the serenity to accept what I cannot change;
the courage to change what I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The Twelve Steps process can be described as a quest for effective power and control. Control is not a dirty word. The problem is when we keep trying to control what we have no business controlling.
So, despite the name it is generally known by (“Serenity Prayer”), this quest is not just about Serenity. It is also about Courage and Wisdom. This quest is not just about learning to let go and learning courage. It is about knowing when to fight for change, and when to learn to live with what is.
In other words, blind acceptance of everything is not a virtue any more than indiscriminate fighting is. There is a time and place for each. Wisdom is not something that is magically, suddenly imparted on us. It is a process. We acquire wisdom by making decisions. Some of them work out well; some don’t. We learn through trial and error.
This is a mindful process, through which we grow not only our wisdom, but also our ability to be mindful—which, in turn, helps us grow in wisdom. In other words, this is the opposite of a vicious cycle—a virtuous cycle, so to speak. A very important part of this process is granting ourselves the permission to make the mistakes through which we may learn.
Let’s imagine you are on a raft, going downstream. It’s very pleasant to go with the flow. You’d be crazy to paddle upstream – except if you want to go into the other direction.
To stay with the image of rafting: Let’s suppose you suddenly discover that the flow is leading you to some major falls. Now, going with the flow would just be suicidal.
Many of us think of the words “control” and “power” as “dirty” words. We do not want to be “controlling”. As a result, we can fall into the opposite trap - - not using our power, not controlling those things that we could, and should, control.
Being proactive means using our power to control those things we can control.
Jane writes about her journey:
“I have had many years pass me by without taking a proactive role in determining the directions my life would go. I took a "Life Happens" attitude.”
What does this mean? Jane writes:
“The concept of setting goals, actually forming a plan, taking action, and purposely achieving the wanted results, was not part of my life style.”
Now, what is the problem with this attitude?
“I know "Go with the Flow" is a popular saying, and I'm sure there are times when it's appropriate to do so… I've come to realize how much of my power I gave away to others and to the universe by "Going with the Flow" most of the time.”
In contrast, Jane writes, “I've learned a lot about myself, and how much I can do to take my life in the direction I want to go.”
As you read all the above, does it seem like "serenity" is now demoted to the least important quality, compared to courage and wisdom? Not really. It's just as important. Without the serenity to let go of what you can't control, you exhaust your energy in battles that you can't win, instead of focusing it where it is really productive.
See also: Proactive vs reactive.