Radical Acceptance

My life can be described in one sentence:

It didn’t go as planned, and that’s ok.

At some point in our younger lives, we created decisive mental maps for the future. They probably included assorted variations on our desires for a career or job within a particular industry, our projected income and planned professional advancement, whether or not we wanted to marry and create a family, where we would live, our expectations for social stature, the kinds of people our friends and family would be, and so on.  As anyone who has lived beyond the naivete of youth knows, however, life often has other ideas about what is best for our ultimate growth.

When a curveball is thrown our way, especially if it is one of the life-altering types, our knee-jerk reaction might look like one of these:

  • Waiting for other people to change so we can be happy
  • Bargaining with a Higher Power (“I promise I will never ask for another thing if you’ll just grant me XYZ”)
  • Using the phrase, “Yes, but…” (“Yes, it might be time to step away from grad school, but earning that degree is the only way I’ll be able to pay back my student loans)
  • Beating ourselves up about decisions we made in the past (“Everything would be ok right now if I had done ABC when my kids were growing up)
  • Believing we have failed.  Remember this:  every person is human, on a journey with unavoidable twists and turns.  No mistake is ever too large to be improved upon and learned from

Of course, we want to spare ourselves from burdensome feelings of pain, so we avoid acceptance.  We fight tooth and nail to justify our situation and to deny that something is not working well in our life.  But until we accept exactly where we are, regardless of how we got here, there can be no forward action.  Accepting every aspect of our life in this moment – the frightening, the overwhelming, the disappointing – and seeing it all in clear and accurate perspective, is the first step toward recognizing and making new choices.

“Change and pain are inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

Acceptance gives us possibilities and power over our lives.  When we are ready to face reality, bless the universe’s timing, grieve our losses, and move on, we again have choices!  Take the examples above and look at them from a place of acceptance and clarity:

  • I cannot control other people, so I’ll change my own life
  • I have everything I need in this moment
  • Yes, it might be time to step away from grad school.  I’ll get a job and start paying on those loans now.  Maybe I can return to grad school when the time is right for me.
  • I did the best I could with what I knew when my kids were growing up
  • Every mistake or misstep I have made in my life has allowed me the lessons I have learned to bring me to this point.  I am wiser and stronger because of those lessons

Acceptance does not mean we have to condone inexcusable situations, and it doesn’t mean we have to give up on living our best lives.  What it does mean is that we are ready to take back the control of our decisions.  And if we make those decisions with a grateful heart for what we have learned, all the better.

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