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Here in Boulder, if you venture outside of campus borders you might find yourself in a quaint coffee shop where maté-drinking hippies run their fingers along a string of 108 prayer beads and ruminate about consciousness. Ask one for advice about the chaos in your life that you feel you have no control over, and they’ll probably offer up the notion of radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is about coming to terms with events and circumstances in your life that happened and that you can do nothing about. It is about accepting the past and then working from there, instead of being frustrated about it and letting it control you. With radical acceptance, one moves past resistance as a coping mechanism and can instead come to peace with what life may sling your way. Radical acceptance also advocates acceptance of self as a gateway to change. Only once self-love has been achieved can true growth occur.
This open mindset also fosters interpersonal understanding. Under radical acceptance, it is easier to see another person for who they are rather than who you want them to be. This way, you’re letting go of unrealistic expectations about the role of the people in your life, and you can then enjoy their company on the terms by which they offer it.
Sometimes, it’s okay to look at your circumstances and give yourself a break with the understanding that not everything is your responsibility. Perhaps you have done everything in your control to shape your experience as best you can, and something gets in the way. Maybe you’re applying for a job or an internship, you’ve filled out the application to represent yourself in the best light possible, put on your best face and offered up perfect answers during the interview, only for the company to call you and inform you that they no longer need that position filled. Radical acceptance teaches you that this is okay — you’re okay — and to not put undue pressure on yourself for things you could not predict.
That’s great and all, but there are always terms and conditions that apply. Failure to follow them may result in, well, general failure.
The danger of letting radical acceptance be a blanket ideology for one’s life is that it can promote complacency. There is a fine line between accepting unchangeable conditions and resigning. You can’t change what’s already happened, but you can take certain steps to make the right things happen and prevent the wrong ones from occurring. In short, radical acceptance is no excuse to let life pass you by or to squander your potential.
Let’s look at the job/internship example again and identify where the pitfalls of radical acceptance may expose themselves in that scenario. You’re applying for an internship but have already resigned to a warped interpretation of radical acceptance. You’ve decided that whatever happens happens, and you end up putting very little effort into the application and as a result, don’t even get that in-person interview. You’re not upset because radical acceptance has taught you to passively accept and to deny all responsibility for your situation. This attitude can cultivate laziness and denial of personal standards. Again, the notion of radical acceptance is not an excuse for passivity.
A lack of understanding of what radical acceptance stands for can lead to greater unhappiness, which, of course, is not the intention of the idea. Acceptance of unfavorable situations is not approval. Acceptance is about acknowledging the reality of your situation and not getting distracted by what-ifs and maybe-if-I-had-onlys. Yet reality is also what you make of it. Don’t misinterpret radical acceptance as an escape from individual responsibility and motivation. For the most part, your reality will reflect what you are willing to put into it. Radical acceptance addresses the areas that don’t reflect you, but still affect you. It is about letting go of things outside of your reach, but owning what is within your reach.
As with all ideals, keep radical acceptance in mind, but don’t let it govern your every action.