There need not be tension between acceptance and growth. We can accept who we are, the limits that we have, and the mistakes we have made without worrying that we will become complacent and stop trying to be better. There really is a developmental process to a life. It really will be different in different decades. We get better at life as we go along. We really are okay, and we really can continue to be better.
First we start with actually inhabiting the point where we find ourselves in our lives. We allow ourselves to be curious, to get to know ourselves in a sort of never-ending reflective delving. We know our self-knowledge will always be partial. We accept the understanding we get about those parts of ourselves that we wish were better. We learn to live with ourselves without self criticism, self doubt, or self destructiveness. We are who we are.
And we look forward, not backward. In which direction do we want our lives to unfold? Do we want more harmony and quiet? More adventure and learning? More challenge and mastery? Do we want to practice being better friends, better professionals, and/or better caregivers? What kinds of choices and efforts would move us the very smallest incremental step toward those wants?
Mostly we can drift along, reacting moment by moment to the vicissitudes of our lives, or we can be deliberate about making choices that move us in our desired directions. We may still have unwanted feelings, unfortunate experiences or misguided choices. But we will be in charge of our lives instead of helpless passengers in an undirected vehicle.
I heard an interview with Atul Gawande, the surgeon and author, who said, it is very difficult for him to accept that we will always be limited, our knowledge will always be partial, and our choices will always have uncertain outcomes and yet we still must act. We still must make choices and we still must be responsible for our lives. We have to learn to live with that uncertainty and with our own limited capacities.