The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: It Is What It Is

March 11, 2008

It Is What It Is

I've been catching myself saying "It is what it is" more than I like.

These days, I use the phrase like a punch line, ending my stories with a cheery "Well, it is what it is!" I want to do jazz hands as I say this. I'm waiting for the rimshot followed by a laugh track.

On the surface, "It is what it is" sounds so positive. People who have come to terms use that line. These are balanced, healthy people who recognize that some situations are beyond their control. These are the people that make the best of every circumstance. These are the people who learn things. These are the people who are guests on Oprah.

When I first started saying "It is what it is" I was determined to be one of those come-to-terms people. I wanted to look at situations honestly, recognize what I could fix and what, no matter how hard I tried, I could do nothing about. Surely accepting situations I could not change was a sign of emotional health. After all, isn't one of the lines of the famous serenity prayer, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change?"

Except, "It is what it is" can also be a very complacent statement. It is what it is, nothing can be changed. It is what it is, so why bother? It is what it is, so let's eat our body weight in cake. "It is what it is" paints a picture of impossibility, of circumstances too large, of obstacles too beyond our control. "It is what it is" gives us an excuse to let things stay exactly the way they are, even when we don't like it. And even, though we'll hate to admit it, when something could possibly be done.

Nowadays, I find myself using, "It is what it is" like a band aid. I take disappointment, dissatisfaction and disgruntledness and try to cover it up with an overly cavalier, "It is what it is." Sometimes I use "It is what it is" like a shield -- when I'm trying to avoid sympathy, or as I see it, pity. Often, I use "It is what it is" when I'm truly apologetic for up-chucking my crappy day all over the person I've been talking to. I secretly hope that by saying, "It is what it is" in a chipper, high-pitched tone, the person would somehow believe I'm actually quite ok and won't have to worry about me.

Truth is, there are things that will probably never change for me. I'll probably always be this side of insecure, wondering if those around me truly love me for who I am. I know this. I've had therapy around this. I have tools to handle this. To these unchangeables I say, "It is what it is."

There are other things that are merely circumstantial. Crazy work schedules, long distance relationships, missing loved ones. I know these things will not be forever. And it's this mantra of "not forever, not forever, not forever" that keeps me going. To these circumstances I say with confidence, "It is what it is... for now."

But there is always a list of things that are in that grey area. Are these issues permanent? Possibly. Are these situations beyond my control? Perhaps. Could anything be done on my part to change anything? Maybe. To these items that ebb and flow in the grey, I'd like to learn how to have a different outlook. I'd still like to examine, to consider and to come to terms. But I'd also like to ask prayerfully and thoughtfully, "Is it what it really is?"

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