A Closer Look at Tolerance

Tolerance is something I’ve wanted to (attempt to) dissect for a long time. First of all, what exactly is tolerance? What do you picture when you hear that word? What feelings or experiences do you associate with it?

Is tolerance something in yourself that you desire to have more of or strengthen, or do you lean more toward curating a life where you barely have to “tolerate” anything?

The idea of tolerance has been politicized in so many ways, too, so I want to clarify that the type of tolerance I am delving into is the tolerance that an individual exercises in their everyday life not necessarily applying to any larger social or systemic issues. 

This year has taught me a lot, I feel like it has taught me more than I currently have the words for, (perhaps a 2021 lessons blog later?) The last few months have required a lot of tolerance from me, so much so, I had to think about what tolerance means to me, where and what are its limitations, and how exactly does it apply to my everyday life, circumstances, and goals. 

But first I had to admit that Tolerance has been a muddy topic for most of my life.

Cosmos are tolerant flowers. They grow in almost any soil PH and survive most weather conditions.

Knowing what to tolerate can be especially unclear if you come from a traumatic background: Maybe the side effect of that is your fight, flight, or freeze responses are particularly heightened or sensitive— leaving you with a pretty shallow threshold for discomfort, as you subconsciously intend to protect yourself and avoid repeating negative circumstances of your past.

Or, maybe you are unlearning habits of codependency and you know you still have an issue determining and establishing boundaries quickly and firmly. Perhaps you’ve become aware that you’ve historically tolerated much more than you should, and you’ve learned to keep a special eye on this area of your life, as not to fall into that over-accepting behavior again.

Considering my own background, (a bit of both of the above,) I sometimes question my automatic reactions to discomfort and adversity- I have to ask myself, has that flight response has been triggered by something that really isn’t all that threatening with a second look? Or, I will have to ask myself if I am being too allowing or too patient with a situation that is actually doing more harm than good with me— as I have known to do as well. It can be difficult to discern when to stick something out for a potential long-term benefit or to leave it where it stands due to the weight of what it asks.

Tolerance is especially interesting to me because when we search for ways to cope with difficult times and circumstances, we are usually presented with two opposing perspectives. You should either have tolerance and/or a capacity to suffer, (and plenty of it,) to reach long term goals and new elevations of life–you are to reach your happiness by conquering your hardships, OR, you may find other sources that will tell you success and true happiness comes only after you release, dismiss, or remove any sources of suffering in your life–You are to follow your ease and leave all excess stresses behind.

Which perspective do you identify with? Or, what have you been taught?

I can’t help but wonder about longer, more complex, particularly difficult (but very passionate) goals, How does someone with the latter perspective hang in for all of those inevitable hard days? For long stretches? And without so much ease?

And if not a long-term, challenging goal, what about when we simply cannot do anything about our circumstances? Here’s myself as an example: I was the busiest I had ever been when I started my new role at work some months ago. (If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you know that non-stop work has particularly poisonous effects on me.) The new role was going to be a big change- going from working at home to working in person, and it was also a large increase in hours due to the nature of the position. Understandably, I was not going to be able to make big adjustments to that new work schedule. Aside from that, prior to accepting that role, I already committed to full time classes. I also have my blog and Instagram (which paired is like a side job itself, ) then, I’m also a parent to a young child and someone’s partner. Without needing to explain much else there, I swiftly hit the wall and realized something had to give.

After having the absolute hardest time for a couple weeks, I begrudgingly let go of posting or worrying about my social channels (at a cost of some account growth of course, falling off, if you didn’t know- is social media death.) I did not like seeing that. But I tolerated that. Then I still felt overwhelmed. Because of the officiality and importance of literally everything else on my plate, I just had to find a way to survive in that stressful cluster of circumstances.

Once I had dropped my social media responsibility, it became clear that there was nothing else I could reasonably do. I was not going to quit the sterm, figure out if/how the school wants the financial aid back, or quit the new job I wanted. All that was left was my commitment to my family, which I hold above all else. Rough. My power of control ended. I found myself between a rock and 3 hard places, at least for a little while.

And I thought, (when I had time to think,)

Which is it- Do we reach our happy place by conquering our hardships or by ridding our stressors?

As I am learning, like many other things, the answer is actually somewhere in the middle. 

I personally have learned to associate tolerance with the allowing of circumstances and behaviors largely disagreed with, or that are morally wrong. When I hear the word tolerance, I think of statements I’ve heard several times such as, “I will not tolerate this,” or, “we do not tolerate xyz.”  And usually, these were said for good reason, too. They are said with integrity, to upkeep an equal or positive standard that protects others, or an organization. I’ve learned that limitations with tolerance are vital. 

I’ve learned so much less about leaning into or expanding my tolerance. And I’m learning that tolerance doesn’t have to mean agreement, not at all, actually. Tolerance to me simply means acceptance, even for a temporary time. It is the “letting go,” of trying to control the unideal. Tolerance is the acceptance of what is not currently going your way, what you may not agree with, or what isn’t particularly comfortable for you. 

I am also learning lack of tolerance can actually cause a lot more stress and discomfort than it lets on. This puts you in a position where you focus on areas in life where you notice dissatisfaction, discomfort, or even boredom, with extreme resistance. And what you focus on, grows. Now every little thing that isn’t going ideally in your life is being perceived as some kind of layered injustice towards you. Then you go online, where those flames are fanned by someone passionately urging you to go ahead and quit your job if it doesn’t feel like a passion project, or leave your relationship if it’s bumpy, or quit that degree if you aren’t all that excited about what you’re currently learning. We see and hear people shedding everything that “brought them down,” and waltzing right into that space in life where it’s all ease and happiness from there on out. It can be hard to defend the choice to stay in an unideal or otherwise challenging circumstance because you truly believe in what is on the other end of it. The burden of constantly trying to control the unideal ends up heavy-dishing you the very stress you were looking to avoid. 

As far as what you believe in— that anticipated landing place of your time and efforts, the reason you ultimately tolerate what you do, that is entirely up to you. And what I mean by entirely up to you, is it doesn’t have to make sense or be agreeable to everyone else. They don’t have to see your vision. Everything isn’t for everyone. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Long-term, high-commitment projects aren’t for everyone. Certain lifestyles paces or fields of work (you guessed it-) are not for everyone. What you “tolerate,” or accept, or sacrifice, or compromise on in your life, whatever the season or reason, is your business and your choice. 

Tolerance, I’ve learned, also reminds you that if life only went your way, there would be nowhere for others to go. (and as nice as that sounds, we definitely don’t want to live in a world like that.) Tolerance reminds you that the uncomfortable and the unknown is the richest area to mine substantial self-development, growth, and progression towards your goals. Tolerance, in some seasons, shows you what you are truly made of, and what you can really do. Tolerance builds resilience. Tolerance tends to lend us deeper insight and wisdom to take for the long run. Tolerance is also behind the popular statement, “live and let live-” the key word is let. Tolerance reminds you to continue to loosen your grip on small issues and inconveniences and to stay focused on your direction instead. Tolerance allows you to be a kinder, more loving human being, who not only seeks to be served by others but seeks to serve people and the world.

So tolerance is actually a good thing, despite what we may have been taught. We’re scooting more towards that middle. But- let’s definitely not go all the way to the opposite side.

What tells us when it’s too much?

Where do you draw a line with tolerance? From what I have learned, these are some solid red flags to look out for- whether you’re pursuing a big goal, working slowly towards a better solution, or otherwise enduring with good intentions, know that there are limits.

Look out for:

Resentmentthis is an emotion that is capable of eroding almost any good thing.

Resentment is a complex emotion that can fill your days in many ways— feelings of unfairness, an unshakeable feeling of disgust or bitterness towards something, anger that becomes deep-rooted and doesn’t subside. When you feel as though you are growing resentful in a situation, even if you stick it out, by the time you reach the goal, your resentment will have eaten it. Resentment is an indicator that the silver lining that you need to make the situation worthwhile has faded. Maybe your interests have changed, or maybe the situation was escalated beyond what is reasonable to tolerate— either way, resentment is a signal to turn the steering wheel elsewhere. 

Harming of your healthwe can only do what we can do.

You absolutely cannot abuse your body or your mental health in the name of reaching goals. You can challenge yourself, and you should expect to in order to elevate. You can push and condition yourself to handle higher levels of difficulty, responsibility, and durability if that is what your goals require. But you cannot and should not irreversibly or recklessly harm yourself in the name of the grind. If you are suffering health effects, you need to respect your body and ease up. Take a slower pace, make adjustments. If this ultimately means you have to change directions or leave a situation, then so be it. Once again, everything is not for everyone.

Risk is not worth the reward

Simply put, when you reach this goal, will it have been worth everything you had to do or give up? Do the pros still outweigh the cons? Is this goal actually feasible on this specific route? Or we can think of risk literally— are you in danger, or are others in danger by way of this situation? Ask yourself these questions and be honest. If the risk is not worth the reward, ditch it. If the reward puts others at risk, obviously, ditch it, as soon as yesterday. 

The situation goes against your morals or values

You will know this in your gut, and it is not sustainable to live against your values, no matter how large or sparkling the reward. Like resentment, the conflict that comes with this type of compromise will ultimately overshadow and completely diminish the satisfaction of reaching your goal.

You just don’t want to anymore

yes, this is actually a good enough reason! It is also exclusively your choice and your business. 

If the circumstances pass all the flags, and you’re still set on your goal, but understandably going through a difficult time to get there, here’s what I want to remind you on your journey:

Get rid of the choice-less, helpless mindset

If you want this goal, you have to accept what comes with it. Every day that you pursue it, you choose it. Catch yourself when you fall into a victim mindset, and remind yourself of your personal power of choice and intention around the situation. 

Consider what you can control and let go of everything you can’t

Fight for your needs and wants the best way you can without having to pull everything apart. Small changes can and will make a difference in how you spend those spare in-between moments. Make time for emptiness and quiet. Make time to ponder and to rest. Think of ways to make your tasks more pleasant and efficient. If you don’t like something, see if you can change it. No one else will consider these things for you, so remember it is your responsibility too.

Give that inner child some truth here and there

For those who do have a more sensitive fight, flight, or freeze response, remind yourself when you are not in danger. Remind yourself that people are just people, discomfort does not equal danger, negative experiences always end, hard seasons always turnover, and then good ones come. Take a deep breath. You are both safe and capable to continue on. 

Put a timeline on it

When you grow tired and weary, you get this feeling that your situation will last forever, without end and without relief. Establish how long you are tolerating to make this goal. A couple of weeks? A couple of months? A year, etc.? Be specific, and periodically, look up and say- “Hey, I only have xxx left.” Have a plan and have a timeline, then continue to remind yourself that this is temporary. 

Train your mind to see the good

While you are doing your time, earning your stripes, the time is going to pass regardless. However, how miserable you may be along the way is going to be up to you. Since you know this is going to be hard, aiming for joy might be a stretch, but try. Most human thoughts are both negative and repetitive. Become more aware of what you tell yourself each day— what you think about before diving into your efforts and what you take away from them when they end. Start telling yourself a better narrative. Start finding things to look forward to, and things to be proud of. Rather than finding things to dread, and things to beat yourself up about. 

Do a regular reality check

Life is not fair, (and yes, it shouldn’t be that way but it’s true,) Look at your circumstances truthfully and realistically and always navigate them from there. No matter how much inner work you do, you are a human and you will still get rattled sometimes, and that’s alright. Be a strict guard of what you let sit on your mind and heart each day. The world will not end if you sacrifice or compromise certain things, and when you think of reasons why something is a big fuss, also try arguing against that opinion— you may find that you were just especially upset in the moment. If you are feeling pushed hard, you may be more moody and irritable. Check your ego and cool down in a healthy way on a regular basis.

Invest in finding your way to calm, as you will come to rely on it. 

There’s a saying I heard recently that I try to always remember as well:

Be grateful during difficult times, because good times are coming. And likewise, be grateful during good times, because difficult times are coming.

Regardless of what we see outwardly in the lives of others, everyone goes through hard times. No matter who we are, how well-positioned we are, or how happy we otherwise seem to be. There is such a thing as going through a difficult season for good reason. The journey, (for everything it truly is,) will teach you more than success ever will. The more acquainted you become with tolerance, the more unbothered you can be in the face of adversity.

I hope this blog around tolerance makes you feel empowered over your chosen path and life experiences. Because it’s all a choice, and it’s only for you to decide and justify. I hope we all find our way towards our middle—that is, our healthy acceptance and tolerance of what is beyond our control, (or what we don’t mind so much after all.) I hope we learn to be more gentle and tolerant and considerate of one another, the same way we so readily consider ourselves. And I hope we all bravely head toward our goals knowing we are capable of conquering all the challenges along the way. You also earn a certain respect and credibility with yourself when you do difficult things. If you are facing a tall mountain right now, soon you’ll see the top of it–just know you have it in you. 

Above all else, I have learned it is so worthwhile to practice tolerance, if for no one else, for yourself and your own sense of peace in this very unpredictable, prickly world. 

In case you haven’t heard it lately, you got this.

Until next time,


2 responses to “A Closer Look at Tolerance”

  1. Oh this was right in time, as I am coming to realize that I need to make some changes in my life and figure out how to navigate the journey to change.

    As always, your writing is very insightful.

    Liked by 1 person

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