One of the strongest memories I have from my childhood comes from when I was about seven years old. We were visiting my grandmother and I walked in on her praying out loud. She was hunched over with her hands closed and her back to me, but I remember her prayer – it still rings in my ear in her soft voice, more than two decades later.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
As an adult, I now recognize the prayer as the Serenity Prayer, quoted and used in countless contexts, but still familiar to me in the soft voice of my grandmother, overheard on a cool spring morning.
Even outside of the religious context, it’s a powerful piece of wisdom for people to live their life by. There are some things in life you cannot change, no matter how stubbornly you wish to change it, while at the same time, there are many, many things you can change.
It becomes particularly powerful when you apply that filter to the difficult areas of your life – where you’re having trouble. I’ll walk through some of my deepest personal challenges, to show you what I mean.
I cannot change the stupid spending mistakes I made in the past. I spent money in countless incredibly stupid and immature ways and that added up to a debt that took me years to take care of. I can’t help but wonder where I might have been had I not made those mistakes.
I can change my spending habits going forward. Right now I can make the right choice, even though I made bad choices before. I don’t have to go out there and spend money on stuff I don’t really need. Instead, I can save it for the things that really matter.
I cannot change my hypothyroidism. It reduces my overall energy level compared to a truly normal person, period. No matter what I do in life, I can’t change that. Even taking a daily Synthroid won’t help.
I can change my exercise habits. In the end, it’s still up to me to push myself out of that chair and get some exercise in. My choice to exercise might be a bit tougher choice for me than for others, but it’s still a choice, and I have the power to make the right one.
I cannot change the amount I owe on my mortgage. I owe a lot of money on my home, no two ways about it. Sometimes, thinking about the amount simply inspires awe in me.
I can change the effort I put forth into repaying it. I can directly repay it if that seems like a better investment, or invest extra funds if I can beat the rate of return on early mortgage payments. I don’t have to be trapped for the remaining twenty nine years of a thirty year mortgage unless I choose to be.
I cannot change my wife’s energy level in the evenings. My wife gets up before I do and is often really tired in the evenings, drifting off to sleep far earlier than I do. I often am up for a good hour or two while she sleeps, and I wish it weren’t so.
I can change how I spend my time in the evenings. I can spend as much time with her as I can until she goes to sleep, then focus on getting mindless household tasks done. This enables both of us to spend more time with our children – and more time with each other.
I cannot change the people I’ve let down in the past. I’ve let friendships and other connections fall apart due to lack of attention and effort to maintain them, not realizing I’m losing friends until they’re already gone.
I can change my relationships with people now and in the future. Good relationships need some regular care and maintenance, and it’s up to me to do that. Each day, I can make that choice to get in touch with a family member or friend, just to see what they’re up to and if we can help each other through life.
Today, spend some time looking at the hard areas in your life and see if you can find a piece that you can change. It might be as simple as changing a small spending habit, or it might be as big as finally realizing you need help with substance abuse. Making a change for the better in any part of your life that is dragging you down is the surest way to financial and personal success.