God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Grant me the courage to change what I can,
And grant me the wisdom to know the difference.
These words may be familiar to some as a version of “The Serenity Prayer”. I was confronted with contemplating Acceptance yesterday as I attended a training course on teaching Mindfulness. As one concept to be presented in a laundry list of key elements on Mindfulness, we need to convey the theme of Acceptance in less than five minutes in order to be able to cover all the material we have on our agenda for teaching Mindfulness in a 90-minute presentation. Ambitious? Perhaps. Impossible. No – not if we can message it concisely and clearly; that is, without ambiguity. Therein lies the challenge.
The challenge is to convey “the wisdom to know the difference” between striving to change the situation and accepting it. For some, striving to change a situation can be exhausting and possibly debilitating. Stress in the workplace has a multitude of examples to demonstrate this. You may relate to, or know someone who has experienced difficulties in the workplace. Buoyed by communication issues, personnel bias, seniority and personality conflicts, such difficulties can leave a worker feeling harassed and unsupported. This lack of support can occur even if the situation is escalated to upper management or a so-called independent third-party by way of mediation. In this situation, how many months should the victim strive to change the situation and endure emotional and physical stress? In accepting the situation, the choice of actions may be to try to stay at the workplace, but to be completely miserable, or to leave and be removed from the extremely stressful situation. The latter may not be an option in this challenging job market.
In accepting the situation, whatever the outcome, everyone is going to be different. Accepting is not giving up trying; it is being willing to embrace a situation for what it is. It is not judging the situation as positive or negative. As Jon Kabat-Zinn quotes: “Acceptance … does not mean passivity or resignation.” It is truly acknowledging where you are right now, so that your perspective on the situation can be objective. From this state of objectivity, you can then progress to a step of personal growth that involves a conscious decision to view reality. In terms of your career, it may be to acknowledge where you are without comparing yourself to others or trying to be perfect. Your attitude to your career expectations will allow you to ride the ebb and flow of a world of work where there are no guarantees. From this vantage point, you can then work toward making a decision to refining your career outcomes. Easier said than done, but awareness of Acceptance is the first step. It is this concept and this awareness of Acceptance that we can teach others while developing it in ourselves.