Don't Try to Change Things You Can't

Last Updated Feb 28, 2011 8:19 PM EST

Dont Try to Change Things You Cant"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." That's the Serenity Prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

Now, I'd be willing to bet that you do the exact opposite more often than you're willing to admit. You stress over things you shouldn't, don't focus on things you should, and maybe even end up screwing up your job, career, or organization in the process.

Don't believe me? Here are a few examples of how you stress over things and try to change people you have no control over:

Example 1: What do Charlie Sheen, Muammar Gaddafi, and your dysfunctional boss or coworker all have in common?
They're all delusional, of course. Just check out Charlie Sheen's latest unhinged, grandiose uber-rant on the Today Show or Gaddafi telling ABC news, "All my people love me. They would die to protect me," and you'll see what I mean.

What's that got to do with your dysfunctional boss or coworker? Well, let me ask you this:

How would you like to be the one in charge of fixing Sheen or Gaddafi? You know, getting them to see the error in their ways, shape up and fly straight, and all that. Oh, you wouldn't? Well, then how come so many employees waste their time ranting about a**hole coworkers or trying to fix their dysfunctional boss, hmm?

Seriously, when I wrote about How to deal with a bad boss: Don't! or How to avoid self-limiting behavior, I was amazed at how many readers railed about my "bad advice" while going on to explain how all their complaining to HR and whining to management did no good. Or they emailed long, sad stories of enduring frustration and stress instead of what they should have done - quit and get some help.

Example 2: If you're a tall white male or an attractive - but not too attractive - woman, you'd make more money.
A Business Insider post called If You Look Like This, Your Pay Check Will Be Higher Than Average has over 250,000 page hits in 48 hours. That's more hits than most blogs get in a whole month. And what's the advice that everybody so flocks to like moths to a flame? This:

If you're a 6-foot tall man, a woman who's three inches taller than her coworkers, a baby-faced African American or mature-looking white male, an attractive but not too attractive woman, are symmetrical, don't have a small chin, large eyes, or thin eyebrows, you can more easily advance your career.

Assuming that you're not seriously considering stretching yourself on a rack or getting plastic surgery to increase your chances of a promotion by 7.4 percent, I would definitely call this an awful lot of people worrying over things they can't change when they should be focusing on what they can.

Bottom line: So, what's my advice for all those people who insist on beating their heads against the wall? Well, I could easily say "that's self-limiting behavior", don't do that" and be done with it, except for one little thing. We both know that won't work.

The truth is that most people would rather bitch and moan about stuff they can't do anything about than do the heavy lifting required to positively impact their jobs and careers for two simple reasons: 1) It's far easier to whine and complain, and 2) playing the victim gets them far more attention.

Yup, that's really what it's all about. People don't like the heavy lifting but they love the attention. And don't even get me started about controlling behavior. Whatever the cause, that certainly seems to be the nature of the beast. And unlike some people, I'd just as soon not try to change things I can't.

Side Note: Alyson Shontell's above-mentioned Business Insider story really is a fun read that actually does include things you can change like losing weight, having good posture, wearing makeup, dressing conservatively, and my personal favorite, smiling more. For all the good that'll do you.

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Image: via Flickr