“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.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr
If you want to make your life better, you have to change. But what?
I’ve thought long and hard about what it means to change. The first thing to realize is that you are the only thing you can change. You can, of course, assert yourself to change things outside of you — like changing a job or breaking up with a boyfriend who’s not good for you — but any change is to be instigated by you, and what you can change at will is the only thing within your control — you. If you are trying to change anything else, you can stop that nonsense right now. Give up, and focus on what you can change.
But even then, can you really change you? What does that mean?
To clarify that mystery, it’s helpful to recognize two different parts of your being: who you are, and what you do.
Who you are is your innate being, the original you. The nature vs. nurture debate aside, there are many qualities that we possess that we are pretty much born with. An introvert like myself will not become someone who gets refueled by being with people 90% of the time. (Though I’m sure I can become slightly more extroverted, if I tried.)
What you do, on the other hand, is something we all develop, consciously or not. Outside of completely subconscious bodily functions like our breathing or heart beating, every single action is borne out of our mind, including feeling and thinking.
So, if you want to make your life better, it helps to understand what you’re trying to change into. The ideal state is for you to be who you are, with minimal conflicts, reservations, restraints and inhibitions. To get there, you have to: 1) figure out the original version of you, and 2) change what you do (again, which includes thinking and feeling) so that you can dwell in that ideal state, majority of the time.
Here’s an example. I am a pretty extreme empath. I can feel what other people are feeling vividly — if I paid attention to it. There, did you recognize the two parts? Me being an empath is who I am. Paying attention is what I do. I can tear up at the oldest tear-jerking trick in the book if I was watching a sappy movie and allowed myself to get drawn in. But I don’t want to start bawling in some situations — so in that case I intentionally distract myself, so I stop me from tuning in.
As a man, I used to feel very embarrassed about crying so easily. But as I got to know who I am and became more at peace with it, I also began to allow myself to tear up.
As the years go by I learn more about who I am and I change and adjust my actions so that the original person that I am is allowed to simply be — and my sense of serenity increases with it. I discover who I am, and I change what I do. Who I am haven’t changed all that much, really. But from the outside I may appear quite differently, as I have changed what I do, say, think and feel.
So that is my current understanding of what it is that we do when we evolve and change for the better. I hope it sheds a light on your journey, perhaps even giving you an inkling of what Reinhold Niebuhr was referring to as “wisdom.”
(Photo by “Test Testee”)