Birthday Wishes and Wisdom

Cue the balloons and confetti because tomorrow is my birthday. Actually, for me, birthdays are less about celebrating than they are about reflecting and improving. (I know, I’m a real party animal.) In my lifetime, I’ve spent way too much time worrying about things I can’t do anything about. So here’s my birthday wish: the wisdom to focus on what is in my control.

These familiar words are from The Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr is credited for writing it in 1943, but the idea goes back much further.

Epictetus, a former slave turned Stoic philosopher, wrote during the second century, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions – in short, whatever is our own doing.”

An 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar wrote, “If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes, what reason is there for dejection? And if there is no help for it, what use is there in being glum?”

A 1695 Mother Goose nursery rhyme expresses the sentiment more lightly, “For every ailment under the sun there is a remedy or there is none. If there be one, try to find it; if there be none, never mind it.”

In 1801, Friedrich Schiller wrote, “Blessed is he who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity what he cannot save.”

Just this week, Ryan Holiday wrote on a similar theme in his email Meditations on Strategy and Life. He suggests one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves, “Is this in my control?” He writes, “Making this distinction will make you happier, make you stronger and make you more successful if only because it concentrates your resources in the places where they matter.”

It seems humanity has long-acknowledged the simple wisdom of heeding what is in our control and letting go of the rest. Tomorrow, when the smoke clears from 61 birthday candles, I’m claiming that wisdom as mine.