Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

The Courage to Change the Things I Can

on July 1, 2014


I’m looking at my master’s degree certificate. It hangs on the wall above my desk. Right after I graduated I spent a lot of money to have it matted and framed, and it has traveled with me everywhere I’ve worked in the 10 years and six months since it was presented to me. It is a source of pride for me, a physical reminder of something I’ve accomplished in my life. I see it every day, but it’s been a while since I really looked at it and thought about those three years.

Some of you know that I was working full time when I went to grad school. I had a very responsible job at a real estate investment company, but I had hit a wall in my career path. I decided to get my master’s so that I would have better opportunities to grow and make more money.

It was a tough three years, as you can imagine (and as I’m sure some of you have experienced). After I graduated people would ask me how I did it. My answer always was that after I started I never thought for a moment that I wouldn’t finish. It was just what I was doing, and I was going to do it until it was done, and that was that. And that, indeed, was that. It was that straightforward.

To be fair I had a lot of help – my husband was a total rock star, picking up several household duties I abandoned and constantly supporting me – but in the end it was up to me to decide if I was going to go to class or do the assignment or study for the test. I didn’t think about how hard it was or how tired I was or how much I was looking forward to not having to go to class anymore – I just did it.

It’s easier to achieve those clear-cut goals. There’s nothing ambiguous about getting a degree – you either do it or you don’t. I think what does require courage is when you’re pursuing a goal that isn’t as clear cut. The Serenity Prayer says that we need “courage to change the things we can.” People going through alcohol and drug addiction recovery use this prayer as a means to recognize those parts of their lives that are out of their control, but more importantly, those parts that are within their control. We drive ourselves crazy obsessing about things that are out of our control, and we often ignore those things that we can, in fact, change. I’m not sure how much wisdom is needed to determine the difference between them – it seems pretty clear to me. Just ask yourself “Can I actually do anything to change this whatever-it-is that I want to change? How would I do that?” If you can clearly see how to make the change happen then go for it. If not, let it go. It will eat you alive if you don’t.

Sometimes we need more wisdom to see those things that we can change rather than those we can’t. It’s easy to decide that what we want to change about our lives is out of our control and nothing we do will make a difference. Of course that is true sometimes, but there are also times when I may think something is impossible that might actually be achievable given enough determination and commitment. Some people think working full time and going to school is impossible; I’m living proof that that’s not the case. This is when you need courage, to attempt what in your mind you think is impossible, whatever it may be.

I’m struggling now with wanting to make some long-term changes in my lifestyle and feeling like it’s impossible. However, I’m starting to see what my lack of physical activity could mean for me in later years, and I do not want to end up not being able to get around when I’m older. I want to be able to travel freely for as long as I have breath in my body. So that means that some things have to change. I know it is within my control, and I know what I need to do. Now I just have to do it.

I don’t know why making these changes is so hard. I conquered graduate school, I quit smoking – surely I can do this, too. The thing is, I’ve tried – and failed – many times. I know have to keep trying until it sticks, until I stop thinking about how hard it is or how tired I am or how glad I’ll be when I’m done, because I’ll never be done. I won’t get a certificate to frame on my wall to commemorate my accomplishment. Knowing that there is no end in sight intimidates (and irritates) me. And scares me, for some reason I don’t understand. So I’m looking for the courage to change what I know I can change, the patience to enjoy the journey, and the wisdom to let go of the need for a clear ending. Wish me luck.


Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014


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