How do you accept that some things will never change?
February 9, 2011 6:17 AM   Subscribe

How do you accept that some things really won't change?

I've noticed that a lot of the stress in my life stems from my inability to accept that some things will never change, and my feelings of injustice around that, especially when people in positions of power agree that I'm correct and changes would be warranted, but cannot change.

For example: I work in an office where I was hired, in part, to identify opportunities for improvement in function and process. I've done a lot of this, and done a lot of good, but I can't help feeling really down about things that are objectively damaging or wrong to the organization but cannot be changed due to things out of my control - or out of my bosses' control, or even out of the organization's control altogether. It's so frustrating to be able to identify exactly what's wrong, know what it would take to change it, only to learn after all that work that it's not something that can be changed.

I'm not looking for work-related answers here, though. What I'm really looking for is how you, yourself got to the point of accepting that some things just never change. (Aside from listening to Bruce Hornsby all day, which I suppose is an option, albeit not a great one.) Everyday tactics, wisdom you picked up along the way that changed your outlook, etc.

For background, I spent a lot of my youth as a rabble-rouser activist, done my share of protests, letter writing, righteous indignation, witnessed police brutality, etc. About what you'd expect a young empowered person with a strong opinion about social issues in the 90's and early 00's to do or be. In contrast to that, I've somehow been able to accept and enjoy that I'm pretty much a yuppie now, and enjoy my lifestyle in general. I just can't shake this main component of stress from my life, and am looking for MeFi advice on how to cope and be a better-functioning person.
posted by juniperesque to Religion & Philosophy (16 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Relevant answers from another thread.
posted by edguardo at 6:25 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is something that can change in your equation - you can change how you look at the situation.

I used to think this was great being said but actually bs in application. I'm now a convert. I got there by asking myself whether I would allow the fact that something wasn't changing to cause me grief. Why should it cause me grief, especially since there was nothing I could do to change the situation? Think about being stuck in traffic - there's nothing you can do to make it move faster so why not just enjoy the fact that you can sit there and listen to the lovely classical station a little while longer?

I would also take a great deal of satisfaction out of knowing that you have literally done everything within your power to change things and that the responsibility for worrying about whether they are going to change is no longer on your plate.

Hope this helps.
posted by Leezie at 6:41 AM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I find that reading history helps. You might think that it's only good for informing you that, in fact, the same patterns repeat themselves over and over again, and that this isn't any the same as giving you grounds to accept that. And I can't really explain why reading history, at least for me, does the latter as well as the former. But it does. There's some kind of sui generis satisfaction in taking what Philip Larkin called "the long perspectives."

One example, since you mention politics: I've been less indignant about the Tea Party after rereading a book about the Civil War era, and seeing people indignantly flinging the same arguments around 150 years ago. Again, I don't know why this is soothing instead of all the more frustrating, but there you have it.
posted by Beardman at 6:44 AM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

You could change what you do. Interpret that in any of a number of ways, from going solo, where you would never have to take no for an answer, and could just keep looking for another way into the solution, to maybe starting some sort of forum for people who do what you do; then maybe your solutions could be put to use by someone else in a similar situation somewhere else, meaning your work will not have been in vain.
posted by troywestfield at 6:58 AM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: I was hired, in part, to identify opportunities for improvement in function and process.

So you were hired to identify these opportunities, not fix them. That's a good thing to remember. So keep doing a good job identifying these things, reward yourself whenever you think you have done a good job at that, and try your best to shrug and laugh at those silly, pointy-haired upper management types who don't actually implement anything you suggest. It's their loss, right?

Your ideas at work are like children: all you can do is wrap them up as snug and warm as possible and walk them to school every morning. Whatever happens after you hand them off to others is out of your hands. You did a good job regardless.
posted by rokusan at 6:59 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can empathize. I work in a system that gives me responsibility but not authority. There are things I just cannot fix even though they can indirectly reflect on me.

I don't know that I ever 'accept' it. I think the key is to deal with the stress that it causes. A mantra helps me. When faced with a situation like that I say "Let it go." I literally repeat that to myself several times, reminding myself that I can't change it and can't afford to waste my time obsessing about it.

At a conference I once heard a speaker talk about the difference between creating fine art and commercial art. That's a very specific example but I think it applies to the broader idea of being overly invested and stressed out when facing things you don't agree with or can't change.

Creating fine art, she said, was like caring for your own child. You get to make all the choices from feeding to clothing, discipline to bedtimes. It's your baby.

Creating commercial art is like babysitting. You don't get to make all the choices, you are just caring for someone temporarily and they don't belong to you. It's not your baby. If the parents (read: clients, bosses, etc.) want you to dress the kid in a black and yellow striped bee costume for the trip to the mall, you do it. You know better. You know the baby looks ridiculous. You know you could choose a better outfit.

But guess what... It's not your baby.

That story has always stuck with me through years of crappy clients and other situations I can't change. Remember that "It's not my baby" and just "Let it go."
posted by pixlboi at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I have a mantra that started out as a bitter, sarcastic response among co-workers to a boss' inconsistencies, bizarre whims, temper tantrums and micro-management. Later, it still applied, but the way I used it changed as I had a kid and logic, kindness and reasonable rules didn't always work any better there either. It is: "Mine is not to question why, mine is just to do and try."

At the store, we used to sing it as a little tune under our breath as we'd watch each other execute nonsensical tasks - but I still use it, for example, to remind myself that my job is to get my kid to school on time, dressed somewhat appropriately - but that doesn't always mean it's what I'd do if I were boss of the world. I don't have to question why it is that no other sweater but the one in the wash will do - I just have to get her in something and get her to school. I don't have to question why one system, which would be perfect at work, can't be done - I just have to do my best within the given structure. If it sucks, it's not my design but I did my part.

It seems strange that I have to remind myself that I don't have to care - but I do, because, I do care. And, just as my co-workers and I used to resound with Jon Lovitz's ringing cry of "Lower your standards!" or we'd use other slogans like "Strive for Mediocrity!" and "Race to the Middle!" to somewhat humourously remind ourselves that the world doesn't always want our personal best or even for things to work properly, these days I also follow this, from Voltaire, via the Happiness Project: Don't Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good.
Maybe either of these two refrains from my life will help you?
posted by peagood at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cultivate humility. Learn more about the forces that stand in the way of the change you crave. Take strolls in other people's shoes. The stone walls that fail to topple when you beat your fists against them are not evil; they're just stone walls doing what stone walls do. They have their own properties, their own inertia. The world is more complicated than you once imagined, and deserves more respect than you might be in the habit of giving it. Justice and fairness are rarely as simple as young activist types think they are. Even now, your "exact" conceptions of how things should be different are flawed, riddled with blind spots. Very little is ever "objectively" wrong. What constitutes "damage" depends on who you're asking.

From a politics course a few years back: Problems persist because one person's or group's problem is another person's or group's solution.
posted by jon1270 at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm neither religious nor in AA, but the first snippet of the Serenity Prayer is a nice simple reminder that you can't change all of the stressful situations in life:
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.
I like to substitute Gravity for God, a tip I got via a pornstar via MeFi, ymmv.
posted by togdon at 7:15 AM on February 9, 2011

Your job is not your life. It's just a way to pay the bills and afford you the money to fund your life. If everything at work is out of control then do what you can do to do your job and let it fall apart if that is what it is doing. Some people need to make their work the center of your life and I think that is fine if it's the decision you make.

You say that you have changed from a radical to a yuppie and maybe that is part of the issue that you feel you have abandoned yourself. You can make money at a good job and go home and be a different person - your own person with a life that you choose. Whether you want to use that time hanging out at Starbucks sipping lattes while reading the NYT or keeping the radical in you alive by attending protests and giving money to organizations that fight police brutality is up to you.

It isn't hard to live a personal life that can be opposite of your work life. Plenty of people live a secret life moonlighting as musicians, serving in the National Guard, running a BDSM dungeon, blogging about politics, etc. Define your life after work hours.
posted by JJ86 at 7:25 AM on February 9, 2011

To my mind, things that will never change are the easiest class of things to accept. It's the ones that retain the promise of change that are difficult. In the immortal words of John Cleese in the under appreciated movie Clockwise:

"It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."
posted by fairmettle at 7:33 AM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might find this book interesting.
posted by mareli at 7:37 AM on February 9, 2011

What I'm really looking for is how you, yourself got to the point of accepting that some things just never change.

A big part of this for me was that I got older. I didn't get magical wisdom or anything, but I did get perspective and experience.
posted by rtha at 9:37 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

A couple of trite, dumb-but-true things I happened to hear at the right time for them to be helpful to me:

"Who died and put you in charge?" Things started bothering me a lot less when I realized that it's not my responsibility to make everything right. Not only can I not change most of it; my opinion is only rarely of any relevance to the world, so maybe I don't need to take it too seriously, either.

"Do your best, then relax."
posted by Corvid at 12:16 PM on February 9, 2011

Perhaps one or both of these links will be of help?
  1. WP:DGAF
  2. Paul Crik

posted by finite at 8:15 PM on February 9, 2011

I have gone through this before, here is what happened, maybe it can help you: I started reading books on Taoism and Buddhism and learned, broadly speaking, that acceptance is related to detachment. I have a son who has life long serious special needs and this is what prompted my search for the how-to of acceptance. If I could accept that I could accept anything. Through reading, I saw and internalized the idea that we need to detach from life to a certain degree, through this detachment (not necessarily emotional detachment) we can stand back and see that nothing in life is as serious as we perceive, literally. All will go on, the planets will revolve, water will flow, it will all happen regardless of how i try and force things. Force creates counterforce - acceptance is the opposite, it is flowing, going with the direction of the wind, bending and being supple. In that state you see that acceptance is a place you get to in your mind once you change how you think about life, the world, yourself. I would ultimately recommend some texts on taoism and buddhism detachment. One book that helped me really learn to accept things, which by the way only happens when it comes from the bottom of your heart, is Wayne Dyer's Change your Thoughts Change your Life. you dont have to be into "new age" to enjoy this book - it is just a really well done explanation of taoism, non regilious, more a philosophy. reading this taught me the actual act of acceptance on the level where it was just me and the truth. It is extremely liberating. Less is more! Good luck!
posted by cerebral at 6:54 PM on February 23, 2011

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