I'm a career facilitator, so I built the first iteration of my business on helping others make sense of things. It's clear to me from personal and professional experience that when we don't take enough time to reflect on what's happened, and why, we rob ourselves and our teams of the opportunity to learn, grow and change things for the future.
The danger of getting stuck
But here's the thing: we can't stay there. Getting caught in a sense-making loop gets us stuck and keeps us looking backward. I know so many people that feel stuck right now. Teams are spinning their wheels. Leaders are getting nervous about how to gear up for another year of uncertainty, as people wallow in the malaise and fallout of the one we just had.
Will there be another wave? Should we have managed the last one differently? Did we make a mistake laying people off? Did we make a mistake not laying people off? What should we commit to? Who should we commit to? Should I have bought a house this year? Should I have left my job? Should we have changed our business completely?
…. and so it goes. So many questions, so few answers.
The truth is, it kind of doesn't matter.
What's done is done.
At some point, we just have to move on.
Why acceptance matters
We all know someone who can't move on - from a hurt, an ex, a job, or a disappointment. Eventually, we don't want to hang out with them anymore, because we know we're going to hear the same old rehash. Maybe you're that person.
When we feel like that, on some level, it's because we don't want to move on. It's scary. It might mean doing something new and unknown. Confronting something uncomfortable about ourselves. Taking a risk. Losing something or someone we really care about. When things are uncertain, we often don't have any idea what we're even moving on to.
When you reach a place of acceptance in your life, team or business, you start hearing phrases like:
"We've talked this to death. Now let's move forward." "Of all the things we can't control - and there's a lot - let's get clear on what we can." "This is a great map of our journey... what comes after this?" "What's the title of the next chapter?"
What acceptance is about
Acceptance doesn't mean faking a silver lining. It doesn't mean justifying, rewriting the past, or supporting regretful decisions. It just means giving permission for things to be as they are, instead of struggling against them. Leaving things alone that you can't change. Acknowledging the past and present, without the anxiety, guilt or shame that comes with it.
Acceptance gives you peace, power and happiness. So, let go of regret. Let go of disappointment. Take a step back, and a deep breath, and bravely look toward the uncertain future. Things were never as certain as they looked. Things are never as bad as they seem. You've got the power to take charge.
I can't promise that your decisions will be right, or that the things you try will work. A good proportion of them won't. But it's a long game, and if you don't look forward now, you'll soon be the person that people avoid. The business people avoid working with. The leader people don't listen to. The team-member that drags everyone else down.
It's time to get unstuck, accept reality, and take new steps. It's time to move on.
Your acceptance pathway
Get a head-start on your acceptance journey with these four baby steps:
You can’t actually achieve something you don’t want yet. If you’re still holding on to your frustration, disappointment or anger, it might be because you want to. There’s probably a little voice inside you saying: “why should I accept this? This is bullsh*t!”
Yep, it probably is. But if you ever want to get on with your life, you have to want to accept it. Acceptance is widely misunderstood. When we’re battling, or we’ve been done wrong by, it’s easy to see acceptance as giving in. Weakness. Losing power.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Acceptance gives you your power back, by freeing up your energy from all the things you can’t control.
Acceptance is not agreeing with, or acquiescing to what’s happened. It’s not about being weak - it’s about being strong enough to see things for what they are, and take action anyway. Acceptance is about making an intentional choice to put your precious and finite attention in places that will bring you progress.
Try asking questions like:
“Is this where I want to put my energy?”
“What do I get out of panicking, ruminating or complaining about this?”
“How much power am I giving up by sitting here stuck?”
Step 2: Acknowledge your reality
Acceptance needs awareness. You need to see things as they really are - not as you want to see them - if you’re ever going to move forward. Acknowledgement means sticking to the facts, and stripping away the stories we put with them.
“I lost my job" is acknowledgement.
“I lost my job because my boss is an unreasonable asshole” is a story that keeps us stuck in blame.
“I lost my job and now I’ve wasted years for nothing” is a story that keeps us stuck in anxiety.
“We need to find new revenue streams this year” is acknowledgement.
“We need to find a new revenue streams because COVID has ruined everything” is a story that keeps us stuck in disappointment.
“We need to find new revenue streams and we don’t have many options” is a story that keeps us stuck in fear.
When you’re observing your own thoughts, or the conversations of others, keep an ear out for stories and try to nip them in the bud. Try saying things like:
“That’s just a story we’re telling ourselves.”
“Let’s stick to the facts.”
“Let’s be honest with ourselves here.”
Step 3: Define your frame
Once you’ve acknowledged things for how they really are, you get to tell a better story. While you might not have any control over what happens, you do have control over your perspective.
With all of your unhelpful stories unearthed and put to bed, you can zoom out and start to ask some better, bigger-picture questions.
How does this fit into the scheme of things?
What chapter title will you give this bit?
What will this help with?
How can you grow from this?
What opportunities does it open up?
Once you define a new, more helpful frame, you’re getting close to real acceptance. You can tell, because you find yourself thinking and saying things like ‘I’m actually glad this happened, because…’ ‘If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this, it’s…’
This step isn’t about finding silver linings that don’t exist, but it is about taking a more useful view of your reality that you can do something with. When you focus on growth, learning and the big picture, you get out of the short-term stress response loop and come very close to moving on.
Step Four: Choose your response
When you’ve decided to move on, made peace with your reality and put things into perspective, all that’s left is the hard bit. You need to do things differently.
This isn’t about a list of new tasks, or a new project, though. These are what choices, which are only helpful when you’ve got some certainty about what’s coming next. Odds are, if you’re trying to accept something big, you have no idea what’s around the corner.
That’s cool. Acceptance isn’t about the what. It’s about how you’re going to show up and tackle the ongoing fallout. Acceptance is about taking the power back for your own behaviour and mindset, and living in accordance with those choices.
If you’ve lost your job, it might be choosing to stay open to new opportunities you haven’t considered.
If you’re looking for new revenue streams, it might be choosing to have confidence in your customer relationships and show them extra support.
If you’re coping with the end of a friendship or relationship, it might be choosing to have clear boundaries and standards for who you have in your life.
If you’re coping with a big personal or professional failure, it might be choosing to focus on the lessons you can learn and having conviction in your own abilities.
“How can we respond in a way that we can be proud of when we look back?”
Bonus Step: Keep going
Above all, acceptance isn’t an achievement to unlock, it’s a practice.
When things are tough, you’ll probably move in and out of these steps each and every day. That’s not a sign it isn’t working. It’s just more proof that things keep shifting, and that you can shift with them.
Challenge yourself, and those around you, and when you get it wrong… start again tomorrow.
You’ve got this.
Help others move on and move forward
Is everyone at your work stuck in the past? Need to help them move on?