“Courage to Change the Things I Can”

10 Jun

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote what has become known far and wide as The Serenity Prayer. It goes like this: “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.” And it’s stitched on a lot of pillows and hanging on a lot of dining room walls. That “wisdom to know the difference” is about understanding what you can control.

To drive change, we MUST have a grasp on “Fear and Worry” — at work, at home, and in our community. Address them through an understanding of control. Get out the pen and paper and list out all the things you can personally control. Not the things you can have an impact upon, but those you can actually control.

Examples of what I can control:

• What time I get up in the morning

• What I chose to eat

• How I respond when someone is talking to me

• How fast or slow I drive my car

• Whether or not I open the door for my spouse

• How much I tip at a restaurant

• The level of effort I put in on the job

• How many books I read

• How many words I write

How I treat people at home, at work, at the grocery store, and

everywhere I go.

Examples of what I can’t control:

• The electricity going out during the middle of the night

• The weather

• How others treat me or what they think of me

• How slow or fast others are driving

• When the department of transportation decides to do road work

• Who runs for President or who wins

• What time the mail gets delivered

• The price of a new iPhone

• How fresh the produce is at the time I buy it

• My child’s school grades

These lists could each have hundreds of items. Regardless of the number of examples on your lists, pay attention to the ones you put on the control list. This is where your power lies. Next step? Take time to write out the behaviors you’d have to exude in order to put that power to work FOR YOU, for your workplace, for you community. In essence, you’re taking ownership and authority over what you can control and not worrying about what you can’t control. Imagine you’re on a business development team and you have to prepare a proposed acquisition pipeline. You want the company to expand into a new region overseas. You’ve identified a path to incredible returns for the company, but it requires a level of risk the company has not taken in the past. You’ve also witnessed leadership in the past respond harshly to risky plans. But there’s a new VP at the helm of business development, as well as a new CEO. You are petrified they’ll think your expansion plan is ill-fated and you’ll get your head ripped off (figuratively). Plus, you’re known to not take criticism well, so what will you do?

What can you control in this scenario? Several things. You control what details get included in the proposal (e.g., financial projections, foreign government rules/pitfalls/benefits, growth projections). You control the degree to which you are prepared for the pitch. You control whether you take time in advance to prepare thoughtful responses to anticipated questions and concerns. You control whether you go into the room with an alternative course of action or a Plan B.

What can you NOT control? A few things. You can’t control their responses, their questions, their concerns, or their final decision. Bottom line: Act on what you CAN control. You’ll see that even in scenarios like this, it may just outweigh what you CAN’T control, and you’ll be in the drivers seat of real change.

Special note — in the fight against individual, institutional, and systemic racism, always remember YOU control how you choose to treat others. It’s a personal choice. Building and demonstrating a character of kindness and respect towards all is like a smile… it’s contagious. The contrary is symbolic toxic, cancerous behavior that needs to be rooted out and shown the exit door.

This article was published originally published on Medium.com.  Photo by Alexas Fotos

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