Accepting What Is

Odd that a site dedicated to change talks about acceptance? Sometimes the path to change passes through acceptance.

I went through a phase, earlier in life, where I had trouble getting dressed for work. Nothing seemed to look good enough. I would get dressed in the clothes I had picked out, look at myself in the mirror, rip them off and toss them on the closet floor, and tear through another five or six outfits before finally glancing at the clock and sighing in tears, and rushing off to be late to work in an outfit that felt uncomfortable and made me unhappy. When I shopped for clothes, I kept telling myself that I had to be practical. I passed by my favorite colors, ran my hand down the sleeves of soft, silky fabrics then tore myself away, and ended up with a wardrobe of shapeless, black meh. Nothing fit and – if you have ever shopped or clothes for larger women, which seem designed to encourage invisibility, you will know – nothing looked good on me. No wonder I hated getting dressed for work.

The truth was, I was having trouble accepting that I had gained so much weight. I had gained the weight because I was unhappy and I was unhappy because I had gained the weight. This lack of acceptance of my body, led to me rejecting it and anything that drew attention to it.

One day after work, I rushed to the bus stop and just barely missed the bus. I stared down the avenue but couldn’t see another bus coming, so I decided to check out a small clothing shop next to the bus stop. I hadn’t been in before because the clothes in the window weren’t practical. The owner, a French woman, with that elegant style that looks good in anything, watched as I perused the racks, took things out, put them back. Finally she interceded. I don’t remember what she told me to get me to try something on, but I did. She told me to take it off and handed me something else. Pointed out how the something else was more flattering, how I seemed more comfortable in it. She found clothes that reflected who I really was inside, clothes that reflected the fun I used to have dressing when I was younger.

“We’re just playing,” she kept saying, adding a belt, some earrings. It was a color I would never wear, a print – I never wore prints – and it looked wonderful. I walked out the door with a sense of relief and over $200 in new clothes – none of them black. Over the next year, I spent that much every month, rebuilding my wardrobe.

Learning to accept my body for the size and shape that it was.

That was an important step forward for me. If I hadn’t accepted my body the way that it was, I never would have lost the weight afterwards. Eventually all these new clothes were too big and I passed them on to other people and bought new clothes. My little shop had closed – knocked down and replaced with a new building, the way things happen in New York. But I found other clothes I loved – not black sacks – at other shops.

When I led change management initiatives for large corporations, I found that acceptance was an important part of change. I like to say, you can’t manage change without changing the managers. There is always something that managers have to learn to accept before they can approach leading change in an effective way. Perhaps they need to accept that their teams – the people who have to change – are exhausted by all the change that has been thrown at them recently. Perhaps managers need to accept that their teams don’t trust them. Perhaps managers need to accept that they themselves are holding onto an old definition of success that will prevent their teams from embracing change. Until the managers learn to face the situation as it actually is, they can tell their teams to change, they can direct them to change, they can threaten them to change or else, but the teams won’t change.

It is the same when looking at family dynamics. You may feel that your sister is ungrateful for all you do for her, even if she thanks you very politely. Until you accept that what you do for her – taking her out to an expensive restaurant that serves food she doesn’t like or buying her gifts from your favorite store that don’t fit her style – doesn’t make her feel like it’s for her, you won’t hit on a gift that she is truly grateful for. Or you could accept that true gifts are given without expectation of gratitude.

I read a quote once from a mediator who worked in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. She said that progress comes when both parties accept that they are each 100% responsible for peace. As long as either party kept blaming the other and holding them responsible for peace, change wouldn’t happen.

What are you having trouble accepting right now? Is it getting in the way of change?

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