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?