Early in my legal career, I had the opportunity to be mentored by a partner at my law firm while working on a high-profile, high-stakes litigation. This man is a well-known and well-regarded attorney at the top of his field. I had come to the firm in part to work with him in his area of specialty, and I tried to soak up as much as I could whenever I had the chance to be in meetings with him.
I don’t remember much about the arguments we made or those made against our client. What I do remember from those years was something that the partner said in almost every meeting:
It is what it is.
The ruling that went against us. It is what it is.
The big win. It is what it is.
When a deposition didn’t elicit what we expected it to. It is what is is.
When our a witness for our client revealed something that hurt our client’s argument. It is what it is.
There was something about that phrase that didn’t seem to fit the energy of this man, who was so fierce in arguing these high-impact, complex cases. One moment he’d be in an intense debate on a call, and the next, he’d just shrug and say,
It is what it is.
It always made me laugh. But it turns out that his genius was not confined to the law. This mentor knew something about how to cultivate success and stay cool under pressure. He knew the secret to advocacy and getting results when it mattered.
The Success Mindset
It’s been about 15 years since I last worked with that mentor. 11 years ago, I took my passion for representing the interests of my clients while guiding them through complex life and business situations to the world of residential real estate, as well as to a coaching and consulting practice. Ideally, a real estate transaction is one where everybody wins. Ideally, clients who seek coaching or consulting will take action to reach their outcomes.
I have learned that this mindset is secret to success in dealing with contentious, complex situations, whether a litigation, a business dealing, a relationship, current events, or any other part of life.
Things don’t always play out in their ideal states. Markets go up and down, and buyers and sellers often resist the reality. People do things contrary to their best interests, despite seeking advice. Sometimes, clients don’t take action. We can do our best to help others, and give the best advice, but that help doesn’t always lead to the intended or desired results.
I often find myself in a situation where I can hear the voice of my mentor echo in my mind:
It is what it is.
In mindfulness practice this is called this equanimity**.
What is Equanimity?
The dictionary defines equanimity as
calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.
It originates from Latin, aequus, meaning “equal”, and animus, meaning “mind” or “soul.”
We often think of equanimity as meaning “level-headed,” but the idea of “equal soul” can also mean “level-hearted.” And this gets to the heart of equanimity: it’s about open-hearted in our expression of emotions in response to any stimulus.
But what does this mean in practice?
Equanimity is a component of mindfulness. It describes an open acceptance to what is happening in our current experience. In other words, we reach a state of equanimity when we stop resisting our experience.
The practice of equanimity requires us release of our expectation that life — circumstances, people, results — should be different from how they are.
Whatever happens, whatever people do, whatever result we achieve, is not “good” or “bad.” It just is.
How Equanimity Relates to Other Qualities
Equanimity strengthens other important qualities.
Wisdom. When we can stay with things long enough to see them for what they are, instead of how we wish them to be, we gain insight and wisdom.
Compassion. Equanimity gives us courage to deepen compassion for ourselves and others in difficult times, because we can face the pain without becoming immersed in the pain.
Service. Equanimity gives us strength to help, even if that help doesn’t produce the results we might desire.
Resilience. When we don’t get caught up in setbacks or failures, we don’t waste time on blaming or shaming ourselves or others. We bounce back much faster.
Productivity. Fighting reality takes energy and time, and rarely produces change. Accepting what is allows me to redirect my focus to what I can control or influence.
Read more about why equanimity is a key element of productivity.
Equanimity is Not Apathy
One limiting belief that arises regarding equanimity is that it means we don’t care or that we are indifferent. If we accept how things are then we won’t be motivated to change them. But acceptance of something as it is does not block change; it is the prerequisite to change. Whether that thing is in ourselves or in our life situation, we cannot change what we cannot fully accept.
When we are equanimous, we don’t get swept up in caring so much that we destroy ourselves or sabotage our results because we are too attached to the outcome.
Cultivating Equanimity is Hard
If you’re thinking that this sounds really hard, welcome to the club. Cultivating equanimity has been one of my biggest challenges.
The more I engage in the various mindfulness practices to cultivate awareness, the more I notice that I have a long list of expectations for how things should be, how people should act, or what results I should get.
Before I start to self-judge for having those expectations, I remind myself: It is what it is.
Awareness and acceptance are prerequisites to change.
By no means have I gotten this down. There are still many days when I get caught up in the drama. As soon as I notice that I’m in reaction to something I cannot control, I use these five simple words as a mantra to remind me to let go of the expectation and be with the reality.
I’ve noticed that I free up so much energy when I can stop the fighting with reality, sit back, and say:
It is what it is.
Give it a try. Let me know how it works for you.