“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

These are words we’re all likely familiar with, even if we don’t know their source or true meaning.

Attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in a 1943 sermon, the roots of The Serenity Prayer, by all accounts, are much deeper—harkening back hundreds if not thousands of years in the oral tradition. In more recent times, the words have become associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other such 12-step programs.

Now you may be wondering, “Paul, what does The Serenity Prayer have to do with marketing and business and other professional pursuits”?

Well, to the extent that we are all human beings with hopes and dreams and aspirations, as well as setbacks and challenges and obstacles—whether they are personal or professional or a combination— the words found in this prayer apply to practically any situation involving change:

  • Dealing with a change in career, job loss, or downsizing
  • Rolling out a big new project at work
  • Getting promoted
  • Getting demoted or shuffled sideways
  • Retiring
  • Dealing with the loss of a loved one
  • Getting married
  • Getting divorced
  • Having a baby
  • Coping with a change in your health
  • Moving
  • Sending your child off to college
  • etc., etc., etc.

You name it; our lives are filled with change. You could say when it comes to life’s constants, change is right up there with “death” and “taxes.”

For me, I’ve recently made some BIG changes in my life: I moved (again), and I got engaged to the love of my life! All great stuff.

Unfortunately, many people suffer through change. They fall victim to it. They let it happen to them: career transitions, relationships, business performance, and even their mental and physical well-being.

Many, however, are able to cope with change—both positive and negative. Why?

Consider the words of The Serenity Prayer again:

  • They are able to accept those things they cannot change. Inevitably, every one of us will face a situation we cannot change: the weather, the end of life, the obnoxious cell phone user at the table next to us at dinner. You get the picture. It’s how we deal with the inevitable that separates the victors from the victims.
  • They seize opportunities to change the things they can. Unhappy at work? Unhappy at home? They are not afraid to make changes. From career changes, to moving, to moving on, these people embrace change (and life in general) full throttle. They do something about it.
  • They know what they can and cannot change. They learn to recognize those things in life that are inevitable. Yes, if you live in California and choose to stay there, you will experience earthquakes. Yes, if you live in northern climes and choose to stay, you will experience cold and snow. They also learn to recognize what they can change . . . and how . . . and they do it.

When is the last time you made a big change in your life? How did the transition go? Did you embrace the change fully, or did you vacillate between being all-in and giving only partial effort? Chances are, if it’s the latter, your experience was either stressful, less than satisfactory, or took much longer than necessary.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth your full and undivided attention and effort. Otherwise, you waste time, energy, and resources hedging your bets and then wondering, “what might have been” had you given it 100%.

  • Think of the star athlete attempting a comeback from injury. Would he or she be successful giving it only half effort?
  • Would Apple be where it is today if Steve Jobs hadn’t come back into the fold in the 1990s?
  • Would 2001: A Space Odyssey ever have seen the light of day if Arthur C. Clarke had not accepted dozens of rejections as the price to pay for publication?
  • Would Thomas Edison’s name be synonymous with invention had he not tried and tried again?
  • Would Albert Einstein be as revered today as he is, if he and his parents had listened to his kindergarten teachers who thought he was “slow”?
  • Would this country even exist if our founding fathers had not persevered?

The answer of course, is no, and the common denominator is that when faced with change, when faced with adversity, these individuals chose to accept it, embrace it, and make the most of it.

What about you? Do you embrace life, change and all, or do you just let it pass you by?

Share your thoughts here. And for those not familiar with all its verses, here is The Serenity Prayer in full:

The Serenity Prayer

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

“Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

“Amen.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)