Sunday, November 11, 2012


I know, I know. Surrender is a word with bad connotations. We're taught we should struggle for the results we want, no matter what. Here are the phrases that ring in our ears from parents, teachers, troop leaders, and coaches from the moment we are out of diapers (and sometimes before.):

  • Fight to the end 
  • Never give up
  • Be in it to win it
  • Don't be a quitter
  • If you're not a winner, you're a loser
  • Battle against all odds
  • Giving up is the only disgrace
  • Do or die
I could go on and on. I'm sure you could too. 

We take it for granted that winning is everything. Or, at the very least, if we don't win it all, we should struggle on to the end never admitting defeat. 

Have you ever listened to the contestants on those reality competition shows? They look into the camera and, through gritted teeth, tell us:
  • I can't lose it now. I've put everything on the line.
  • My whole life depends on winning it all.
  • Coming in second is not an option.
  • I didn't come here to make friends. I came here to win.
  • My kids (or my wife, my husband, my parents, my town) are depending on me. I can't let them down.
Admittedly, a lot of this stuff is scripted, designed to get the viewers juiced into believing the stakes are incredibly high and that winning is of earth-shattering importance.

Even so, someone has to lose. The contestants know it. The producers know it. The writers who put these brave words into the mouths of the contestants know it. We know it.

So what happens to the fifteen or so contestants who do not win the big prize? Do their lives go into the toilet? Do their loved ones despise them? Do we despise them?


Usually just participating is richly rewarding. Singers and dancers, for example, are likely to launch successful careers based on being seen and heard on the show.

But I want to propose a whole different way to approach life's struggles.


If you want to be a dancer but have no talent you are wasting your life if you don't surrender  to the truth. Admitting you can't dance, but you sing beautifully opens the door to a productive life. 

If you have a disability, surrendering to that reality allows you to take it into account and work around it. Denying it creates only failure.

Here's what I mean: 

I am a woman with short, round legs. That's my genetic heritage. I can't change it. My legs will never get any longer. Diet and exercise (I know from painful experience) makes them stronger but only a fraction leaner.

I can either bemoan the fact that my legs are not long and lean or accept the fact.

Bemoaning leads me to only poor options:

  • Trying feverishly to change the shape and length of my legs. (impossible)
  • Trying to outrun long-legged people even though I'll never be able to beat them. (impossible)
  • Viewing myself as flawed or second-rate. (all too likely)
But here's what surrendering to reality can give me:
  • the freedom to enjoy the strength and flexibility of my legs. 
  • The recognition that I get to have defects, they don't make me a lesser person.
  • The ability to let go of the concept of "defects" altogether and celebrate differences.
Surrender is a beautiful thing. 
  • It allows us to stop wasting time.
  • It allows us to live life on life's terms. 
  • It gives us a rich appreciation of the endless possibilities before us.
  • It frees us from self-limiting expectations.
In Denzel Washington's latest movie, Flight, he plays alcoholic pilot, Whip Whitaker, who struggles to maintain the illusion that he is not addicted to alcohol. At the end of the movie, he breaks down and tells the truth to others and to himself. He surrenders to the reality that he is an alcoholic. Later, in prison, he says (I'm paraphrasing), "This may sound strange given where I am, but for the first time in my life, I am truly free."

So next time you hear someone (or yourself) praise that "I'll never give in" mentality, ask yourself if it's worth it to for us to butt our head against a stone wall (believe me, our head will give way long before the wall) or to admit defeat and walk around it to the other side.


  1. Hey there, found you on Book Blogs. What a wonderful post, I also have some things that I would love to change about myself and could not accept them when I was younger. Now that I am an adult and have "surrendered" my self-consciousness I can look back and see all the experiences and fun I have missed out on. Beautiful huskies, by the way.

    New follow.
    Alise @ Readers In Wonderland

  2. Very thought-provoking post! Surrender is a word that can have a negative sounds like "I give up!" It sounds like "Uncle!" If you are a problem solver, like moi, convinced that there must be an answer in this pile somewhere, it sounds like a challenge. A word that works better for me is "acceptance." If I had a nickle for every time I have said..."It is what it is!" I would be a wealthy person. Acceptance like surrender brings similar gifts of of which is a sense of clarity (which means I have to toss those rose-colored glasses. BTW...I never noticed your legs! :-)

  3. Very well written Lee.You make stories seem so vivid and explainable.BTW I always notice your legs.

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