Suck It Up

Someone close to me, someone it is my job to support, is really struggling right now. She is getting professional help, and working hard to make positive changes in her life, but progress is slow going. One of her journeys right now is trying to find a job that she feels is compatible with who she is and what she wants. The problem is that her parameters are so narrow, I’m not sure a job exists that fits all of them. The low probability of finding her dream job does not deter her, she soldiers on, as she has been for the last 9 years.

I struggle to know how to support her when we get together to talk. There are so many aspects of employment that she seems unable (unwilling?) to participate in. I try to say generic, supportive things, to be empathetic, but it’s hard because my general attitude is increasingly, suck it up.

That’s what we do, isn’t it? We suck it up. When shit is hard, but we have to do it, we suck it up and we get it done.

Now I grew up in a house where this phrase wasn’t specifically employed, but the general sentiment was definitely understood. There wasn’t a lot of coddling going on in my house when we young. Certainly my parents listened when we were struggling and supported us in any way they could; my parents paid for therapy when I was in high school and into college. They never spoke ill of my dependence on SSRIs to get through those dark times. But I could always tell they didn’t understand what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t just suck it up and get over it, whatever it was. I could tell my inability to identify the elusive it that was making miserable drove them a little crazy. And while I could discern how they felt, I appreciated that the never spoke the actual words. They were doing the best they could.

I feel like I’m in that same position now, and I worry this person I need to support can discern that I can’t really understand, that I don’t actually empathize, that what I’m really thinking is, how can you expect to interact with the world when you’ve decided that you can’t actually abide most society’s expectations.

No one likes working a 9-5 job that isn’t personally fulfilling. No one likes having to hustle for your worth, but sometimes you do it for a while to get to the next level. Sometimes you have to pay your dues.

I mean I get it, the wanting to have your job mean something. But I just don’t know if most people get to have a job that means something to them personally, especially not with flexible hours and a decent pay check. But that is what this person wants, and she’s not willing to grin and bear it at any job, even if those hard months or years mean she may some day find something closer to what she actually wants.

I struggle with this at school too, with my students. When do we push them to work through what is hard, so they can learn how much they can accomplish? When do we let them fall back and regroup?

I don’t know. Honestly, the post I really want to write isn’t about this specific person, or my students, it’s about my own now tenuous relationship with the whole suck it up mentality. I am pretty certain that there are times when my insistence on sucking it up has made things worse before they got better, probably unnecessarily so. And yet I can attribute a lot of the good in my life to sucking it up and getting it done, even when I was miserable doing it.

I feel like I need to figure this shit out because I have kids now and increasingly it will be my job to help them walk the fine line between sucking it up and throwing in the towel. How can I help them navigate this ambiguous terrain when my own map and compass are so utterly fucked?*

I really don’t know the answer, and trying to help my friend has reminded me how panicky that makes me feel.

*Accessing compassion, toward myself and others, has definitely helped me in this area but I still have so much exploring to do, so much unknown terrain to cover. You might think that extending oneself kindness would mean the abolishment of “suck it up,” but that hasn’t actually been the case. Most of the time, showing myself compassion helps me see more clearly what I need to do, I just use kinder words as I try to spur myself to do it. I’m hoping that self-compassion will continue act as a compass in these situations when I feel so unsure, but I’m still such a novice, not only at determining what direction I should take, but also at eventually setting out in that direction.

What are you thoughts on sucking it up? How do you know when to do it, and when not to?

23 Comments

  1. Such a good question. In general, I feel proud of myself when I’m able to suck it up, keep on going, not ask for help. But often that isn’t really the best response. I recently had a situation where i needed something from others and was feeling very uncomfortable about asking. But I asked, and everybody was 100% fine with it, and I got what I needed. Actually, that’s happened several times in the past few weeks alone. So now I’m working on practicing asking when i need help. It feels is wrong. But maybe the more times I see it work out well, it’ll get easier.

    1. The asking for help aspect wasn’t even on my radar when I was writing this but it’s such an important part of this question. I am very good about asking for help from some people (my mom) but shit at asking for it from most others. It’s definitely something I need to work on. I’m glad you’re getting better at it and it’s been a positive experience.

    2. Recently, I needed to just talk. I have been caring for my elderly parent’s for more than 4 years. I physically checked in on them daily, and helped where I could with mom before she passed, giving my dad much needed breaks. I have 2 other siblings, a sister and brother, yet I have been the primary caregiver, and my siblings are quite content to sit back while I do most of the hands on care giving, because I live so close to my father. (Mind you, my brother lives 5 minutes away and my sister 30 minutes away) My dad can be very negative, and it definitely takes it’s toll. My brother treats our dad horribly, even with minimal contact! I am exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally, I had hit the wall. I didn’t need anyone to do anything but listen and maybe a hug. I was told I was all my father had, and to suck it up! Talk about feeling invalidated, like my feelings, health and well being aren’t important! This only resulted in me beating myself up more and causing be to ignore what was best for me, in an effort to force myself to struggle on. I am smart enough to know a couple things, if I end up in the hospital, I am of no help to anyone, and if I was going to kill myself in caring for our father, my siblings were going to sit back and allow me to do it, after all, it took a lot of the responsibility off them! I’ve now set some healthy boundaries and I’m learning to take better care of myself, but unfortunately, perhaps understandably, I feel a lot of resentment towards my siblings, and don’t hold out any hope of a relationship between any of us after my father passes. Right now I want nothing to do with my siblings, and it will take me a long while to get passed this, if I ever do. How about the siblings ‘suck it up’ and step up!

  2. When to suck it up? When it gets you closer to something you want/value (IE better job, happier relationship w someone difficult – though here I’d say you have to set boundaries about how much ducking up you’ll do vs how much you want/need/like that person , new skill that you want/need). Outside of that, life’s too short to spend it being miserable for the sake of someone else’s opinion of how you “should” act or feel.

    1. But what if you’re not sure that it will get you closer to something you want or value? Like it might, but it might end up not being all that helpful? Sometimes it’s not clear what the end result will be, and then it’s harder to know what one should do.

      I agree that sucking it up to appease someone else or to meet someone else’s standard is not a good idea. Great distinction.

  3. I grew up being told to suck it up ALL THE TIME. So… It’s in me. It’s who I am. I suck up every damn challenge in life, and don’t dwell too long on things. I went to counseling because I thought I got over things way too quickly. I feel strange about my ability to suck it up and move on.

    My kids hear, “shake it off,” quite a bit. I probably shouldn’t say that so much!

    1. I also grew up being told to suck it up ALL THE TIME. It’s definitely in me. And I think I do suck it up with my actions, but it’s been more of a journey for me to get over things internally. I do a lot of dwelling. 😉

      I tell my kids to “shake it off” a lot too. I think that is better than, “You’re fine!” which I hear a lot of people say!

  4. We have two hands ~ one for ‘the suck it up/keep slogging’ approach and one for the ‘go for your dreams’ approach. Saying out loud to your self, and (on carefully considered occasions) to others, that there are two approaches and you do not always know for yourself, much less another person, which to use when, that it is a hard choice often, at least puts the choices on the table relatively judgement freely. Then you can say in a supportive manner that the person themselves is the only one who can make the choice. Think of it an as exercise in talking about being pro-choice…. not judging others. You have to really hold the other person’s right to making choices different from yours but right for them. That choices and forks in the road happen to us all and that the consequences for our choices fall on our own shoulders. Asking ‘how do you feel about the choices in front of you’, may help. Asking “how is that choice working for you” is also good, while also acknowledging that the other person may well and correctly make different choices than you would and feel/carry the results differently because they are just differences. We are each different people; admitting our differences, admiring these differences, is important to the world.
    So I vote there isn’t an objectively ‘right’ answer on how to proceed with life choices, when the outcomes impact the decision maker and not those outside the decision maker’s skin. The person you are trying to be supportive of may be more comfy not taking the mundane income producing job and not eating 3 meals a day while sleeping on the street; as long at this doesn’t put a burden on you or endanger other people.. . But if they want to stay in your house, eat your food, endanger others, then you get to decide if you support their right to decide or/and support them financially/materially in their lifestyle consequences. AND TOTALLY CALL CPS if there is negative fallout making any children unsafe!

    1. Those are great responses. Thanks for suggesting them. I’ll definitely employ them the next time we talk.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this post for the last hour, given my own situation. On the one hand, “suck it up” is usually associated with those who have both unrealistic expectations and are seen as whining about their situation. The flip, though, is that sometimes those expectations are not unrealistic. The idea of having a career that you love while also being able to support yourself and have the option for a life was the norm not too long ago. Things are very difficult for many at the moment, unless you come from the elite (and they will argue that they are struggling or deserve their privilege).

    Honestly, it’s hard to walk the line. We want to support and encourage others, but there’s also a limit for what we can do. And there are people who truly need to have a reality check because it’s clear that they want the ideal but aren’t willing to do some of the work necessary to get there.

    So support your friend as best you can, but also know it’s okay to tell her “I’m at a lost for how to do this.” If she truly wants support, she’ll help guide you for how best to support her. Otherwise know it’s okay to put up a boundary for the whining.

    1. I like that response “I’m at a loss…” maybe preceded by some “wow, this seems really hard for you”…maybe it’ll encourage her to think more about an actual solution vs. just thinking/talking about what she wants/doesn’t want. How to get from point A to B?

    2. I think you’re right, that when what she’s saying ventures into the realm of “whining,” I get frustrated really easily. Or when she has a very defeatist attitude about things, or doesn’t seem willing to consider certain solutions at all. That is when I start falling back on a thin veneer of what feels like forced support.

      The thing is, I can’t really help this person, not in doing what she’s trying to do. All I can do is listen and validate and empathize. When I try to offer a reality check it doesn’t seem to work. Ugh. It’s hard.

      1. That’s an especially hard case, as defeatism and whining are so hard to stomach. You are already doing the best you can do for offering support. It would be one thing if she was looking for advice or help to move forward, but it sounds like that’s not happening.

        Which is different from what you’ve talked about given your situation.

        Grey always reminds me that I have to be helpable. Meaning if I want help and direction, I need to be open to it.

    3. Do you really think having a career you “love” was ever the norm? I don’t think iy was ever realistic to love your career, unless you felt you had a calling (and were willing to take reduced pay or do something all encompassing) or you were someone who is naturally enthusiastic or maybe a workaholic. I don’t think it is the norm to find work personally meaningful — but that’s why you need a life outside of work, to find something meaningful.

      1. Honestly, I do. If not, I wouldn’t see half of the students cycle through my area. There are people who truly feel a need to spend their working hours doing something that they love. To do otherwise is just too awful.

        I fall into this category. Sure, I could make a lot more money working in other areas, but there’s an “ick” factor that comes in that I know is ultimately toxic to my mental well being.

        So yes, I do think you can love your career. But it’s not an easy road.

        1. I think we agree then — I think it’s possible to have a career you love, but you may then have to be okay with making a very modest amount of money and/or working very long hours. I just think it’s unrealistic to expect to have it all. Everything has trade offs.

  6. Oh yeah, I’ve fully internalized “suck it up” from my childhood, too. My parents are very logical and practical, not prone to sentimentality and definitely not prone to dwelling on or discussing emotional hurts or complaints. I get it—they’ve been through a lot and just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and that’s what they are teaching us to do. But at the same time, I’d have liked a little more support sometimes and learned that it is ok to ask for support, to talk through your issues & not just keep them inside and try to get over it as quickly as possible. I worry that I’m doing the same thing to my kids, I am SO about “shake it off” and “that’s not a big deal, is it?”—I hope I’m not discouraging them from coming to me with their little hurts and sadness.
    In terms of when to suck it up and when not to….no idea. It really depends on my mood and motivation. Sometimes I will suck it up for days/week/months and suddenly snap and can’t do it anymore. That can sometimes be ugly, especially when it relates to another person. I think that is unhealthy. I wish I could identify ahead of time which things are going to lead to the snap later, so I can get out or address the issue ahead of time.

    1. Your parents and my parents sound VERY similar. I know my parents were/are trying to instill a skill that they fell back on and really, truly NEEDED in their lives, and I appreciate that. But they also have some issues for not knowing when or how to show themselves, or each other, support and self-compassion. I am hoping I can do a bit of a better job teaching my own kids how to walk the line, if I can ever figure it out myself.

      My mood and motivation is also a big part of whether or not I suck it up or walk away. And I also have moments where I throw in the towel on something I’ve been working hard on for weeks or months. I think for me the biggest problem is projecting my “suck it up” expectations on other people. I frequently think my husband should just suck it up and do what he needs to do. And sometimes I even think that about my almost 6yo and my 2.5yo! They are still so young, but when they are disappointed about not getting some treat I absolutely think they should just shut down their reactions/emotions and suck it up, which is not a healthy reaction at all. I definitely have a lot of work to do with this stuff.

      1. I remind the kid when she is upset about not getting something that life isn’t fair and nobody always gets what they want, and it’s OK to feel whatever you feel, but how you show the world your feelings needs to fit the situation so screaming and wailing may not be appropriate behavior. It helps a little. It is simpler for us because there were so many times where we made survival choices that some of the sting of “can’t have that” is gone for her now (since we were so consistent with never giving treats/toys).

  7. I think your post shows the distinction for me. Mental illness, eg clinical depression, does not call for sucking it up. It’s biological. Whining/having unrealistic expectations like you describe calls for sucking up. For adults. I don’t really use suck it up with my young kids. I do get frustrated when they seem unappreciative/spoiled though.

  8. In a kind of similar situation, when a friend who was considering leaving her husband of many years and felt trapped by her expensive house, I listened and then asked how she felt about each option, and then pointed out other possible options that existed. She was worried about where to live but hadn’t considered selling the house somehow. I think sometimes when people are looking for the perfect thing, they get blinded to other options that exist because they are narrowly focused on the perfect thing. Sometimes it helps to point out the other options. I also have pointed out to friends choosing between perfect and slightly less than perfect how lucky they are to have the chance to choose.

  9. These are great questions. I think all of us have received different messages in life about what we “deserve.” These messages come from the circumstances of our upbringing, perceptions of our peers, the way we were raised, etc. When we see someone whining about not having something to which we wouldn’t consider that person to be inherently entitled, we want them to suck it up. But if someone we love is dealing with depression, illness, or any other circumstance that we consider unacceptable, it pains us to see them suck it up. There are things we all agree on — no one should tolerate abuse and we provably should all be able to tolerate a traffic jam. But so much grey area in between.

  10. Depression and abuse are waaaay different from what I understood the author writing about in her post. Depression and abuse are not suck it up items. Whining about not getting one’s dreams filled instantly or easily however is a different thing. The trick for the listener is not getting sucked into fixing anything or emotionally attaching to the outcomes/decisions/choice the whiner makes. Grown ups get to adult themselves because isn’t fair….. check your privilege against the middle eastern refugees walking to Germany and beyond.

    With small children (small = under 15 yrs) differentiating between a real injury and a minor stubbed toe, a desire thwarted versus need not met, a significant problem versus something that will not be remembered in 20 mins is an age based learning experience. A 12 year old should have learned to cope differently than a 2 year old with the same issue. This is important in deciding if it is suck it up time versus major reaction.

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