It Is What It Is … Or Is It?

I’ve always pretty much hated that expression – “It is what it is.” For example: You go to someone in your workplace, at a store, at home, and you explain a problem you’re having with the process, the service, the way you’re being treated, your problem here. And they say, in that lame, kind of sing-song tone – “It is what it is!” They’re almost always sort of smiling when they say it, right? And there’s that ‘helpless’ shoulder shrug that seems to go hand-in-hand with that expression.

Shoulder ShrugBasically, they’re saying they’re not about to lift a finger to help you. And they really don’t care very much either way. That’s how I tend to interpret it, anyway.

I always want to say – It may be what it is NOW. But why don’t you at least TRY to FIX IT if it’s clearly not right?

My friend Julie and I were once on one of our many neighborhood bicycle rides when a large dog came wildly bounding toward us in the street. Besides startling us, we both worried about the leash-less dog getting hit by a car. The owner was talking with a friend on her front lawn, if I remember correctly, and just looked up at us and shrugged with a smile. I honestly don’t know if she said the following, or if Julie and I made it up to embellish the story, but we still get a laugh several years later if one of us says, “Well, dogs will be dogs!”

I think what baffled us most was how a person could show absolutely no accountability or responsibility … for the safety of her presumably best friend even!

Before I go any further with this diatribe, though, I should explain I have turned the corner on the “It is what it is” expression … in certain cases, anyway.

ExpandThisMoment-1Part of the reason is an amazing, enlightening book son Dan got me recently, called Expand This Moment (focused meditations to quiet your mind, brighten your mood & set yourself free). In it, John Selby points out something I’ve come to realize through my own self-reflections over the years. In his words, “A key paradox is the psychological fact that, in order to provoke positive change, you must first fully accept a situation just as it is.” Or, as he also states it, “… you first must accept reality in order to change it.”

In other words, it (most assuredly) is what it is. But that doesn’t mean ‘it’ has to stay what it is. Powerful, right?

From your own emotional state, to hoping to improve a process, to even making the world a better place with your shining light, you’ve got to start with seeing things how they are. No denial. No sugar-coating. No exceptions.

I agree with you, John Selby!

The last thing I’d like to share with you on this particular subject is that, despite my mild rantings at the start of this blog, I do sometimes use the expression myself (shocking, I know, lol). And I even remind myself that some things are as they are and we, or at least I, can’t change them. As much as I want to. I’m referring to other people’s problems or behaviors. The world at large. Things beyond my scope of control.

It’s extremely freeing to let yourself off the hook once in a while. And, in another of life’s ironies, I find when I do try to take some of the weight of the world off my shoulders, I have more energy to try to make a difference.

It’s also humbling to hand some of the responsibility up to whatever higher power, or energy source, you might believe in … I don’t think any one of us what meant to be in full control or would know what to do if they were.

So I guess the main question here is when do you accept something as it is and when do you try to change it? In either case, you’ve got to start with what ‘is’.

Here’s a look at John Selby’s wonderful, 12-step meditation process (#7 and 8, in particular, fall within this theme) :


What do you think about all this?  

Watch for my next blog: Good Intentions – the Road to Hell or a Heavenly Endeavor (or something like that!) Happy summer!

One thought on “It Is What It Is … Or Is It?

  1. Nailed it as always, Ellen! I often cringe at that phrase. To me, it feels like a cop out when people shrug and say that. What I appreciate is that you have provided a thoughtful and positive way to work with things as they may be through mindfulness. Thank you.


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