Acceptance: Things Will Work Out . . . Or They Won’t

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a friend of mine who has recently separated from his wife.  I listened as he talked about all the changes he was going through, and what impact the divorce would have on his young son, and we discussed the possibility of a reconciliation.  Eventually it got late, and as the conversation began to wind down I told him,  things will work out in the end.  Without skipping a beat, he looked at me and said, or they won’t.

He continued.  I’m sure the man on death row walking to his execution would like to think that things will work out for him, too–but they don’t.

It stunned me.  He was right, of course. Things don’t always work out.

Since that conversation, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about things not working out.  I even had a dream the other night about a tiger stalking me.  In the dream, I was confident that the tiger wouldn’t harm me, but as it came nearer, and I touched the fur on his head, I said aloud, things might not work out this time.  Then I woke up.

Siberian Tiger

We want things to work out.   I just finished reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, one of the best books I’ve ever read, which is a triumphant celebration of the life of a man who never gave up on things working out.   All around him, surrounded day after day by the horrors of war and inhumanity, he unceasingly saw things not working out for others, yet never gave up hope that things would work out for himself.

Like most of us, I try to be as positive as I can when things don’t work out the way I want them to.  I tell myself it happened for a reason, or something good will come of this, or there’s a lesson to be learned here.  I’m sure you have your own personal spin for dealing with personal disappointments.

I think it comes down to expectations vs. acceptance.  If I have expectations about something happening and it doesn’t, I have a much tougher time accepting the result.  If I have no expectations from the outset, my acceptance of things not working out is much easier.

A few months ago I read Loving What Is by Byron Katie.  Her message is that we are all basically slaves to our thinking, and our thoughts are not real.  We need to look at things as they are and not what we tell ourselves they are.  She calls it “meeting reality as it is.”  It sounds so basic and easy, but I for one know that I can over-think and over-analyze the smallest thing until it becomes my own personal Mt. Everest of suffering.

Maybe always putting a positive spin on things can be just as illusory and harmful as always being negative.  Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an entire book on the subject, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.  Perhaps it’s healthier for us if we give up the expectation of a certain outcome right from the start, and not delude ourselves about what could or should happen.

The point I’m trying to make is this:  maybe things work out, maybe they don’t, but perhaps what’s most important is learning to accept whatever does happen.  You can spin the story anyway you want, you can get angry, tell yourself it isn’t true and live in denial, or bury your pain someplace deep within where no one can find it, but ultimately you can’t change the reality of what’s happened.

Through acceptance of what is, perhaps we’re more able to move closer to the truth.

(Tiger photo credit: Hollingsworth, John and Karen (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


  1. skippingstones

    As I was reading, I kept thinking, “Well, yes things do always work out, just not necessarily like we want them to work out.” And then you said that too. That’s what I have always believed, that things always work out…one way or the other. I completely agree with you that it’s how we accept the outcome that makes all the difference.

    Really, there are two choices: accept and keep building your life from there; don’t accept and (in a way) stop in your tracks, never really get past the disappointment. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work toward the solution you want, but we usually know when that is futile and it’s best to move on.

    I also agree that there’s a difference between remaining positive (or at least trying to) and always wearing rose-colored glasses. Those glasses make it too easy to ignore reality, they twist our perceptions and that’s not so healthy. But looking on the bright side seems different to me. That is seeing things as they are and focusing on what good can be gleaned from the experience.

    We’re both divorced, so we’ve been there. I never wanted to be a divorced person, but I know it was the best thing for me. I don’t wear rose-colored glasses, I am fully aware of the things I lost when my marriage ended. But, on the bright side, it was the best thing for us both. It took me a solid year to emotionally recover from a marriage I didn’t want to be in anymore. But I can positively say that I am better off alone than being in that toxic relationship.

    You also touched on something that has interested me for some time and that’s the role expectation plays in our level of disappointment when things don’t go as we planned. I think that’s one of the things that really impacted how I viewed the end of my marriage. I wanted out, but I also didn’t want to be divorced. I had an expectation of married happily ever after, kids, etc…but that expectation would never be met due to my own decision to marry a person so clearly wrong for me. Still, I held to that dying dream for a long time and I think I mourned the loss of that as much as anything when it was finally over.

    I don’t know if you’ve read any of the Queries that I do on my blog, but the answers people give can be pretty interesting and they often make me think of things in new ways. Anyway, I thought you might be interested in the one I did on Expectation:

    Thanks for a great and though-provoking post. I’m thinking that I will add a question about acceptance to my Query list. I’ll be interested to see where people take it, how many go straight to being accepted or accepting others, and if anyone talks about accepting life situations and making the best of things.

    • Mind Margins

      But my friend was still right when he said things don’t always work out. Even if we accept what happens, they still might not “work out.” Maybe it’s merely semantics, but accepting whatever happens, regardless of how bad it is, can be really tough. For instance, no matter what we do with our lives, we’re all going to die. Even if you believe in an afterlife, or another life, or whatever, knowing that one day your life will end is hard to accept. At least, for me it is. It’s the ultimate thing to not “work out.”

      As for getting divorced, no one goes into marriage thinking it will end in divorce. When it doesn’t work out, even if you’re much better off in the end, it’s hard to let go of the dream of “happily ever after.” We have such high expectations, and when things don’t work out like we had hoped, we tend to blame ourselves. I think society puts a lot of pressure on us–especially women–to make things work, even when things are toxic, as you say. On the bright side, you probably know yourself so much better now having gone through the experience, so think of all the lessons learned and make room for someone new in your life.

      I will definitely check out your Expectation Query. Thanks for the insightful points (as always)!

      • skippingstones

        You are so right about learning from that experience, and I wouldn’t have learned those lessons without going through it. It is just semantics, really – not working out like we would have liked is pretty much the same thing as not working out, lol, it all amounts to the same thing doesn’t it? It still sucks dirt! At least for a while. But, like you said, we learn from it…and we eventually move on. And that’s as much as we can hope for ourselves. Not a bad hope to have, really.

      • skippingstones

        PS, I in no way thought to belittle your friend’s feelings or opinions or situation. I’ve been there and it is tough and it hurts. And I really do hope it works out for him the way he wants it to.

      • Mind Margins

        You didn’t belittle his situation at all! No offense taken. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for them, but he’s being optimistically realistic about everything.

  2. michelle

    Great post. You always get me thinking with your posts, which is a good thing 🙂

    I’m learning to just accept things how they are. I am a worry freak about every little detail and get so worked up over things when I have no control over them. It’s tough learning to just let it go

    • Mind Margins

      Michelle, I’ve always struggled with just accepting things as they are. Maybe it’s a control thing (we are both teachers, you know!). I’m getting better at acceptance and letting go the older I get. I also struggle with always wanting to be somewhere else. Even when I’m on vacation, in a beautiful setting, I’m thinking of where I’m going to go next, always planning the next thing on the agenda. I want to pack it all in and I don’t want to miss anything!

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