“The secret of happiness is knowing that there are some things you can control and some things you cannot.” – Epictetus
It is empowering to know that there are some things we can change and very reassuring to know that there are others that we can not. Things that are within our control, open a world of ever-increasing possibilities to us. Things we can not change or control allow us to develop acceptance, patience, wisdom and flexibility.
The challenge as I see it, is to tell the difference between the two. How do you know when to persist and when to let go? What are the things that are worth changing and which ones are better left alone?
There are 3 Things on my list that were the biggest source of frustration, stress and misery for me until I accepted the fact that they are out of my control.
Here are my conclusions:
1. You can’t change your past
This sounds pretty obvious and yet we still dwell on things that we have not accomplished, imagine all the vindictive and ironic lines that we could have said to someone two days after an argument and beat ourselves up for the silly mistakes that we have made. I know that I am not immune to this. However, the bottom line is that neither you, nor I can change the past. We can learn from it, cherish it or, at least, accept it. But there is no sense on dwelling on it!
2. You can’t change certain circumstances
I think it was Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”. No matter how well you plan or how much data you have, you can not foresee everything or change any of the circumstances that you will inevitably find yourself in. And maybe it is better that way. It adds an element of surprise to our, otherwise, very predictable lives.
Besides, it is liberating to know that you do not have to correct or resolve problems that are beyond your competency, authority, responsibility or power.
3. You can’t change other people
I recently heard a song that I immediately forgot all except one line. It said, “How do you fix something that was intended broken?” We often look around and think of a million ways to “fix” people around us: we try to mold our partner so that they fit the “picture-perfect” image we have carefully woven in our mind. We readily give advice to our children and feel hurt when they prefer to listen to their friends and classmates, rather than do what we told them.
The world would be a much better place if everyone acted according to our expectations, wouldn’t it?
But here is the brutal truth: you do not get to “fix” other people. They were intended that way. It is a waste of time wishing that those around us were somehow different, that they would stop doing something or start doing something or, that they want the same things we do.
What you can change
Amongst the crypts in Westminster Abbey in London there is an eulogy carved on the tomb of an Anglican bishop (A.D 1100). It says,
“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it, too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.
And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”
Changing yourself is probably the hardest work on earth. Everyone who has ever been in a serious relationship knows that the simple statement “You’re right. Let’s do it your way” can require an enormous amount of effort (especially if you feel that your idea makes more sense). Or how about squeezing “I’m sorry” out of yourself when you do not feel that you are the one at fault?
These actions of going against our ego, of suppressing accusatory remarks in moments of anger, of forgiving those who have offended us, are the unnoticeable, yet remarkable feats that are worth more than ten thousand smiles or five thousand compliments.
At least this is how I see it.
What are your thoughts and suggestions on changing yourself?