How to Free Yourself from the Shoulds (Tool #3, Acceptance)

It’s no secret that I’m not into a one-size-fits-all system for dealing with the ups and downs of life. At the same time, it’s important for me to remind myself of the qualities I’ve strived to cultivate over the years: ones that have brought me a greater sense of passion, purpose, joy, and connection. This is the third in a series of blogs that detail how I personally incorporate the seven tools of my book, Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman, into my life.  I invite you to take a deep dive with me into the value of Curiosity, Awareness, Acceptance, Intuition, Choice, Manifestation, and Your Infinite Roadmap! Please let me know in the comments how you personally address and engage with each of these important tools in your life. 

Acceptance…don’t you just love that word? It’s one that simultaneously makes me breathe a giant sigh of surrender and also makes me roll my eyes with exasperation. They say that what you resist persists, and even though I absolutely know that to be true, there’s a big part of me that has a massive amount of resistance to the third tool in my book—you guessed it, acceptance.

I used to think that I needed to fight everything that I didn’t like; to me, acceptance was pretty much the same as condoning bad behavior or horrible situations. It felt like I was just rolling over and letting life happen to me rather than going out there, getting stuff done, kicking ass and taking names, etc.

But what I learned is that acceptance isn’t about being passive. In fact, acceptance opens the door to new possibilities because it frees up the energy wasted on trying to make things other than what they are. Instead of swimming against the current, you learn to flow with life and move in the direction of what feels good and natural. You also get super real with the moment, exactly as it is. Change is important, yes, but you can’t have lasting change until you accept that “it is what it is.” In other words, you embrace the present in order to change the future.

One of the things I’ve recently learned is that acceptance includes being able to grieve something when it hasn’t gone the way you wanted it to. It’s no surprise that the final stage of grief is acceptance. Instead of pushing against that grief, I’ve try and to let myself sit in it—especially in the last year, when so many of my most important relationships have either disintegrated altogether or changed completely.

Acceptance isn’t about denying our sense of loss or making believe that everything is OK. It’s about coming to grips with what we’ve experienced. In my case, it was about not trying to fight or change my new reality, which included massive turnover in my staff and once-passionate friendships that had become more like acquaintanceships.

An important aspect of settling into acceptance is that I have let go of the “shoulds.” For me, a big “should” was loyalty to the bitter end. I just didn’t believe in throwing in the towel, especially when I didn’t feel I or the other person had learned all the lessons we needed to. At the very least, I believed in ending things on a note of resolution. If I didn’t succeed at this, I often felt powerless.

But sometimes, the lesson is just letting go and accepting what is in front of you, which might not include a resolution.

This time around, I recognized that life was inviting me to let go of my expectations and free myself up for other opportunities. I realized that all relationships evolve, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to end. Every relationship is unique, and getting stuck in my ideas of what it needs to look like was costing me my time, energy, and sanity.

In learning to accept my grief, I learned that I didn’t have to control my new reality, no matter how painful or difficult it was. This was deeply liberating, because sometimes our resistance generates the false story that we should have control over everything that happens in our lives. Acceptance is essentially about letting go of idealized images of what we think something should be instead of seeing it for what it is and being OK with that.

To find out more about Acceptance and the other tools, be sure to check out my book,  Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. Also, let me know how you’ve explored acceptance in your own life! How can you connect with acceptance this week? (Hint: Look at something you are resisting or trying to fix in your life. Get curious about why that is, and consider the toll it’s taking. Also examine how your resistance is tied up with idealized images about how something “should” look or be in your life. How can letting go of these images, even just a little, free you?)



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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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