#276: The Difference Between Acceptance and Giving Up

Peter Barton was a highly successful media pioneer back in the 1980s and 90s.

He co-founded Liberty Media, which launched the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, STARZ and many other blockbuster brands.

Sadly, in the prime of his life, he was diagnosed with cancer. And he died in 2002 at the age of 51.

When he realized he might not win his battle with cancer, he began writing down his thoughts.

These were collected in the book Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived.

In one of the book’s most moving passages, Peter draws an important distinction between accepting and giving up.

In today’s podcast episode, I use this passage to give us a fresh perspective on our unobtained goals.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smartphone, tablet or iPod.

When You’re Losing the Fight

Barton explains that he’s a fighter who doesn’t give up easily.

That perseverance was a big part of his career success.

But at one point in his illness, he realized that he might actually lose his fight with cancer.

He writes:

“…I realized something useful: that acceptance doesn’t mean the same as giving up. The distinction is subtle; the language isn’t perfect; but I can tell you from personal experience that I’m not just playing with semantics here.

Giving up is when you’re in a contest and you acknowledge that you’ve lost. Acceptance is when you graduate to a different way of looking at the situation. You make peace with the obvious fact that the outcome is not a reflection on your character; you no longer see it in terms of winning or losing. Somehow you leave those opposites behind. It’s a big relief.”

This passage is a powerful reminder that not everything in life is binary.

If you don’t reach a goal after years and years of giving it your very best, that doesn’t mean you lost.

A much more constructive (and honest) interpretation is to look beyond the desired outcome.

If we don’t achieve our goal—or don’t achieve it in the desired timeframe—that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us.

And the moment we make peace with that truth . . . that’s when we can start enjoying life more.

Life is one big, crazy adventure.

We’re better off embracing the mystery than trying to control it.

You’re not giving up.

You’ve just graduated to a new level of understanding.



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