“When the going gets tough, get tougher.”
You’ve probably heard this before. When you’re working out at the gym. Going on a really long run. Studying for a big test. Feeling really stressed out about everything going on around you.
I think these words were designed to be a source of motivation to push through whatever struggles you are facing. But for me, they fall short.
“When the going gets tough, get tougher.”
But what is tougher? Am I not tough enough?
If you tell a group of people to “get tougher,” they will all respond differently. Some might lift weights. Some might hold back tears. Some might run 5 miles. Some might push their friends away. Some might eat a cookie. Some might not eat at all. Some might study until 2 in the morning.
But what happens when the weights fall off of your shoulders after 15 reps? What happens when the tears roll down your face and your fake smile fades away? What happens when at 3.2 miles in you can’t take another step? What happens when you need someone to lean on after you’ve shut everybody out? What happens when the going gets tough and you can’t get any tougher?
The going doesn’t stop. And going is tough. And the going is fast. But trying to get tougher won’t make the going slow down.
So when the going get’s tough, don’t try and get tougher. Don’t try and get stronger. Don’t try and get faster, or smarter, or prettier, or more popular, or more anything. Before you do anything, realize that the only way to cope is to keep going. Pick up a lighter weight. Let your feelings be felt. Jog a quarter mile. Text a friend “hi.” Whatever you do, keep going. Even if you go slow. Even if you take breaks.
Life is tough for everyone. On the surface, it may seem like some people have it easy while others are constantly suffering. But inside, we all have challenges that we face. And we all handle those challenges differently.
Being “tough” doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. Sure, you may be able to ignore the pain. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Telling someone to “get tougher” as a source of motivation is wrong. It’s wrong because it tells them that they need to learn how to ignore their pain if they want to succeed. It’s wrong because it tells that person that who they are right now isn’t enough. That they have to become something else, something more before they will be ready to face what life throws at them.
But who we are right now is all we have.
And all we can do is keep going.
It’s okay to admit that life is hard. It’s okay to admit that you are in pain. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to fall apart. But the one thing it’s not okay to do is to give up.
Now, you may be wondering why a random girl who told you she writes about Crohn’s disease posted this whole long ramble about motivation. But if you think about it (which I did for you), this subject has a lot to do with chronic illness.
My whole life, doctors and nurses and family and friends have told me that I’m “tough.” And I took it as a compliment because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. But I never got why that was such a good thing to be. To be honest, I still don’t get it. Why do we praise people who can hide their feelings and their pain? Why do we motivate each other by saying “get tougher” when faced with a challenge?
Chronic illness has a lot to do with motivation. It comes with a lot of challenges. It takes a lot out of a person to wake up every day willing to face those challenges and go to bed each night still fighting them. It’s tough to take the same gross pills every day and not always feel great. It’s tough having to explain to someone how your illness “works” (or doesn’t) when you’ve only just met them. It’s tough to live with a disease that will never go away. And sometimes it’s tough to manage all of these things and still live the life you want to.
For a while, when my illness made things tough, I would try and be tougher. I would think to myself “Come on. You’re a tough person. You can deal with it.”
But only when I stopped trying to be tough and focused more on moving forward was I able to manage the toughness of my disease. And I take breaks. And I fail. But it’s okay, not because I am tougher than “the going,” but because do everything in my power to keep going.