“Embrace the suck!”- Anonymous
We live in a very exciting time in human history. We have access to everything on the planet, or at least it seems that way. In developed nations, we have access to medical care that would have been science fiction as little as 50 years ago. Our phones have become our libraries, televisions, maps, calendars, calculators, and shopping malls. We have so much at our disposal that we feel we are enjoying a full and complete life. We talk about people “having it all,” but does anybody truly have all aspects of life in the 21st century?
Every once in a while something happens that in previous generations and times would have been a routine event. Some of these routine events would be absolutely disgusting to the typical 21st century resident of a developed nation. Just the other day there was a picture on the Internet of a 14-year-old girl from Oklahoma who had shot a record-breaking, 16 point white tail buck deer on her father’s ranch. The picture was not on the Internet more than an hour when a protest movement from people who thought it was barbaric and disgusting began, and the whole story went viral within a few hours. While the 21st century has the luxury of being outraged, this would have been cause for celebration 150 years ago, meaning that a family would be able to consume meat as a source of protein throughout the upcoming winter. Ironically, many who were outraged and shared that image with their Facebook friends probably had a steak dinner that night, a fast food hamburger, or some type of animal based protein source themselves. What is it about actions like procuring your own meat that we find distasteful?
There are many things that modern man has the ability to pay someone else to do for them. Occasionally, an event passes your way that you have to deal with yourself. As a dad, you have to change your child’s diaper yourself, because your wife is not home. Or, you have to bandage up a gaping wound from a cut your child received on the playground and get her to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. Your toilet backs up, and your basement is filled with sewage. Your 13-year-old dog has been suffering for months and needs to be put down. If you’re honest with yourself, in most cases your immediate response is, “Who can I pay to do this for me?”
While life is inevitably going to throw a lot of things your way you have to deal with that are unsavory, disgusting, or even considered barbaric by modern standards, there are times when you can’t rely on someone else to do these things and the best course of action for you, family members, and love ones is to deal with it yourself. During times like this it is difficult for many of us because we have no personal frame of reference and no philosophical tradition, such as Buddhism or Stoicism for example, to draw strength from. When events like this happen the only course of action is to embrace the suck, meaning to literally embrace the difficulty facing you in the present, challenging, moment and do what needs to be done.
Earlier generations didn’t even have to think about this, they were conditioned by a lifetime of exposure to events that have become anesthetized by modern technology. When faced with this kind of a challenge, the critical element is not what we are doing at that moment, but how we think about and process those events. The expression, “embrace the suck,” is used frequently in the military in order to get soldiers to do things that most of us would be incapable of due to the way that we are acculturated in the modern world. The expression, three simple words, is consistent with Zen Buddhism, Stoicism, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Each of these points of view would argue that it is not the events themselves that are repugnant, but our interpretation of those events that are the critical component of how one handles them. Realistically, you have no right to be disgusted about the deer kill, unless you’re a vegetarian. You really have no right to be disgusted by that dirty diaper, unless you yourself have never filled one. And, I wonder if there would be as many dogs or pets in the developed world if we had to treat their medical needs ourselves and ultimately put them down at their end stage of life. (Remember being traumatized by the Disney film Old Yeller?)
Most of us don’t have the time, or maybe even the interest, to study philosophy or engage in cognitive behavioral therapy. We can, however, benefit from some simple strategies such as to remember to “embrace the suck” and just do what needs to be done at that time and in that situation. If we practice this philosophy regularly, such as on Monday morning when you don’t feel like going to work, or on weekends when you have a bunch of housework to do that you don’t feel like doing, or like making a difficult phone call that you’ve been putting off, then we build resilience that makes us more capable of dealing with bigger things in life when they come our way. Looking for times, places, and events when we literally have to “suck it up” and do what we have to do makes for a more resilient and hearty human being.
What would you have done if you lived in an earlier time in human history? Many people think that they never would’ve made it, that they would have rolled over and died of starvation because they were incapable of procuring their own food, slaughtering their own animals, and coping with horrific diseases. In reality, you probably would have been a lot more resilient than you would imagine, because you would be a product of the times and the challenges that you faced. Our capacity for resilience and mental toughness is largely determined by the environment in which we find ourselves. As a person living in a modern first world nation, one of life’s challenges is to build your own resilience by creating your own mental and physical challenges. Modern life just doesn’t give us enough of these naturally.
Remember this expression, “embrace the suck,” and use it often when there are things you must do that you don’t want to. Embracing these difficulties just might be the way that you embrace a more fulfilling life.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” – Seneca
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