Years ago, I was giving a speech at a conference in Iowa when a middle-aged farmer told me a story I have never forgotten. This man had raised his son to be a real man’s man. In his day it was all about being tough and strong; showing emotion was something that only sissies did. Even in times of great loss or pain, his mantra was, “Suck it up and move on.” The man’s son now had a son of his own, and had raised him in much the same way.
One day, the man was out plowing a field with his seven-year-old grandson when his tractor broke down. As he was trying to fix a blade, it fell and cut open his hand. He soon realized he was a mile from the house, bleeding to death, and couldn’t move. Looking to his grandson, he said, “You have to get help for Grandpa. Please go to the house and get Grandma.”
The little boy turned to his grandfather, saw the blood pouring out onto the ground, paused for a moment, and then said, “Grandpa, just suck it up!”
Wondering whether his grandson could grasp the urgency of the situation, he thought to himself, What have I done? The mantra he had preached his whole life—“Be a man!”—could very well have killed him.
Luckily, the boy did run for help, and the man’s life was saved. But the parable is evident: just telling our kids to “suck it up” or “fight back” in times of pain or loss is not always the answer. What we teach our children can mean the difference between life and death.
Finding Strength in Humility
We all experience moments of humility. They may come at our quietest moments late at night, as we fall across the finish line after running 26.2 miles, or after the loss of a job, career, 401(k), spouse, or dear friend. Whatever the case may be, these defining moments reveal our core values. Character. And our faith. Sometimes we want to be anything but humble; we’d rather be seething mad. “I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me!” we cry out. “I do every damn thing right. What the hell did I ever do to deserve this?”
In moments like this, “suck it up” or “the glass is half full” just isn’t going to cut it. So if that’s not the answer, then what is? How do we cope with life’s setbacks? How do we come to terms with the fact that sometimes, life is going to hurt like hell?
The answer is: with great humility. There are times of adversity in life when surrender and humility are the most helpful things we can experience. Life brings all of us to our knees. We’re at the mercy of a reality that is so much bigger than our ability to comprehend it. We can all feel so small, so insignificant, and so powerless.
Showing humility goes so much farther than trying to “suck it up” or invoke some other rough-and-ready cliché. In fact, we can flip through our book of clichés for sayings that prop us up and provide temporary relief, but in reality, we’re just flipping through blank pages. Those clichés may work some of the time. And may last just long enough to get us through the night. But at some point, they’re going to be useless if not harmful. And it is in those moments that humility can get us through.
Being brought to your knees is different than lying down and taking it. In fact I’d advise you, once again, not to dismiss the feelings of disappointment and despair that may arise. Take a moment to really feel the unfairness and outrage of what has happened. Acknowledging these feelings and moving toward a place of true optimism may mean that you allow yourself to feel defeated. Don’t self-medicate with trite clichés, busyness, or a few drinks. On the contrary: give yourself some time to feel sad, helpless, angry, overwhelmed or scared since that is how you really feel. You didn’t sign up for this. But here it is. So just let yourself feel genuinely angry and disappointed.
Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up or copping out. It’s about allowing all the feelings to simply be, without judging them or yourself.
Ken Druck, Ph.D., founder of The Jenna Druck Center in San Diego, is a grief and resilience expert, speaker, organizational and family consultant, and award-winning author of several books including, The Real Rules of Life (Hay House). Follow Ken’s blog or find him on Facebook. Join Ken’s email list and receive a free copy of his popular guide, “How to Coach Yourself Through Almost Anything.”
Images by Lisette.
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