You must have realised by now that I’m a great believer in optimism, that things can change, etc, as I tend to discuss about these ideas all the time! However, what happens when you just have to accept the fact that some things will never happen? Is there any way to continue living our lives, to carry on with our daily routines, even when we have not succeeded in achieving our primary goal, despite how hard we have tried?
I’m talking about the issue of acceptance, that things will remain the way they are, despite everything else… Is it really possible to just come to terms with such a realisation, release all the burden that comes along with it and then gradually move on in life? Could it be that acceptance is more valuable and liberating than actually achieving the primary goal?
Let me give you a simple example. Let’s assume that you have met someone who has always wanted to become a painter but instead ended up building a career as an IT analyst. Is there any way that he could potentially appreciate his current role and stop feeling sorry for himself and for the fact that he did not achieve his dream?
The obvious idea that comes to mind is the fact that life is unpredictable and full of surprises, and although anything seemed possible when we were young, reality has proven otherwise! In that case, what does it need to happen for the IT analyst to accept the current situation and at the same time continue living a happy, fulfilling life?
Yes it may be true that he did not become a painter, but does that mean that he needs to feel sorry, sad and frustrated about himself for the rest of his life? Is there anything good that has happened because of the fact that he has become an IT analyst? It all comes down to the issue of attitude, whether he feels the need to complain, to be angry all the time, or not…
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that achieving a goal is not important; on the contrary what I’m saying is that maybe it is more important to accept reality and just eventually move on with life. I know it may seem very simplistic, but not becoming a professional painter does not mean that this person is not entitled to continue painting at his free time, or that he is not supposed to become successful in doing something else!
I feel that it has become very clear how important and meaningful goals are! Of course, it is understandable to feel that you need to be sad, to understand what went wrong, and accumulate all information available in order to plan better next time. But let’s not forget that it is not a matter of achievement but a matter of having fun; being able to be happy during the process, regardless of the end result…
I think the following text says it all, here it goes…
Τhe chapter is called “eating the cookie”, (pages 193-194) taken by the book Kichen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverhead Books, 1996.
“Αnother of my patients, a successful businessman, tells me that before his cancer he would become depressed unless things went a certain way. Happiness was “having the cookie”. If you had the cookie, things were good. If you didn’t have the cookie, life wasn’t worth a damn. Unfortunately, the cookie kept changing. Some of the time it was money, sometimes power, sometimes sex. At other times, it was the new car, the biggest contract, the most prestigious address. A year and a half after his diagnosis of prostate cancer he sits shaking his head ruefully. “It’s like I stopped learning how to live after I was a kid. When I give my son a cookie, he is happy. If I take the cookie away or it breaks, he is unhappy. But he is two and a half and I am forty-three. It’s taken me this long to understand that the cookie will never make me happy for long. The minute you have the cookie it starts to crumble or you start to worry about it crumbling or about someone trying to take it away from you. You know, you have to give up a lot of things to take care of the cookie, to keep it from crumbling and be sure that no one takes it away from you. You may not even get a a chance to eat it because you are so busy just trying not to lose it. Having the cookie is not what life is about”.
My patient laughs and says cancer has changed him. For the first time he is happy. No matter if his business is doing well or not, no matter if he wins or he loses at golf. “Two years ago , cancer asked me, “Okay, what is important? What is really important? Well, life is important. Life. Life any way you can have it. Life with the cookie, life without the cookie. Happiness does not have anything to do with the cookie, it has to do with being alive. Before, who made the time? He pauses thoughtfully. “Damn, I guess life is the cookie”.
Eva Lychrou is a psychotherapist based in London and in Athens, helping people deal with family issues, relationship difficulties and self development in general.
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