Yes, that’s right. It’s that time of year again. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ve seen this one before. You never learn the same thing twice, though, so there may be something new for you in it this time around.
Try that “beginner’s mind” thing. It actually works. ;-)
With MBA admissions decisions rolling out fast and furious at the moment, bottles are popping, for sure. But in other places, hearts are a little sore right now.
Sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t. In those moments, we’re the ones who need to be practicing acceptance.
Have you ever been on a hot streak? One of those stretches when you can seem to do no wrong, when it all just seems to come together, when everything you touch turns to gold? No matter how excited – or amazed, or overwhelmed – you may be about the wave of fortune cresting in your favor, you probably also feel, deep down, that it’s justified. Sure, you may find it slightly unbelievable, and also willingly share the credit or gratefully acknowledge others who helped you to succeed, but if you think you’ve been working hard, then the recognition and rewards can feel like validation. Isn’t it funny how when things work out in our favor, we tend to think we earned it, but when they don’t, we think there’s been some kind of communication breakdown in the universe? Now, unless you’re a toddler, you probably don’t expect to get everything you want all the time, but not because you don’t think you deserve it. You just know that isn’t how life works…right?
Ahem. Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said, right? Hmm. So, maybe it’s a little bit relative? Maybe it’s a little easier to deal with there being no more blueberry muffins left in the coffee shop today than it is to manage not getting that offer you desperately wanted, or having that super special someone you thought was “the one” turn out to be “the zero.” Those situations are a little different. Those are the times when the universe has clearly confused itself, and let you down. At least, according to you.
When you are so sure that you are a forever match with a person, a school, a job, a house, or any other next step in your life plan that you can actually see the whole experience unfolding in your mind, hearing “no” can be disorienting. When you have poured your whole self and every last fiber of your capabilities into achieving something and it doesn’t work out, you freeze. Huh? Say that again? Surely you have me confused with someone else. The answer for me is “yes.” How could your intuition steer you wrong? Aren’t we all supposed to be listening to our gut, and making choices that align with our “authentic” selves? Somebody better tell the universe that it missed the memo.
This is where we get stuck. In moments like this, we sit wedged between expectations and reality, waiting for the script to be rewritten. Boiling with indignation, or drained from sadness, we dig in to our disbelief and set up camp, rejecting one outcome and wishing for another. We do this in moments of great disappointment, and also small ones. If you’ve ever gotten your car stuck in the mud or the snow, and had the irritated inclination to gun the gas to escape, only to dig yourself in deeper, you know what I’m talking about. It feels great in the moment, but it gets you nowhere. You’re still stuck, and deeper in at that.
In a mindfulness practice, the idea of acceptance is about acknowledging and accepting what is, without the immediate reaction of pushing it away, or pulling it closer for that matter. Acceptance can mean non-judgmentally noticing the thoughts and emotions that may arise during your mindfulness practice, and it can also mean coming to terms with elements of your reality that you cannot control or change. A very important aspect of this practice, however, for those of us driven and ambitious types, is that mindfulness isn’t the same as resignation. When not getting the result you wanted motivates you to reassess your strategy, work harder (or smarter) and try again, you can still be coming from a place of mindful acceptance. You’re moving forward, hopefully with greater wisdom thanks to surviving that initial disappointment. Acceptance does not mean giving up; it means getting real without getting mad (for long), and saving your energy for the steps that move you closer to your goals, even if those goals have shifted. It’s grounding, yet liberating. To quote a great American poet, “To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” Take your mark, get set, and go. Your next “yes” is expecting you.
(This post first appeared on MindfulMBA on December 16, 2015.)
Photo credit: Leeroy