Updated on 10.07.08

Changes You Can Make

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Very inspiration Trent, and so very true. I think the focus and the time we waste on things we cannot change prevents us from taking action on things we can change. For example, we cannot do anything about the money we lost in a retirement account over the last few weeks, but we can make changes going forward- proper asset allocation, diversification, managing risk to a level that makes us comfortable, etc.

  2. This is a very timely article.
    As we see the stock market and the economy hitting the fan, we cannot change this.
    We can change our spending and saving habits amid this uncertainty to help shelter ourselves and our loved ones from the storm.

  3. Susan says:

    Trent, this is so inspiring! Thank you very much, it’s just what I need to read and remember daily. For someone who has low energy, you sure have amazing amounts of energy to put into your writing, also very inspiring. This is my favourite blog, I’ve been reading it for awhile. Best wishes to you.

  4. April says:

    This is a great reminder. Sometimes I feel bad that my husband and I didn’t get our financial life in order sooner. We’re just starting to save for retirement at 27 and 32, and I think about the stupid stuff I bought that I probably no longer even own.

    But ya know, I didn’t even know what a Roth IRA was at the time. So I couldn’t have made better decisions because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I guess we should be thankful that we got it together while we’re still young, and before we locked ourselves into buying cars or a house we couldn’t afford.

    Mostly I’m just happy that we’ve made it to this point and that I now feel that we’re in control of our money. I love seeing the savings grow with every paycheck.

  5. Erin says:

    Just before I pulled your blog up, I called two friends that I care about, but have not talked to recently. It was so odd, reading what you wrote in your article about taking care of friendships.

    Also, another thought I had along the lines of changing the things you can is to not dwell on things like “if only this had or had not happened then there would not be a certain problem”. So often people get caught up in the problem and cannot or do not identify the paths necessary to extricate themselves from the situation. If a person is having a problem or is in an undesirable situation, and wants to get out, it is important to calmly identify the options available and choose the most suitable one. Most times there are only two or three options and one will be the most obvious choice. It may not be an easy one, but it will probably be the best one.

  6. BirdDog says:

    Another great post!!!! Very timely, how often do we beat ourselves up over mistakes we made in the past. I know I do. But the mistakes we’ve made do not have to be our legacy.

  7. jan says:

    Everyone makes mistakes.
    Do what you can with what you have where you are.
    All you really have is now.
    And it’s not over til you’re dead!

  8. paula d. says:

    Trent, what a great reminder. I learned the Serenity Prayer 23 years ago when I got sober and l have spent many, many years examining all the things that I can or can’t control. Letting go of past mistakes is certainly number one and bringing myself into the present to not make those mistakes again.

    Regret is one of the things that I have let go of, so I can really live in the now.

  9. Lisa @ Cents to Save says:

    This is a wonderful reminder that things happen for a reason,, we just have to learn to accept them.

  10. Michele says:

    Very inspirational – and very timely! Thank you.

  11. Anne says:

    Way to go, Trent! As I read your daily posts I find you to be both inspirational and motivational. Our lives are like spider webs, with all things interconnected. If we’re in denial about our finances the chances are very good we’re in denial about other things. As I get more honest and gain more insight into my personal finance and ideology around money, it spills over into all the other areas of my life.

    I know you’ve heard it before but our country needs leaders like you. Think about it.

  12. Bryce says:


    My wife has Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. She’s has all sort of energy issues over the past few years. Rather than the synthroid variants, have you ever tried Armour Thyroid or the T3 only one (I can’t remember what it is called). Switching to the Armour thyroid made a big difference for her.

    Other than that – this post was a great reminder.

  13. Bettsi says:

    Trent, not only can we not change certain situations (especially our past), we need to remember that we cannot change other people. The only thing we can control is ourselves- our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

    Also, I love knowing that every day is a new opportunity to do better than the day before!

    Great post today. Thank you!

  14. Very timely—we can’t control the stock market, we can only control how we allocate our money within it. As long as we understand our plan, how it works, and when we need the money we’ve invested, then there’s nothing for us to worry about.

  15. Tabs says:

    You are right about every single thing one can do to change, I find you can pretty much change anything. But you know when the best time to actually make these changes like how you spend money? When you don’t have to.

    You feel good about saving money when you have $12,000 in your savings account. You don’t feel so good about saving money when you only have $12. It is easier to lose 10 pound when you don’t have to, it is not so much fun to have to lose 10 pound when your life depends on it.

    They say a word is enough for the wise, change before you have to change.


  16. Tim says:

    it’s no wonder the serenity prayer is at the heart of every 12 step program out there.

  17. Wow, I just wrote a blog post about challenging people to change things. Snap :-)

    You’re right, you can look at changing things in your life and people shouldn’t be so reluctant to try.

  18. ninjanun says:

    I really needed this today. Thanks for the encouragement!

  19. doctor S says:

    Very inspirational. On one level it is very profound to think about what we can not control in our lives, then on the other hand you realize how practical it is to control the things in your life that you CAN CONTROL. It puts it all in perspective and makes life simpler. Excellent work and I will report back with what I can change! Thanks. Be easy.

  20. kainr2 says:

    I think the wisdom is another difficulty. There are times I question if I should persist on changing, or even trying.

  21. ROD says:

    Just found your website; good thoughts. Also a great time to buy real estate!

  22. Penelope says:

    Bettsi – That’s a good addition to Trent’s post!
    Trent – I have been doing some “soul-searching” and taking a look at my life to make some changes for the better. This couldn’t have came at a better time. Thank you for the simple, yet powerful reminder!

  23. Ramona says:

    Trent, I’ve seen you mention your hypothyroidism in a few articles. You obviously feel that it stunts your energy level quite a bit. Really? Speaking as someone with the same condition, I think I have way more energy then most people. I never give my hypothyroid a single thought, other than to take my meds every morning. I feel great!

  24. What a very neat memory to have of your grandma.. shares a wonderful heritage.

    Very good post.

  25. I’m often tempted to waste energy regretting how long it took me and my husband to start communicating properly about money…and then I start to think about how much better off we might be if we’d been communicating properly since day one. But, no sense in worrying about that now! We’re talking now and things are better financially than they’ve been in a long time.

    I also am tempted to dwell on how much I regret buying this house, but that also is over and done with, and I certainly can’t do anything about it in this market! So, we’re just trying to make the best of it.

  26. Sally says:

    Another great post! My you are getting very inspirational! I needed to read this right now! There is someone in work that I cannot change – and at times it’s enough to drive me bonkers. Thanks for the reminder – we are only in control of OUR thoughts and deeds. We can only CHANGE OURSELVES.

  27. i find this so inspirational. i am inclined to make a similar list. especially since i feel like you do so many things RIGHT- i realize that even when i see al the mistakes i make, i can make changes to have an outlook more like yours. :)

  28. I also learned the Serenity Prayer from my grandmother, from a magnet on her fridge. I thought it was hilarious, a really funny and true joke. As I got older, I realized the wisdom and thought it was more true than funny.

    It’s hard to remember in the moment, but such an important concept.

  29. Meg says:

    We often worry the hardest about things we really cannot change and ‘ignore’ the things we can change –sometimes because it may ‘cost us’ some effort, money, time, etc.

    Next time I start to worry about something, I will remember this post and say to myself, “okay, IS this something I can change? — if not, LET IT GO!”

  30. DadTopics says:

    This post hit home for me, and I’m sure it is the same for many people. Thanks!

  31. Alyce says:

    You say that you take Synthroid for your hypothyroidism – have you tried Armour Thyroid? For me (and many others) it works much better – I have *much* more energy on the Armour. In a nutshell, it has all five of the thyroid hormones, not just T4. This is a good book with many other things that may help: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Well-Hypothyroidism-Doctor-Revised/dp/0060740957/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223510144&sr=8-1

  32. Trent, what a powerful message about serenity. I’ve written about this topic a lot when it comes to health, and here you are dovetailing physical health, emotional wellness, fiscal responsibility, community values – I LOVE this post. Thank you for inspiring me tonight! I just posted a link so my readers can benefit from your simple, practical message. Best wishes –

  33. caryn verell says:

    Great post!

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