Acceptance, Change, and Me

I have been thinking lately about how difficult it is to balance radical acceptance and self-growth. It has always been a challenge for me, and I’m willing to bet for many others, because the two concepts seem to have disparate objectives. 

First, some definitions. Radical acceptance is the ability to accept things you can’t change exactly as they are. There is an active element to this kind of acceptance — you can’t just lie back and say, “meh, that’s the way it is.” It’s more about embracing reality instead of just resigning yourself to it. 

In the past, I’ve always heard about radical acceptance as a mindset for people dealing with overwhelming issues like chronic pain, but only recently I’ve come to realize that it can be applied to anything: past mistakes, personal characteristics, current situations — even the mortifying memory of that time I sneezed on my shirt and didn’t realize it so I walked around El Corte Inglés covered in snot. 

Self-growth is the willingness and effort to improve yourself by changing your attitudes, thinking styles, and behaviors. This concept is pretty easy to understand.1 And some people say self-improvement isn’t just a pursuit for them — it’s an all-out passion!

The way I see it, radical acceptance is very helpful in managing your feelings about the past, while self-growth is valuable to help you prepare for the future.

But, what about the present? Here things get a bit muddled. I’m simultaneously trying to accept my current situation (which is the outcome of past events that I can’t change) and reject the current situation to effect a future that perhaps I can change.

I think what’s throwing me off is that I’m thinking about radical acceptance and self-growth as an either/or thing — I notice that I used the word “balance” in the first sentence as if these two ideas were perched on opposite ends of a see-saw. Perhaps I should think of them as complementary concepts: Through radical acceptance, I can see more clearly what I need to do to improve myself and my future. And through self-growth, I may gain the tools and perspective to understand the past — I can’t change it, but I can learn from it.2

I’m probably overthinking this, which wouldn’t be a surprise. But that’s usually why I write posts like this: Putting thoughts down to paper is the most effective way to process them.

1 And easy to monetize. Self-help is a multibillion-dollar industry that I have yet to make a buck off of.

2 Did I really just write several hundred words to end up at “Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”? Yeah, I think I did.3

3 If I painted this entire blog post on a piece of driftwood and sold it at HomeGoods for $24.99, would you buy it? If you want to know why I’d do this, see Footnote 1.