“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference. “
These are virtues that every man should be mindful of as they set about their daily tasks. Though the principle behind this prayer is simple, do not be so haughty as to claim the practice of which is a trivial matter, especially in this day and age where mankind is more connected to each other than we have ever been.
Let me begin dissecting this prayer starting with the last virtue that is mentioned; wisdom.
It can be argued that wisdom is the foundation upon which the other two virtues stand. After all, does a foolish man know when to bite his tongue and exercise prudence? What good is unflinching courage is you lack the capacity to make wise decisions?
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
In regards to the Serenity Prayer, wisdom and discernment go hand in hand. When life presents you with an obstacle, stop and ask yourself “Is this within my control?” When analyzing such matters, be sure not to involve your own ego in the decision-making process. Objectivity should come first and foremost.
There are those who will tell you that you are in control of everything and should something misfortunate happen to you, then you are to blame. While I can certainly appreciate the sentiment they are trying to express -God knows we have too many out there claiming to be good men while simultaneously abdicating their duties- this philosophy they espouse is simply too binary.
If I am commuting to work and a small stone bounces up and strikes my windshield, creating a large crack, am I to blame? Most certainly not.
If I live my life eating foods that nourish the body and exercise regularly yet still I fall ill, will you claim that this is my fault? I should hope not.
While I believe that individuals should hold themselves accountable to the things they are responsible for, it is also my belief this concept of responsibility for everything promotes neurotic behavior and narcissism. Are we all gods that can create into existence whatever we will as so? No, so why should we hold ourselves accountable as though we were?
I am sure there will be proponents of the extreme ownership principle (not to be confused with Jocko Willink’s version) that will scoff and ridicule me and that’s fine. I am willing to admit where I am wrong, if I am permitted with a compelling enough argument though I doubt I’d lack the enthusiasm to pursue the matter as our end goals are nearly identical – it’s just our methods of reaching the end goal that differ.
Upon introspection, if the situation is outside of your control, then you need not fret over it. So long as you’ve done the best you could, you can sleep well at night knowing you’ve done all within your power to do that which is good. Continuously reprimanding yourself for the fact that you did not receive that promotion at work -thought you did everything in your power to ensure you would- is not productive or virtuous. You must recognize where your locus of control ends and accept the fact that you may only influence things outside your locus of control, but cannot actually control them.
As I touched on in my previous article, all that you truly have control over are your own thoughts, intentions, and actions. Everything else, EVERYTHING, is outside of your direct control and, at best, may only be influenced.
To many this fact is disheartening but, if anything, it should come as a great relief. How much pressure have we needlessly placed on ourselves for no better reason than that we believed we should?
Putting It Into Practice
As you begin your evening routine before going to bed, take a moment to write down an event that happened that day. Think about the event for a few minutes and write down a list of things about that event that were in your complete control and things that were outside your control.
Example: I had a meeting at work today where I was expected to present an update of the current events going on with our contracted customer and address any issues that might have arisen since our last meeting.
Things within my control:
1. Preparing the report for the meeting.
2. Sending the report out in a timely manner.
3. Planning to arrive at the meeting on time.
4. Attempting to have the latest information for any issues or potential issues.
Things not within my control:
1. How the other people at the meeting react to my report.
2. Whether the other people attending the meeting even read my report.
3. If I actually make it to the meeting in time, or at all (traffic, illness, etc.)
4. If the other attendees ask me about something I didn’t expect to be brought up in this meeting.
As you continue to do this little exercise, you will find that you will more easily recognize things both inside and outside your locus of control during the actual events, allowing you to handle them with patience and reason.
You can find Jacob on Twitter @TheGentlemanJak
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