This Is What the Phrase 'It Is What It Is' Really Means


Remember when everyone used to say, "life sucks and then you die"? Remember how annoying that was and how you hated anyone who uttered those words? 

Well, I'd like you to meet the obnoxious, d-bag cousin of "life sucks and then you die..."


"It is what it is" has been around for more than a hot minute. In fact, it was voted USA Today's No. 1 cliché of 2004, and you know you're doing something wrong when USA Today calls you a cliché. But these days, it just feels like that phrase is everywhere. Whether it be sports, politics, big business or just every day life, "it is what it is" seems to be the go-to saying to describe any situation that you don't want to change.

Here's what you are really saying when you use this horrid phrase: "This situation sucks and I wish things were different but I just don't have it in me to try and fix things, so eff it." It's the super cool way of avoiding certain problems. It's apathy wrapped in feigned casualness. 

The effectiveness of "it is what it is" is that others can't argue against it. No one can refute it. It stops short any constructive communication right in its tracks. If you ask a person why something can't be accomplished and his or her response is, "It is what it is," then there is no moving forward. It is an invisible, immovable barrier stronger than the Death Star's deflector shield, and one that no Jedi can disable.*

[*obligatory Star Wars reference to keep the reader engaged.]

Granted, there are many circumstances where using "it is what it is" is completely appropriate. Weather, car accidents, death, Internet trolls and the continual sucking of every Cleveland sports team are all situations that are completely out of your control and no sort of brainstorming session is going to solve them. The problem is that people are using the phrase as a catch-all to avoid being proactive. It's easier to say a catch phrase than it is to solve a problem.

Also, using the phrase is not particularly deep, thought provoking or insightful. It is not zen; it's defeatist. It's the equivalent of screaming, "Serenity now!" over and over again. Using "it is what it is" as a way of avoiding all of life's problems is not this...


It's this...


Once you start using that phrase ad nauseam it runs the risk of becoming a mindset you can never get out of. Let's face it, "it is what it is" is a super fun thing to say. It rolls off the tongue with the utmost of grace and ease. Throw in a little shrug and a half smile and pretty soon you've got a nice little character trait going there. The problem is that it can be really addicting to use "it is what it is" for everything in your life. Bad relationship? It is what it is. Poor health? It is what it is. Crappy job? It is what it is. Cocaine wishes it had such a strong power of addiction.

And, when you think about it, everything is what it is. You are really just stating the obvious. In fact, the only thing that isn't what it is is a lie, which is exactly what you are doing every time you use this saying to express your ambivalence towards facing a challenge. 

Now, no one is saying you have to be proactive. You are under no obligation to try and fix anything in your life. You're an adult: You do you. But let's not label a lack of initiative as "it is what it is." Let's all be honest with ourselves and with each other. When faced with a challenge you don't want to deal with, instead of saying "it is what it is," how about being truthful at that moment. Stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and repeatedly yell, "NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA!"

Or, if you want to act like a fully-functional adult, try saying this:


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