Letter to the Editor: In times of hardship like coronavirus and upcoming finals, “suck it up” is not an insult

Letter to the editor graphic

Karl Laves

Letters to the editor are not written by any Herald staff members, but are submitted. You can submit a letter to the editor by emailing us at [email protected] or submitting it through our site. 

What if “suck it up” was not an insult…

When counseling and psychology become popular trends, a lot of goofy ideas surface. It is also when we see a lot of odd phrases thrown around. 

I’m a boomer, an old guy, so I get that this might sound like I am just grumpy, but when did caring for yourself become “self care?” And like so many other improvement fads, a whole line of materials were developed for “self care.” 

Kind of like all the new junk that was developed for CrossFit. You can’t CrossFit in just any old clothes, you have to have the expensive CrossFit shorts, and the CrossFit, and the special CrossFit gloves, and the K-tape (God, they love the K-tape), and the pre-workout powders. When did “self care” become a skill set that can only be taught by certified, credentialed, woke mental health professionals? Okay, I digress. My point is that a lot of “old advice” is misunderstood or misrepresented and is still quite useful today. 

Caring for self is as old as time, and the good stuff never goes out of date. Your grandparents probably have just as good advice as some hipster Ph.D. yoga-stretching salt-cave-breathing life coach. 

For example, the phrase “suck it up” is thought to be a bit of an insult; a challenge to someone who is whining, complaining. But it is also something we all learn to do when facing a greater challenge. We “suck it up;” we tighten our belts; we gird our loins; we take a deep breath and we push forward. 

Self care is more than making oneself happy. Self care is also learning how to rise to the occasion; how to overcome a fear or anxiety instead of just avoiding it or retreating into some kind of self-soothing ritual. It feels good to be tough; it feels good to be able to take a punch. But the catch is, to be able to take a punch, you have to take some punches. I suspect most firefighters are afraid when they enter a burning building. But they still enter the building. They enter while being afraid.

They don’t avoid the building. They don’t seek an alternative assignment because burning buildings make them feel insecure. So often in life you have to do something before you can have the good feeling. We understand the person who says if I wasn’t so anxious I could give the speech—but we also understand the only way to not feel nervous is to get out there and give a couple of speeches. 

Some would say counseling is not about making you feel better … it is about helping you not feel bad about feel anxious. As we face old and new challenges in the remainder of this semester (finals, coronavirus, tornadoes, etc.) let us all “suck it up.” But let us hear it as a war cry, a reminder that we can do the hard things and that we have to brace ourselves, tighten up, and move forward. Don’t hear it as criticism or an insult. 

Sucking it up isn’t a new idea; people have been doing it since the beginning of time. Your elders did it, and you can too. And if you like the fads, then go ahead and knock yourself out. Drink all the lemon water you want. But if you want to become a more resilient person who keeps going when things are hard, look to your elders that know how to suck it up. Look to your friends that know how to suck it up. Be proud and ask for help. Then go take a few punches and realize it isn’t so bad after all.

Karl Laves is the associate director of the WKU Counseling Center. He holds a doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia.