I recently ambled into an annoying adage: Tough times don’t last; tough people do. Aimed at amping up our motivational muscle in the face of challenges, this saying has merit, of course. But… might we dig deeper?
Real people need real brainstorming and real solutions to address real challenges. “Toughness” is not enough.
Now, when we find ourselves bombarded by sassy snippets from wisdom wannabes — it’s easy to feel as if all we need to do is refresh our enthusiasm. In other words… Just do it! Buck up! Don’t take no for an answer!
(Yes… those are pithy perspectives we’ve come to rely on.)
The trouble is, when we take too much on ourselves, on our willpower, on our solo efforts to persist in positivity and marching forward, don’t we risk shortchanging the realities we need to face? Are we taking time away from the how that we need to address to make progress?
Which Motivational Mantras Work?
I grant you, what motivates each of us is likely to be personal. What I find fabulous, you may find irritating — and vice versa. Context is critical, too. Motivational factors at work (money, recognition, satisfaction) are typically different from those in our private lives (love, sex, socializing).
Now here is a little gem that I like a great deal: If you want to succeed, fail faster.
Why does this piece of advice appeal to me? In a professional context, it reminds me that if I’m knocked down, the faster I get back up, the sooner I have another shot at making something work. And even if I don’t succeed, the very fact of trying reinforces my confidence. And we know how important confidence is, right?
Another adage we’ve all heard… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s a relevant reminder never to mess with a good thing, which applies to products, services, and relationships.
The only downside? We need to keep in mind that “not fixing” doesn’t preclude innovation or spicing things up.
Everyone Needs a Cheerleader
Now, cheerleading isn’t motivation per se; cheerleading is all about support, and it’s a very big deal. I’m a fan! Who doesn’t benefit from a few well-placed words of encouragement?
I’m a fan of cheering on those we work with, cheering on our children, and even cheering on those we may not know very well. Cheering on those we love — spouses and significant others — seems especially important.
I’m also a fan of cheerleading for ourselves. Sometimes, a speedy set of syllables is just what the doctor ordered. Case in point: My inner dialog is peppered with this positive phrase that serves me extremely well — You can do it.
And another that is never far away when I need it: “You are stronger than you think.” That one, which I’ve used in some variation throughout my life, has been a staple for me. And yes, it’s in the vein of “tough people last” after all — a clear message that we can and do find wells of strength when needed.
Catchy Phrases Have a Specific Purpose
Here is a nifty saying that I particularly like: Problem-solving is a team event.
As a person who has always worked well in teams, appreciates the value of collaboration, and understands the synergy (and pleasure) of multiple voices all focused on a common goal, I love this recognition that none of us operates in a vacuum. And do note — this is not to set aside personal responsibility nor ownership of one’s decisions.
Another I like is this, though taken with a grain of salt: If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a new door. I consider this one more than cheerleading, useful in reminding us to think outside the box, but its insufficiency lies in offering zero assistance in pointing to how. In this way, it’s an example of the specific purpose of catchy phrases — like a jolt of caffeine when we need it — and their limitations.
If adages and even platitudes send us off to research, to brainstorm, to discuss, to solicit feedback — to pursue the how with renewed heart — fantastic! But if they short-circuit, dismiss or oversimplify a serious issue that genuinely requires careful thought and thorough discussion, then they are of little use.
A Kick in the Derrière? Fab. But Then What?
Where does this land me?
We are looking for easy answers in an increasingly noisy, complex, convoluted world. And I get it. Hell, 10 minutes of news in the morning is enough to send some of us back to bed! It’s not surprising that we would grab onto anything to get us through the next hard week, hard day, or hard hour. The danger — if that’s all we do.
And I wonder… Is our multitude of mantras emblematic of a society losing its capacity for careful thought? Too often deflecting or dismissing any need to dig deeper? Unwilling or unable to take a longer term view? Less inclined than we once were to reach out to others for differing but vital opinions? Aren’t we possessed of thoughtful and inquisitive minds when we’re young? Can’t we hang onto those same qualities as we grow older?
Difficult? You bet. Media, pop culture, schedules, expectations… everything seems to be conspiring against it, and to my mind, that sometimes includes these theoretically motivating messages that indicate love and success are only a few simple answers away.
My Preference… Tough and Tender Teamwork
Returning to the “tough times, tough people” phrase, what irks me in this ambitious aphorism is the notion that tough times don’t last. It’s simply not true. Ask hurricane victims! And even in insisting that tough people are more likely to endure, which I view as more true than false, implicitly, it places all the onus on the individual. Although I firmly believe in our individual power, and the value of both discipline and resilience, I also know this. We are born into certain circumstances and realities many of which we cannot change. And, we are not all made the same; we do not all experience just the right amount of “hardship” to build resilience; we do not all have cheerleaders, the same natural emotional or intellectual resourcefulness, or the same physical capacities.
Most importantly, none of us succeeds or fails in a vacuum.
Some of the strongest people I’ve known in my life are exceptionally tender-hearted. Some of the wisest people I’ve known embrace others and their influence in their successes. While I take a significant amount of “tough people last” to heart, I prefer these three little words:
Community is invaluable.
I’m all for optimism, positivity, and whatever gets us through tough times — with a realistic eye — so we can make sustained progress. But downplaying tough times for months or years on end? Downplaying them not only for individuals but for entire communities? Like I said, none of us succeeds or fails in a vacuum.
What adages annoy you? Which ones strike you as true and useful?
I welcome your thoughts.
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