my afternoons in the blazing Florida sun getting my ass handed to me. I had no interest in the game. I didn’t watch it on TV. I had no heroes in the NFL. I didn’t understand how plays worked, and this was because I really didn’t care about football. I was just playing because my good friends were doing it and I didn’t want to get left out. Deep down I loved playing guitar and skateboarding. That’s where I experienced flow and deep joy.
Now, my mom didn’t want me to play football. And so she devised a scheme to get me to quit. I had broken my leg a few months earlier and healed just fine. Had some surgery. Had some pins. All was good.
But she came to me and said that she spoke with the doc and he said I couldn’t play football. I acted like I was really disappointed but deep down I was relieved. I put on a little act, but ultimately I folded up like a cheap tent.
Well, my dad noticed this and being a detective he made a few phone calls on his own and found out that mom was working with “alternate facts”. He came to me and said something like, “If you want to quit football then just quit. But don’t make excuses.”
And that stung. I could feel the truth in that. Deep down I didn’t want to play, but I was afraid to own the truth of that. I was afraid of being called a quitter. I was afraid of what others would say.
I was willing to sell myself out instead of being honest and simply saying, “I don’t want to play football. I tried it for a while. And it’s not for me. I love skateboarding and playing guitar. That’s what lights me up. That’s what I’m going to do.”
That whole scenario describes “weak spirit”. Me only doing something to impress my friends. Me making excuses and blaming something instead of being honest about what I wanted. And most troubling — what is truly weak spirit — was my willingness to push aside the activities that invigorated me because I was afraid of being different from others.
That’s to be expected of a young person, but I see this a lot in full grown men, too. There’s lots of talk and spinning wheels but little action. No risk taking. No follow through. But plenty of excuses and blaming.
It’s the guy that endlessly complains about his crappy marriage but never does anything about it. Or maybe it’s dating, or getting in shape, or writing or book or reinventing himself professionally. It’s anything that’s outside of his current level of certainty and comfort.
When we have “weak spirit” we let stuff get in the way of what we truly want. Perhaps we’re afraid to be seen as a quitter when it’s time to course correct. But what would be far more inspiring than putting on this act is to simply own that we just don’t want this thing bad enough to do what is required.
That admission may seem like defeat, but it’s a great place to start because it pulls our attention away from excuses and into a place where we can take responsibility. If we really believe our lack of progress is something else’s fault then we’ll never be able to take the wheel.
So how do we build a “strong spirit”?
There’s a paradox that comes with building deep desire or life force or “spirit”. It takes energy to create energy. We can’t sit around and wait for it to show up. But that’s what many folks do. They’re waiting for the quote right time or the quote right opportunity. They wait for their partner to change. They wait for confidence to magically appear.
But that’s never going to happen because that change we’re seeking — that life force — comes from engagement. And engagement means taking risks, experimenting with things, and seeing what actually builds that fire.
That process requires life force, and as we engage we’re looking to build life force as we go. That’s our indicator that whatever we’re engaging — a relationship or professional situation or whatever — is aligned with our deeper selves. Life force is our guidance system.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be all rainbows and unicorns and thong bikinis. We’re going to be challenged along the way. That’s natural, and it’s also the opportunity for us to test our choices.
We get to ask ourselves, “Now that I’m fully engaged in this process and I’m feeling really challenged, do I want to keep going? Even though this is challenging, is it feeding me and making me stronger? Is this building my fire and life force as I go?”
And if it’s not, if it’s depleting who we are, if it’s making us less powerful and smaller, then it’s time to challenge our reasons for continuing. Are we going to honor that life force or are we going to collapse to the imagined expectations of others? Are we going to own what we want or avoid losing face?
And for that younger version of ourselves who is struggling in a game he never wanted to play:
Do you like this game enough to continue to get the shit beat out of you just so you can look good to others?
Or are you gonna have the guts to honor what truly feeds you and move on?