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Acceptance is a Virtue

by Rand Golletz

Note From Rand

Thanksgiving is in a few weeks. It’s a holiday whose message bears remembering and reminding. I, for one, have a tendency to feel entitled. I believe that hard, focused work will, or should, yield positive results, and the rewards that should follow EVERY TIME. The problem is that it’s hard to feel grateful if I believe that I DESERVE the thing I’ve worked hard for, which leads me to the subject of this month’s column on acceptance. I think – at least I HOPE – you’ll find my message thought provoking and instructive.

Enjoy turkey day and as always: Get real; get tough; get going!

Acceptance is a Virtue

Reinhold Niebuhr
God 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.

Rand Golletz
God grant me the serenity
to accept the people that I cannot change;
the courage to change the one that I can
and the wisdom to know that it’s me.

Frank worked for a large financial services company that had been a client for several years. He called me to inquire if we could chat about the possibility of my becoming his executive coach. I scheduled an appointment to meet him in his office several days later.

At the appointed time, his executive assistant walked me into his office and introduced us. He was a C-level executive and reported to the Chairman and CEO. His office, on the top floor of this old and stately colonial building, was furnished in dark wood and leather – very Ralph Lauren-esque. As we sat down to chat, I noticed how stressed and forlorn Frank looked. I knew that he was in his early forties, but he looked much older. His hair was grey, and his face could’ve benefited from a large tub of spackle.

After about ten minutes of niceties, I opened our discussion with an open-ended question, as I normally do: “So Frank … how can I help or support you?” He thought for a minute and then began a thirty minute diatribe that essentially said the following: “My boss is a jerk, and I am screwed. I will never be successful as long as I work for him.” Keep in mind that I’m dramatically abbreviating his comments, but that quote represents their sum and substance. When he finished, he stared at me and said no more as I closed my briefcase, stood up, and left.

I walked to the company cafeteria, got a cup of coffee (they served Illy – one of my favorites), and sat down to wait for the call that I knew was coming. About 30 minutes later, my cell phone rang and as I suspected, it was Frank. “Where’d you go?” he asked. “Are you not interested in my business? You left me hanging. I at least expected you to say SOMETHING!”

I asked if I could return to his office and share my perspective. He said “fine,” and I met him a few minutes later. If he looked forlorn earlier, he looked downright angry at this point.

“Here’s why I got up and left abruptly and without an explanation,” I said. “I figured that I needed to set up an appointment with your boss as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” Frank asked.

“Well … after listening to you complain for a half hour, I concluded that your situation was hopeless as long as you worked for him, and that you’d be wasting time and money if I was to become your coach. Further, if your boss needs help as desperately as you indicated, I determined that I should, in fact, be working with HIM!”

A more relevant and productive discussion ensued where we discussed how I might help Frank change the things about HIMSELF that would result in a better relationship with his boss and improved prospects for him. We set objectives, I got feedback, and we pursued an aggressive development agenda that accomplished his REAL goals.

Most of us would like the circumstances outside of ourselves to improve. Our bosses might be jerks; our spouses may lack empathy and compassion; the cost of living might be too high relative to our incomes. It is OK to WANT the world to be different than it is. It is NOT OK to REQUIRE the world to be different than it is. THAT takes acceptance.

“Acceptance” has been a personal challenge for most of my adult life. I once believed that it was tantamount to “throwing in the towel.” I wondered, “If I accept the things and people that I cannot change, doesn’t that imply that I’m a quitter?”

After lots of reflection, I learned the following about my inability to control the universe:

• “Acceptance” means “giving in to reality.” “Resignation” means “giving up on possibility.” Years ago, when I considered acceptance, I often mistook it for resignation. I now understand that when I accept the way things are right now, it means that I understand that current results and circumstances were created in the past. I cannot do a damn thing about that. What I CAN do is plan for the future and execute those plans while understanding that I do not absolutely control my outcomes. My life got better once I understood this distinction and allowed it to preempt my tendency to criticize.

• A lot of what happens in life is random. In physics, it’s called entropy. In lay person’s terms, that’s the natural tendency of systems to spin out of control. Our management systems and processes are all designed to minimize entropy. The truth is that while we can INFLUENCE outcomes, we can control NOTHING. From an organizational point of view, attempts to control entropy often result in turning innovative organizations into bureaucratic ones and creative, enthusiastic people into lemmings. I’m not arguing here for anarchy; I am promoting the notion that in managing our organizations, reason should trump delusion.

• Believing that we should be able to control events, people and outcomes leads to blame, rationalization, justification and victimhood when we can’t or don’t. Then we concoct preposterous excuses rather than accepting that even when we do our best, sometimes we fail, and that failure can (but doesn’t always) create wisdom.

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