Athlete Journal: Valerie Worthington, Entry 9 – Serenity Is Not Just a Joss Whedon Movie

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Now comes the time to apply this to myself and my training.


Welcome to the Athlete Journal of world-class grappler Valerie Worthington. Follow Valerie as she trains and competes in various events over the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition season. Val’s journal will be posted every Thursday.

You can catch up by reading her previous journal entries!

The first part of The Serenity Prayer reads: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Originally written by Reinhold Niebuhr, the prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs to provide inspiration and guidance to members.

(Serenity is also the name of the spaceship in a Joss Whedon sci-fi series called Firefly. While this is not really relevant, it was a good, if short-lived, show, that was also made into a movie called Serenity.)

I am not in recovery, but the concept of serenity speaks to me as it relates to competition preparation. I feel like I have the “courage to change the things I can” part under halfway decent control. I believe this because I feel I do my best to embody the idea that if I don’t like something about my life, I have choices. Whenever I say “I can’t,” I immediately look at that comment and evaluate it for validity.

To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Martha Beck, I cannot walk two thousand miles in a single day. I cannot pick up a jumbo jet. These are physical impossibilities. But historically, many other things I have said “I cannot” do, I was actually choosing not to do. (I can’t quit my job, I can’t limit my interactions with frenemies who sap my energy, etc.) And I have applied this to my training as well; while there is always more to be done, I feel confident that, particularly in the past year, I have overcome some of those “can’ts” and ended up with a pretty good training regimen. I have demonstrated a certain measure of courage here.

Now it’s time for me to find my serenity with the things I can’t change. There are many of them, which is part of the challenge. For instance, I’ll never be 25 again. I’ll never have the flexibility of a gymnast or the strength of an Olympic weightlifter. I’ll never be as good at Brazilian jiu jitsu as I would like to be—or as many of the people I look up to.

These are facts about who I am, and in and of themselves they are not good or bad, and they do not make me good or bad. But if I’m not careful, they can become my identity. I can assign negative meaning to them, use them against myself, make myself feel less than. They can transport me to the past, where I like to do the Futile Regrets Mambo, or to the future, where I can play Worry Ball. But neither helps me in my present, which is where all the good stuff is happening.

So my goal moving forward, both as I prepare for my next tournament and in general, is not only to accept some of these “things I cannot change,” but also to embrace them. It was fun to be 25, but I was also a total moron compared to myself today. I’m not super flexible or strong, but I’m reasonably intelligent, and I find this helps me compensate, at least in part. I will never be as good as I would like to be at BJJ, but I’m better than I ever imagined I would be.

And I am still making progress. None of the things I cannot change are enough to keep me from doing the things I want to do, mostly because I have decided they are not. So, I can’t change these things, but I can change whether/how I allow them to define me.

Wow. I feel more serene already.

What are some of the things you cannot change that are difficult for you to serenely accept? Why is it difficult?