Accepting What Is: The Key to Personal Empowerment

personal empowerment means accepting what is

One step in the process of self-empowerment is embracing reality or accepting what is. This statement seems counter-intuitive. It seems like if you’re going to make things happen and live your dreams then you can’t be content or accept the way things are, but work or fight to make them different. Paradoxically, however, it begins with accepting what is or surrendering to things as they are.

The Nature of Reality

Think of it like this. Reality forms the context of your life. It is the game-board on which you play the game of life. As such, it includes circumstances (facts about your life—like today’s weather, where you live, what you do for a living, the people with whom you’re in a relationship. I could go on and on.)

Reality also includes events or what happens in your life day-to-day.

Reality includes who you are—your height, weight, your talents, strengths, even your basic intelligence and personality. (I like how Popeye the Sailor Man phrased it, “I am what’s I am.”)

And reality includes here and now. You can only live your life or make choices from where your body is and at this moment in time. The past is not real. You can enjoy and learn from the past. And the future is not real although you can plan for and anticipate the future. However, it does not work to live in the past or the future, which is what you so often try to do. But remember that it is only this moment that is real. When can you make choices? Feel happy? Be confident? Make things happen? It all begins in a moment called “now” and a place called “here.”

Tailored Just for You

My definition of reality means that not everything is possible to you. You can’t make choices based on someone else’s reality, or what you wish were your reality, or at some other moment in time. Your choices are limited by reality.

Unless you’re Superman, you cannot leap over a tall building with a single bound or catch a speeding bullet with your bare hand. You probably can’t run a four-minute mile and are not likely to win an international beauty pageant. The truth is that reality forms parameters around your life and within which you make choices.

Another way of thinking about reality is that it is like school. It forms the curriculum of your life. Each person’s curriculum is unique, tailored especially for them. You can either complain and reject your curriculum or you can embrace it and by so doing have the opportunity to learn and grow and make something remarkable of your life. By rejecting or resisting your curriculum you stay stuck, you fail to learn or grow, or make the contribution you were meant to make.

Reality Doesn’t Care

A critical realization came to me one day, many years ago now. Reality is neutral. It has no meaning inherent within it. You give reality its meaning. This is sometimes hard to accept, especially around difficult realities—for example, when I failed to get into my first three choices of graduate school, or when I was fired from a job I was excited about, or when I learned that I had heart disease, or at the death of my parents.

Nevertheless, it is true. I learned, when facing these realities, tough realities that I really didn’t like showing up in my life, that there were many ways to think about them. I did not like losing my job but I realized that this event was neutral. I got to decide what it meant to me. Likewise losing my loved ones, or learning about my unexpected illness.

The fact that reality is neutral and has no meaning does not mean that you don’t feel it and even grieve it; nor does it mean that there is a right meaning or wrong meaning to give it; nor does it mean that you have to be resigned to it.

It does mean that you recognize that you’re the one who gives it meaning. It does mean that you can stop resisting or fighting it and instead embrace it as your curriculum, as part of the game board of your life, so you can use it for your spiritual and emotional growth. You can face it squarely and ask good questions about it—not why me? But what can I learn? What meaning do I choose to give it? What purpose can it serve? What choices do I have? How can I use this reality to move forward?

Let Go of Your “Shoulds”

One practical way of thinking about accepting reality is letting go of your “shoulds.” When life isn’t going how you want do you put your attention on how you think things should be rather than how they are? “Life should be this way.” “My child should do this or that.” “I should feel better.” “My boss should communicate more or be more appreciative of my contribution.”

Your “shoulds” keep you stuck in unhappiness, discouragement and disempowerment. A better objective is to accept things as they are and take responsibility for your choices to move forward.

Who’s to Say

Let me illustrate this by telling you a story about an old man and his family who lived in the country. One night their only mare broke out of her stable and ran away into the hills. The neighbors consoled the old man and his family, “What bad luck that your only horse ran away.”

The old man, in his wisdom, replied, “Who’s to say what is good and who’s to say what is bad?”

A few days later, the mare returned, bringing with her three stallions. The neighbors came again, celebrating, “What good fortune. How lucky you are!” The old man replied, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?”

Within a few weeks, the eldest son of the family was breaking one of the stallions when he was thrown off and seriously injured. The neighbors came once again. “What misfortune. Here it is the beginning of planting season and you’ve lost the help of your eldest son.” To that the man replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who’s to know?”

A short time later the army came through the country side looking for all the able-bodied young men and passed by the home of this family. The neighbors, in their fickle-minded way returned again, “What good fortune that your son does not have to go to war.” The man, in his wisdom, replied, “Who’s to say what is good and who’s to say what is bad?”

Accepting What is–It’s up to You

Yes. The realities of your life are not good or bad. They are simply what is. And one of the most remarkable things about your life is that it’s up to you. You get to decide what the facts and circumstances of your life mean. No one else can make that decision for you.

Will you accept what is and use reality, or the curriculum of your life, to propel you to a better future or remain stuck in unhappiness and disappointment?

Share a thought. Let me know what you think.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

9 responses to “Accepting What Is: The Key to Personal Empowerment”

  1. Jim Welsh says:

    Hi Roger. I write poetry on the human condition and awareness. This is one of my poems. You identify what you are through what you are Not.

    NOT
    You are not your house your holiday
    Your car or your career.
    Not even all the roles you play
    Or the sum of all your fear.
    These are objects, thoughts and situations
    Contained within the space
    Of the truth of your existence
    Beyond Religion Creed or Race !
    Cheers
    Jim Welsh

  2. Louise says:

    Thanks for the perspective u share l really needed reminding of this today. I love your support ❤️

  3. K GURUMURTHY says:

    Thanks for the perspective u share. l really needed reminding of this today. It made me ponder over my realities further. While it is better to accept the realities as they are, it does not solve the problem. When we have to make decisions or choices, and the decisions or choices we make are not supported by your family or boss in the office, it really gets tough and makes one indecisive. Would request you to throw light on such situations. If you have already written any article about that, kindly refer to the same.
    Thanks

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Gurumurthy,
      I appreciate your comment and question. Let me try to address it. There are two types of problems–“out there” and “in here.” By out there I’m talking about a set of circumstances in your life that usually includes other people, family members or boss. By in here I’m talking about your perception and feelings. A good place to start when solving a problem is always in here because, ultimately, the problem you have is a feeling. You don’t like what is happening out there because of how it makes you feel–frustrated, defensive, hurt, anxious, etc. Sometimes accepting reality means that you change how you feel so a problem out there does not trigger negative feelings. You do that as you become more accepting of what life dishes up, as you surrender or allow reality to be whatever it is. Acceptance of what you can’t change does change how you feel. Sometimes this is the best work we can do. We do it by leaning into and feeling our feelings without judging them. Feeling them can cause them to dissipate. We can also change our feelings by challenging how we think. After all, our feelings flow from our thoughts and not circumstances. Two articles that might be helpful to you are Allowing Negative Emotions and another entitled How to Overcome Negative Self Talk. Go to my blog archive and scroll down and you’ll find them. I believe it is possible to find peace even when circumstances are difficult. Perhaps these will help.

      However, it is also helpful to learn skills in how to influence other people through communication and conflict resolution. I’m actually in the process of creating such a course for Udemy. I teach a process of getting sensitive issues out on the table and talking through them so both parties feel like they win. Not always easy to do with a boss but we can become better as we practice our communication skills, including asserting our own needs and point of view. Of course, people are much more likely to listen and be open to us if we can begin by understanding their point of view. We have to listen and draw them out, let them talk to us about how they see things. If we can accept their point of view without being defensive, it opens them to our point of view. But you have to start by listening. As Stephen Covey said, Seek first to understand and then be understood. so there are tools to help you communicate and work out differences with others. I’ll be writing more about these in upcoming posts and I’m hopeful to have my new course available in September. I’ll keep you posted.

      So thanks for a good question and I hope these thoughts help.

  4. Jim Arbuckle says:

    My son is going through a hard divorce and is very stressed about how the judge will divide the assets. I have been telling him to worry about the things he can control and that are more important. Your blog articulated what i have been trying to tell him.
    Thanks

    • Roger Allen says:

      Your are welcome. It can be a hard lesson but one that can bring relief. It is so easy to focus on the things outside ourselves that we do not control and freeing as we keep our focus on what we do-our own thinking, feeling, and behavior. It takes a lot of trust and faith to believe that things will work out. That faith and trust have to begin with faith and trust in ourselves.

  5. Harold Cameron says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this piece of wisdom Roger. I’ve kept your newsletter open for a couple of days, and read it several times. It’s just what I need!
    I’m in between jobs (journeys) and am trying to decide which way to go.
    Thank You!

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