Have you ever tried to change your boss? Your partner? The guy on the road who cut you off? How'd that work out for you? Did that person hear, understand, and magically start doing things your way and suddenly all was right with the world again? Or did you become frustrated, irritable, and angry at their lack of attention to your plan for how people, more specifically they themselves, should behave? Think about it for a minute - I'd wager that your episodes of non-acceptance trigger more bad behaviors than the fallout from just about anything else you do.
Here's an even harder question: Have you ever tried to change something about yourself that was out of your control? I have. It was a fruitless and vain attempt, which I'll tell you now had a happy ending not because I changed what I couldn't change, but because I made peace with it.
At 26, I was married to my first and only wife, Lyda. I was pursuing a doctorate in organizational behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since high school I had been a folliclly challenged man, but back then I was loath to admit it. Each morning I would spend several minutes in front of the bathroom mirror carefully arranging the wispy blond stands of hair still remaining on the top of my head. I'd smooth the hairs forward from back to front, then curve them to a point in the middle of my forehead, forming a pattern that looked vaguely like a laurel wreath. Then I'd walk out into the world with my ridiculous comb-over, convinced I looked normal like everyone else.
When I visited my barber, I'd give specific instructions on how to cut my hair. One morning I dozed off in the chair, so he trimmed my hair too short, leaving insufficient foliage on the sides to execute my comb-over regimen. I could have panicked and put on a hat for a few weeks, waiting for the strands to grow back. But as I stood in front of the mirror later that day, staring at my reflected image, I said to myself, "Face it, you're bald. It's time you accepted it."
That's the moment when I decided to shave the few remaining hairs on the top of my head and live my life as a bald man. It wasn't a complicated decision and it didn't take great effort to accomplish. A short trim at the barber from them on. But in many ways, it is still the most liberating change I've made as an adult. It made me happy, at peace with my appearance.
I'm not sure what triggered my acceptance of a new way of self-grooming. Perhaps I was horrified at the prospect of starting every day with this routine forever. Or maybe it was the realization that I wasn't fooling anyone. The reason doesn't matter. The real achievement is that I decided to make peace with what is. And it instantly made my life better!
In my walk through life I've discovered a number of main themes that require acceptance. These are just facts of life, and we cannot change them. Here are just a few, so you can get the idea:
1. Our physical body - height, hair growth, body type (there's always plastic surgery, but you get the idea)
2. The weather
4. Other people
5. The fact that decision makers have the power to make decisions - and we are not always the decision makers!
6. The fact that change requires consistent effort; it is a process, not an overnight event. If we don't put in the effort, we won't change.
7. That misfortunes are often the result of fate or bad luck, they are not because that we are bad people or that someone is trying to "get us".
There are many, many more things about life that we need to accept if we're going to be happy. Take a moment to think about it. Can you name some for yourself? What are they? Make a list, take a breath, and let them go. And remember, change requires consistent effort, so don't be surprised if you have to do this again tomorrow!
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Please view the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog. The next video in the series Triggers: Making Peace with What Is accompanies this article. I'll post these blogs once a week for the next 50 weeks. The series will incorporate learnings from my 38 years of experience with top executives, as well as material from my previous research, articles and books, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There, MOJO, Coaching for Leadership, and Succession: Are You Ready? The blogs will also include material from my exciting new research on engagement and my upcoming book Triggers (to be published by Crown in 2015).