Is "acceptance" really just giving up?

Acceptance is about living in reality. It’s an acknowledgment that things change and we must adapt to those changes. In my mind, it’s not about giving up so much as it is learning to operate within the confines that life throws at us. But, sometimes acceptance is about giving up. It’s about giving up when we’re holding onto a fantasy that is either destructive (to self or others) or otherwise impeding our ability to live out of our certain way of seeing.

For instance, if you’ve lived the past 20 years in a toxic relationship that has robbed you of your dignity and your ability to thrive, it may be time to “give up” on that relationship. If it were me, though, I wouldn’t consider this giving up. I would consider it an act of hope. It’s an act of hope because it’s trusting that there is a better alternative for you, even if it’s not your ideal. In romantic relationships, again, for instance, we often hesitate to let go even when they’re particularly harmful because we fear the alternative of being alone. Being temporarily alone, though, may have unforeseen benefits. You may not have to walk on eggshells. You may not have someone regularly scream at you, or hit you. You may not have to suffer any number of indignities. And, you open the door to the possibility of meeting someone who values you, respects you, and uplifts you.

This isn’t only true in romantic relationships. It can be true of a family sharing a house with someone with a use disorder. It can be true in a working environment. It can be true of a friendship, or a family relationship. Whatever your circumstances are, consider whether or not you have the capacity to thrive. Consider whether or not you have the opportunity to live out of your certain way of seeing. If this isn’t possible, then it might be time to make difficult changes. Don’t make the mistake of calling this “giving up” or “quitting” though, that’s the kind of language people use to try to keep you trapped in a dehumanizing situation.

Call it hope.

Is it a limitation or a temporary obstacle?

Today I’m returning more explicitly to our conversation about limitations. One of the questions that came up during a recent message dealt with discerning when to view something as a limitation as opposed to an obstacle. How do we know when what we’re faced with is something we can transcend as opposed to something that must be accepted?

Well, my answer to that isn’t going to be particularly satisfying: context is king. I follow a guitar builder on Instagram whose hand got mangled in an industrial accident. It will never work the same way again. Is this a limitation or an obstacle?

Let’s start with this question: Can he overcome it? It depends on what we mean by overcome. His hand will never function identically to how it functioned prior to the accident. When I use “overcome” or “transcend” I tend to think of these terms as meaning that whatever got disrupted could be returned to its original state. In this case, he cannot overcome it according to that definition.

This does not mean he has to give up building guitars, though. In fact, he has not stopped. His process has changed. His speed is reduced. This means fewer guitars each year. It means he will make less money. But he doesn’t have to give up on his dream job of building guitars. As was true in our example earlier in the month, we could view this as a kind of overcoming, I suppose, but it’s the kind that requires acceptance and adaptation.

So, was his accident a limitation or an obstacle? Perhaps a little bit of both. Sometimes we must treat our limitations as obstacles in order to figure out how we can best adapt to them. This may even be a form of acceptance. This guitar builder figured out how to adapt such that even though his life greatly changed, the change was not the most hopeless version that it might have been. This is our key point. Acceptance is not about giving up, it’s about making sure that the outcome isn’t as hopeless as it otherwise might be. We do not need to choose between accepting and fighting. Accepting is a form of fighting, it’s just a kind that does not involve living in denial.

More on this tomorrow.