— Ivan W. Lam (@IvanWLam) April 22, 2015
The Serenity Prayer is For Everyone
“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.” –A version of the Serenity Prayer
I’m not religious, nor am I in AA, but I find this quote very valuable in my life.
Before I discovered this quote, I thought I could do everything, and that I should do everything. I thought that I could make the world a better place if I solve everyone’s problems for them and give them advice before they had to ask. I thought that if I could dissect past incidents of rejections, failures, and embarrassment enough times and replay them in my head in different ways, I could suddenly find a nugget of validation that would turn the story around in my favor and vindicate me. I thought that if I was more skilled, more hard-working, with the proper tools and correct time estimates, I could always complete everything perfectly and on time.
But over time, I realized many things:
- Because I know how to solve my problems better than other people do, other people would likewise know how to solve their problems better than I do. Therefore, it would be intrusive to get in other people’s business without them asking.
- Until a time machine is invented, the past is permanent; whatever happened happened. I can either dwell on it and feel helpless, or learn from it and do better next time. And experience proves that doing the latter is more productive and more healthy.
- Since 1) some things in life matter more to me than others, 2) some things require a higher standard of quality than others, and 3) the amount of time that I have left in life is less than the time it takes to do these things at the same high standard of quality, logic and math would prove that I simply cannot do it all. Therefore, I must choose and prioritize by what is important to me and what needs to be done well. Everything else, I will only give enough attention to get the job done to keep things going.
In addition to other people, the past, and limitations of everyday circumstances, I also realized that I cannot change biology and genetics, the weather (short term), laws of physics, time, and death.
Somewhere in my mid-twenties, the combination of becoming more independent as a young adult and soaking up all the empowering messages from successful people like Oprah led me to take more control of my life. From my mind to my body, I examined every part of my life that I could improve so I could increase my chances for success: my attitude (always try to find the positive in situations), my emotions (identity the root causes of my feelings and neutralize them if they’re hindering me or recreate them if they’re helping me), my health (eliminate as much processed foods as possible, isolate foods that upset my body, and make time for exercise), and my actions (be aware that I, and only I, always have the power to decide what I do next). In just a few years, all of these realizations physically and psychologically transformed my life.
I used to be very rigid and stubborn, but since it dawned on me that the only thing I can change and have control over is myself, I actually became more flexible and forgiving when responding to any external force in the universe, including and especially other people.
At the same time, I admit that there still remain parts of the stubbornness (or “determination” depending on how you want to put it) that makes me me. I’m still figuring out where to draw the line between things that I can and cannot change. My exercise routine, for example, has evolved over the years as I learned more about the science and techniques on fitness. But even with the best routine, how likely will I reach my goals? Are my goals aligned to what I’m physiologically capable of? Are their limitations to my body type and genetics that make it more difficult?
Also, I am aware that I cannot change time, but I still have the tendency to underestimate how much of it I need to get things done. I often have a backlog of things I wanted to complete, if only I had enough time. But whenever I do have a chunk of time to myself, I often procrastinate and put it off, especially if the tasks seem difficult. What sort of mental and behavioral changes do I need to make so I can feel like I am doing everything I’m supposed to without feeling behind? Should I improve my working habits to minimize procrastination? Should I make peace with the fact that many of my backlog items will forever stay in the backlog, and that I should drop them?
Finally, I still want to make an impact in the world by changing everyone’s lives for the better, but I want to avoid intruding into other people’s business. When I see someone having a difficult time, regardless that they’re a friend or stranger, I quickly think of ways to help them, or at least how I would like to be helped in that situation. But who am I to judge someone’s state of being or their story based on the few seconds that I’ve witnessed, even if it’s someone I know? I know there is a right time and a wrong time to offer help, but I’d like to be better at knowing when exactly that is. It depends on the person, as well; some people readily welcome help, while others are more sensitive to being perceived as weak or would prefer to figure things out on their own.
I suppose I could initiate a dialogue and begin a relationship with the person, get a better understanding of their situation, and then offer help as necessary. That is probably where I need to improve my interpersonal communication skills. Maybe then would I know how to tell the difference between people learning to be self-sufficient and people needing help.
6, 7, 8, 9, 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 26.