Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

Choose Radical Acceptance in the Workplace

By Jacquelyn Adams

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the serenity prayer: “Grant 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.” In listening to one of my latest obsessions on Youtube, Cinema Therapy, I came across an article that talked about radical acceptance, which seems to be the embodiment of the serenity prayer. Or in the words of Dr. Karyn Hall in Psychology Today, “Accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.”

Of course, in my digesting, processing and questioning, my mind turns to what radical acceptance looks like in the workplace. Now, this may shock some of you (or not), but for better and worse, my personality is the type that seeks to identify and solve all problems. In the workplace, this has been both a boon and a burden. It has helped me get ahead as I tackle problems no one else wants to touch. However, it also increases my stress load, and sometimes strains workplace relationships. So this week, let’s delve into that balancing act of changing what can be changed and accepting what cannot be changed.

Assessing what is changeable

Take five or ten minutes to write down a list of things you wish you could change in the workplace — whether it is company policies, coworkers’ habits, micromanaging supervisors, etc. If most of us did this little exercise, it’s likely the resulting list would be sizable, even if you only allow yourself a few minutes to jot it down. Next, review your list to determine which of the items are truly within your power to change. Perhaps some of them you can attend to yourself — even if it might involve extra work or require having some uncomfortable conversations. These are things where you can have an impact. Other issues on your list might be conquerable if you can garner upper management buy-in. And assess which items on your list you must take on, even if they are difficult, because it is the right thing to do. And other items on list your will fall into the category of outside or above your job purview.

One of the great things about Dr. Hall’s quote is that she acknowledges that not every battle has to be fought. When we look at our lists and whittle them down to the things that are actually within our power to change, we need to stop again and whittle some more until we reach the items we can actually take on and stay sane. It is vital for our mental health that we purposefully choose the battles that we are fighting. Otherwise, we can end up arbitrarily reacting to whatever “problem issues” arise on any given day.

Accepting the unchangeable

And now we get to what is, at least for me, the really hard stuff. Give me a good battle any day of the week, but accepting something that I don’t like or even view as wrong, well, {insert shudder}. The other half of the radical acceptance equation is acknowledging and accepting the things we cannot change. Reviewing our lists again, let’s look at the items that are clearly outside of our power or possibly not even in our lane personally or professionally.

  • Differentiating from avoidance – to be clear, simply ignoring a problem is not accepting it. Ignoring it can result in the problem growing. A certain level of peace must be made with the situation.
  • Understanding acceptance – the first step is to acknowledge that this situation is reality. Saying that it isn’t fair or can’t be true doesn’t change a thing. We must acknowledge that the way things are is very frustrating, hurtful, etc., but that it is real.
  • Breathing and meditation – Once we process our feelings, we assess our body. Simply paying attention to our breathing, and then slowing the rate can help our body accept the reality of our situation. Taking it a step further, we can help our body by practicing short meditations.
  • Word choice – Finally, it is helpful always to be aware of our self-talk. In those moments when we are dealing with things that will not change, instead of saying, “It’s not fair,” it is better to embrace reality and say something like, “This is the way it is,” while focusing on the aspects of the situation that are within our power to change.

Conclusion

The time we set aside for introspection on radical acceptance can give us greater freedom to choose how we respond to life’s curveballs and uncomfortable situations. One of the points that I most appreciated from Dr. Hall in the article is that we can decide to what degree our pain is suffering. There will always be pain, but avoiding it or saying things aren’t fair will only increase our suffering. When we practice radical acceptance, we are purposefully picking our battles and not compounding our misery by denying reality. Today, instead of wallowing in “it’s not fair,” let’s try accepting radically together.

If you are interested in a deeper dive into radical acceptance and how it can affect your life, I recommend checking out the article referenced at the beginning of this article.


Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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