pink water lilies

It Is What It Is: The Trap of Striving

One of my biggest struggles is with my own sense of good enough. Meaning, I focus a lot on improving myself, getting more done during the day, how I can make myself and my family better.

Some of the thoughts that go through my head:

I should be writing more

I should be exercising more

I should eat better

I should stop drinking so much

I should watch less TV

I should read more important books

…and on and on and on.

I find that when I allow myself to focus on these striving thoughts, I forget to be grateful. It’s a form of negative self-talk that not only says there is something wrong with how things are right now, but also that there is something inherently wrong with me.

“If I weren’t so lazy, I would spend more time writing and less time watching TV. If I weren’t so fat, I could run more. If I were working harder, I would be making more money.”

These thoughts aren’t really true, they’re just a comforting rephrasing of “There is something wrong with me.” I feel that if I tell myself that I should be doing something, it’s encouraging me to do better. The more I think about running, the more likely I will be to do it, right?

The striving thoughts say to me: You are overweight. What’s the cause of that? If you find the cause, then you’ll be that much closer to a solution!

The problem is, finding the “cause” of the problem doesn’t make me feel any better, because the “cause” is always going to be something that’s wrong with me. It only serves to compound my bad feelings about myself, which makes me less likely to change, if for no other reason than I get really depressed and start to take my sadness out on a 2 pound box of Goldfish crackers.

What was helpful for me today was a combination of things:

  1. I started journaling again, and the act of writing long-hand helps to slow my mind down and organize my thoughts
  2. I took the idea “it is what it is” and applied it to some of my current situations.

When you think about it, the idea that things are what they are, discounting any cause or effect of your own actions, can be incredibly freeing.

As I was journaling earlier today, I began with my normal listing of all the things I want to or should be doing (see list at the beginning). Somewhere toward the end of my second page of my morning pages, I wrote:

I don’t know what this is. The midsummer blues? Meh. I think finding the reason for the feeling may be beside the point. It’s just the way it is.

As I wrote those words, “It’s just the way it is,” I felt lighter. I don’t have to analyze everything that I did or didn’t do over the past couple of weeks or months that built up to me feeling kinda sad. Simply: at this moment, I am sad. It is what it is.

It’s hard to describe that feeling–letting go of trying to find what I did to cause a feeling and just sitting in it. Of striving to make my feelings or life different somehow, and just being me.

I welcome your thoughts on this.

**I want to note, the phrase “it is what it is” is not something I claim to have made up, actually far from it, as it’s a phrase I hear from one of my wisest friends often.

pink water lilies
water lilies

2 thoughts on “It Is What It Is: The Trap of Striving

  1. Gosh, I love this. Last week I was sitting with my roommate Hannah, trying to sort through similar feelings. I’m tired of beating myself up about all of the things I’m doing wrong, all of the enormous and infinitesimal ways I am failing. I’m trying to embrace the deep, dark sadness, because maybe it’s not a bad thing.

    I told Hannah that there are two things about myself that will never change:

    I have always struggled with depression, and I am just now (somewhat belatedly) realizing that I always will. Since I was a little girl, this has been how my brain works. It’s amazing how good I’ve gotten at hating myself for something I cannot control.

    The second thing is that CT will always be gone. Ugh. It’s the worst. In “The Year of Magical Thinking”, Joan Didion writes that we cannot “know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” Awful, right? But I love it, I think, because of something to do with that feeling you had when writing “it’s just the way it is.” Acknowledging the hard things is so freeing. Our culture pushes the idea of better, whole, and happy as ideal, but the fact is that most of life is not that.

    It is what it is, and it sucks sometimes, and that’s okay. I’m figuring out how to get along with my depression and my grief—surely we can coexist?


    • Ugh! Thank you for your honest, thoughtful response. Life is hard, and the more we try to struggle against it, the harder it can push back. I appreciate your willingness to open up, sweet friend.


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