See listing of Recent and Most Popular articles on the Home Page

My World

Category: Aging, General / Topics: Change Communication Language, Meaning Metaphors, Life Lessons Relationships

'It is what it is'

by Ken Potts

Posted: September 15, 2019

The truth behind the phrase…

Every once in a while, some catchy saying or phrase grabs the public’s attention.

Though on occasion it is some slogan promoted by a particularly clever advertising campaign (remember “be all you can be,” or “just do it” from a few decades ago?), more often its origins are less obvious.

Yet wherever they come from, these bits of wisdom or insight soon become part of our popular culture, with anyone and everyone parroting them at any and all opportunities.

I don’t want to sound jaded here, because a lot of the time such instant colloquialisms are not only catchy and clever, but true as well. They often point to some nugget of insight that, though not new, needs to be expressed every so often in a new generation’s vernacular.

My most recent favorite pop culture catch phrase is “it is what it is.”

I first heard this little ditty a few years ago from a 20-something acquaintance. I have no idea where it came from, nor does he. But it perfectly captures the reality that sometimes, maybe a lot of times, we just have to know when to accept what we can’t change.
What I realized when I was talking to another friend is that I had heard this same bit of wisdom expressed as I grew up.

My grandfather, born just after the turn of the century (the 19th century, that is) used to advise “you got to know when to fold ’em, son.” Why? Well, because sometimes it just “is what it is.”

Or take my Dad, who used to say “there’s no use crying over spilt milk.” Again, “it is what it is.”

Now, what about my generation, the infamous Baby Boomers?

I’m rather stuck, here. I’m not sure we ever really developed much generational insight into the importance of accepting things for what they are. I’m not sure about that, but I couldn’t find anyone else who could come up with some Baby Boomer equivalent of “it is what it is.”

Anyway, what intrigues me about all this is how it points to another truism that I’ve come to believe over 40-plus years of working with people. Though culture and technology change at what seems to be an increasingly breakneck pace, many of the basic truths that help us to successfully understand and navigate life remain the same.

For example, it is the people in our lives who make life worth living. Or, giving really is better than receiving. Or, sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way we planned. Or, it is what it is.

Or, sometimes things, especially the most important things, don’t really change all that much, after all.


Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of SamaraCare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove, Illinois.

E-mail the author (gro.gnilesnuoceracaramas@sttopk*) Author's website (personal or primary**)

* For web-based email, you may need to copy and paste the address yourself.

** opens in a new tab or window. Close it to return here.


Posted: September 15, 2019

Go to the list of most recent My World Articles
Search My World (You can expand the search to the entire site)
Go to the list of Most Recent and Most Popular Articles across the site (Home Page)