Do you ever feel stuck in life? Like you’re caught in a negative situation that you can’t do anything about? I think we all do at times. Perhaps you’ve felt this way in a relationship, a job, or any number of other circumstances. There are few poorer or sadder ways to spend this life’s limited time than feeling trapped and powerless.
Such situations are frustrating. They make it hard to live for what matters most. It’s easy to complain about them, but complaining doesn’t make them better. In fact, it makes them worse.
There often aren’t easy answers to such situations. And I’m not about to provide one. But I did read something recently that I found illuminative and empowering for circumstances such as these. The simple quote I read is this:
“In any situation in life, you only have three options. You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it.” ~ Naval Ravikant, serial entrepreneur, as quoted in Tools of Titans
I’ve reflected on this quote a lot since I read it. I want to explore these three options with you. In doing so, I hope to help those in difficult situations—small or large—envision a way forward.
Option 1: Change the Situation
If you cannot accept a situation and won’t leave it, the positive way forward is to try to change it—whether on your own or by seeking divine or human assistance.
If I had to guess, I’d suspect that striving for change is the positive approach most of us take to difficult situations most of the time.
And rightfully so, right? No one wants to accept something bad, and from an early age we are taught not to quit. Rather, we seek to improve the situation, to make things better. And when we succeed, we feel good about ourselves and about the improvement we affected through our effort.
Striving to change a situation is certainly better than sitting around complaining about it. But seeking change isn’t always the best way forward. Indeed, it isn’t always possible.
Take, for instance, the classic situation of trying to “fix” the other person in a dating relationship. The desire may be well-intentioned. But the attempt to change the relationship in that way rarely bears fruit. Indeed, such an effort is likely to exacerbate the frustrating situation, not improve it.
Option 2: Leave the Situation
If you cannot change a situation and won’t accept it, the positive way forward is to leave it.
Most of the time, it is more within our power to leave a situation than to change it. And sometimes, as in the above dating example, leaving may be the best option. In such cases this approach, too, is far better than wallowing in frustration.
But sometimes you can’t leave a situation, which is a pill especially hard to swallow when you also cannot change it. Take, for instance, a single parent working a job fraught with difficulties that he or she cannot change. If he or she cannot leave the job—say, for financial reasons—what options are there?
Option 3: Accept the Situation
One option is just to be really frustrated. Such a reaction would be pretty understandable. But it isn’t helpful.
Another option is to accept the situation, to make peace with it internally. Easier said than done, for sure. Any of us who have tried to accept a difficult situation know how hard it is. But it isn’t impossible.
If you cannot change a situation and can’t or won’t leave it, the positive way forward is to accept it.
When I was younger, I couldn’t—simply wouldn’t—accept difficult situations. 99% of the time I would try again and again to change them. 1% of the time I would leave them. But I wouldn’t accept them.
I empathize with my younger self, and I still share a lot in common with him. 🙂 It feels un-American, un-courageous, un-a-lot-of-great-attributes either to leave or accept a difficult situation. And I still think that most of the time striving to affect positive change is the best course of action, especially at first.
But sometimes acceptance is the best way forward. When we accept something, we admit our finitude. And we allow peace to replace frustration.
I’m not talking about accepting an injustice or something like that. I’m talking about accepting a new coworker whose quirks bother you. Or accepting a long commute because there really isn’t another option right now.
Accepting a difficult situation involves an interior movement. It is a change of attitude or disposition. It is the option most within our own power. And, paradoxically, it is probably the hardest of the three options to embrace.
Change, Leave, or Accept a Difficult Situation?
So in any given difficult situation, how do you decide whether to change, leave, or accept it?
There is no easy answer. Prayer, counsel, and not deciding too quickly can help.
But there doesn’t need to be an easy answer. What’s important, rather, is asking the question. For just by asking the question, you recognize and acknowledge that you have a choice. You don’t have to give in to frustration and complaint. A difficult situation may leave you feeling powerless, but you are not completely so.
The only course of action you don’t want to take is no course at all. Feeling trapped or remaining constantly frustrated is no way to go through life. It’s a poor use of time and a major hindrance to pursing what matters most.
If you’re in a difficult situation—big or small—give it some thought. You may find renewed strength and a positive way forward by changing it, leaving it, or accepting it.
Question: When faced with a difficult situation, which of the three options—change, leave, or accept—do you prefer? I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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