I used to hate the phrase “it is what it is”. I would hear people say it and think to myself that’s so stupid. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Then one day, I got it. Now, I love it. I use it all the time. I’m not sure I use it the way others do, but I think it’s very useful.
There are two ways I find it useful.
First, it means that some things just are the way they are and I need to accept that.
For example, I take the train to work. Some mornings, it gets cold. Like single digits, cold. And sometimes the train is late. Those things combine and make me want things to change. But there’s nothing that my wanting will do to actually change it. I’m cold. Thus, it is what it is.
The situation is not going to change to accommodate you. You are the one that has to adapt. You can cry about it, or you can accept it.
And if the situation is really beyond your control and you just have to deal with it, you can learn how to do that better through meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Here’s another post I wrote on that.
The second way it helps me is that it reminds me that there are things that I can control.
Stephen R. Covey, in his classic and essential book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explains that we have to be proactive. That’s the first habit.
Dr Covey states:
Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them.
This is a key to rising above your circumstances and succeeding.
In stoic circles, they say things like this:
If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
We should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?”
– Epictetus, Enchiridion
It’s something like going on an ocean voyage. What can I do? Pick the captain, the boat, the date, and the best time to sail. But then a storm hits… What are my options? I do the only thing I am in a position to do, drown — but fearlessly, without bawling or crying out to God, because I know that what is born must also die.
– Epictetus, Discourses
Again, the idea is that there are things within our control and things outside our control. The effort and worry we put forth needs to take that into account. Why waste time, energy and worry on things that just plain are outside of our control.
But when we put effort into things that are in our control, magical things can happen.
You’d be surprised what is possible when we just try. When we use our resources, we can alter the situation enough that it becomes new. It becomes different.
Here’s an example. I went to buy something the other day and wanted to get an advertised discount on my order. The small print said it was for online orders. I was in the corporate headquarters because they are 20 minutes from my house.
The girl helping me told me the computer wouldn’t let her override it and therefore they couldn’t give me the discount. It was what it was.
But I asked her if there was anyone there that DID have the access to override it.
She made a call (and then that person had to call someone above them) and I got my discount.
So the greatness of the second way that it helps me is in realizing that it is what it is, until I find a way for it to not be.
Now that I have come to like the phrase, I use it whenever I find myself in a tough situation. When I think to myself “it is what it is”, I just check to see which kind it is.
If I need to suck it up and deal with it. I do.
And if there’s some way I can be resourceful and change what is, I get to work.
Hopefully you got something out of this post. If not, it is what it is.