Accept What Is, Lead To Improve

Marc Lesser

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

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“Accepting what is” and trusting the Universe is an essential approach to life. But so is “fighting for change.” And if you want to be effective in business — and in relationships, too, for that matter — then you also need tenacity, focus, urgency, often combined with strategic planning and a drive towards achievement.

“Accepting what is” is also an important and core practice. By definition, it creates the baseline for our understanding of reality and for our decisions about what needs to change. If we can’t see what is, and can’t accept what we see, then it’s difficult to act effectively. Accepting “whatever the universe brings” can also be an important way to avoid wasting time and energy trying to change what cannot be changed. All by itself, though, “accepting what is” is usually not enough. The imbalanced, shadow side of acceptance is passivity, laziness, and avoidance. It is not mindful leadership. If we see a window of opportunity and fail to jump through it, no one benefits.

On the other hand, the shadow side of “fighting for change” is becoming controlling and rigid in our concepts. In truth, our everyday lives are largely centered around coping with change: managing it, responding to it, and sometimes driving or creating it. To be effective requires knowing when to practice acceptance and when to drive change. This is more difficult than it sounds. Balance doesn’t mean finding the middle ground between acceptance and drive. It means having the freedom, insight, and skill to embody both at once in order to act effectively in each situation. It can be maddeningly challenging, yet simple, and forms the core of effectiveness.

Real change is at the heart of what it means to be human. With each change we learn and we re-create ourselves. We are able to see in a way that was not previously possible. We can act and achieve in a way that we could not before. With each change the world is different, our relationships are transformed. With each change we are continually expanding our ability to respond, to create, to envision, and to build our relationships and organizations. To clarify my terminology, the phrase “fight for change” could also be expressed as “lead to improve” or to “transform.” That is, even as we accept that all things change, we recognize that many things can be improved, and so we take personal responsibility to actively pursue improvement. Thus, in work and relationships, we don’t simply wait for problems to arise and then try to solve them; we take the initiative to understand our current situation and envision a better future, a better now. We develop a vision, know where we mean to go, and start walking.

This is mindful leadership, and it is as vital to our personal lives as our work lives. 

Marc Lesser is a Zen teacher and a business consultant.

Seed questions for reflection: What does reframing 'fight for change' to 'lead to improve' open up for you? Can you share an experience of real change where you were able to learn and re-create yourself? What helps you accept change while still envisioning a better future?

Add Your Reflection:

10 Previous Reflections:

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    On Oct 16, 2021 Pauline wrote:
    Thie idea that accepting how things actually are in the moment is the condition from which change is possible makes such sense--these ideas are not in conflict but are two parts of the same reality, the yin and yang of skillful action.

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    On Oct 14, 2021 Deven wrote:
    This article made me think, I am grateful for that.I have read/heard about accepting and allowing the current situation as it is in Jon Kabat-Zin's mindfulness programs. However, there is a need to make changes and how do I balance it. The last paragraph on change resonated with me.Reflections from others helped me refine my thoughts. I see several parts to it. ONE: Have an open mind and embrace changes as they come. Be aware of my ego feeling threatened by it and raising the guard to deny/resist it. TWO: Have a beginner's mindset to take next moment as it is without tainting it with my past biases and assumptions. THREE: Be a witness to inner weather of emotions, feelings, and thoughts - detach from them, let them pass through my inner space of awareness rather being swept away by them or fighting with them. FOUR: Proactively, look for opportunities to transform myself with new ideas and initiatives before the situation changes into an emergency or fire drill where I am w... [View Full Comment] This article made me think, I am grateful for that.I have read/heard about accepting and allowing the current situation as it is in Jon Kabat-Zin's mindfulness programs. However, there is a need to make changes and how do I balance it.

    The last paragraph on change resonated with me.Reflections from others helped me refine my thoughts. I see several parts to it.

    ONE: Have an open mind and embrace changes as they come. Be aware of my ego feeling threatened by it and raising the guard to deny/resist it.

    TWO: Have a beginner's mindset to take next moment as it is without tainting it with my past biases and assumptions.

    THREE: Be a witness to inner weather of emotions, feelings, and thoughts - detach from them, let them pass through my inner space of awareness rather being swept away by them or fighting with them.

    FOUR: Proactively, look for opportunities to transform myself with new ideas and initiatives before the situation changes into an emergency or fire drill where I am working under duress/stress/worry/fear/anxiety. In this way, I am not reacting with my shadow/ego, I am rather transforming myself following through using my inner compass.

    Smiles and gratitude

    Deven[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Oct 12, 2021 Anilkumar Pandit wrote:
    Evolve (change) ourself and Lead to improve. !

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    On Oct 12, 2021 Jayne wrote:
    What the phrase "lead to transform" means to me: it means: God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me.
    As I take actions coming from love, coming from that transformation in me, it then transforms the whole. I have been motivated by these words:
    Seek Humility (knowing exactly who you are, that no disparaging opinions, nor accolades will change, in your mind who you are), Seek Justice. Therefore I am transformed that I can take those actions to Justice coming from Love

    2 replies: Gururaj, A | Post Your Reply
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    On Oct 11, 2021 NAREN KINI wrote:
    Acceptance is key to true transformation. Inside-out transformation. Acceptance opens one's heart and brings it to a state of humility and sometimes even surrender. Not the surrender in battles, but the surrender of the hyperactive mind that is preparing to react and resist. Surrender of the ego to pervade and dominate. Surrender enhances one's awareness and enables expansion of the consciousness.

    By accepting, being open and allowing transformation, we only evolve to becoming better versions of ourselves. Now, it ALWAYS begins in the heart and plays in the heart-mind region. If we fail to move inward and settle in the heart and instead move to the mind, alas, acceptance gets arrested, terminated and growth stops.

    Leading to improve is enabling our heart to accept what needs to change and allow our better version to manifest - inside out.

    1 reply: A | Post Your Reply
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    On Oct 8, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    I resist being told what I need to do. I have fought for change, but what I relate to more is that I change, and sometimes my changing takes more effort than other times. Much of mychange and effort to change is to improve myself. I don't know that I ever changed with the intention to make myself worse. Years ago I changed from one career pathto another. My changing was scary for me, and I learned and recreated myself. I think what helps me accept change is acceptinglife, that is, accepting that change is constant. Change and a better future aren't oppositional. Not all change is improvement, but for the future to be better there must be change. I have an optimism that helps me envision a better future and helps me accept change as part of a better future. Nothing needs to change; everything simply is constantly changing. I may want for things to change, which is my want and not the want of things. We can see what is and we can accept what is;that we don't doesn't mean ... [View Full Comment] I resist being told what I need to do. I have fought for change, but what I relate to more is that I change, and sometimes my changing takes more effort than other times. Much of mychange and effort to change is to improve myself. I don't know that I ever changed with the intention to make myself worse. Years ago I changed from one career pathto another. My changing was scary for me, and I learned and recreated myself. I think what helps me accept change is acceptinglife, that is, accepting that change is constant. Change and a better future aren't oppositional. Not all change is improvement, but for the future to be better there must be change. I have an optimism that helps me envision a better future and helps me accept change as part of a better future. Nothing needs to change; everything simply is constantly changing. I may want for things to change, which is my want and not the want of things. We can see what is and we can accept what is;that we don't doesn't mean we can't. I have enough power to make some change. Not jumping through a window of opportunity may benefit someone -- you never know. I've never seen not real change. All change is real change, some change making a situation better and some making it worse. Every change is change of everything. Every change is transformation. Yes, a good leader does implement change that improves.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Oct 8, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    Can acceptance and change join hands together? Can light and shadow walk together? Can silence and voice sing together? Acceptance of what is and makingessential changes is a balancing act. Changes do take place. They need to be faced creatively and wisely. Otherwise life doesn't flow. It gets stagnant and stinks. In the dynamic world we live in, both 'fight for change' and 'lead to improve' are necessary. Change needs to make in the the right way in right direction. This is the way I am embracing life. I see the value of both frames of references. I maintain the fluidity of living without getting blocked by 'eitheror' mental stance. Life has given me many opportunities to learnfrom my personalexperiences. When I experiencepain in my belly I relate to my belly pain mindfully.I recognize it and investigate the cause of my physical pain and learn from it and do not eatpain -causing food. The same way I relate to my relational painI become aware of what happene... [View Full Comment] Can acceptance and change join hands together? Can light and shadow walk together? Can silence and voice sing together? Acceptance of what is and makingessential changes is a balancing act. Changes do take place. They need to be faced creatively and wisely. Otherwise life doesn't flow. It gets stagnant and stinks. In the dynamic world we live in, both 'fight for change' and 'lead to improve' are necessary. Change needs to make in the the right way in right direction. This is the way I am embracing life. I see the value of both frames of references. I maintain the fluidity of living without getting blocked by 'eitheror' mental stance.
    Life has given me many opportunities to learnfrom my personalexperiences. When I experiencepain in my belly I relate to my belly pain mindfully.I recognize it and investigate the cause of my physical pain and learn from it and do not eatpain -causing food. The same way I relate to my relational painI become aware of what happened that triggered my anger, anxiety or despair, accept it and learn from it and put it into practiceto avoid the aches I created in me and the other person my life.
    I have learned from my own personal experienceswhat causes light in me and what causes darkness in me. Self-awareness, introspection, courage to recognize my shadow have been very helpful to me to know myself and work on myself. Life presents challenges to face and gives us opportunities for transformation.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave
    [Hide Full Comment]

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