The Story Economy Blog

Is It What It Is or Not?

it-is-what-it-isMy soul is in stories. But the way I cope and process is much closer to bullet points.

So recently, I asked a therapist I see from time to time to give me five of them. A “Judi’s top five” for dealing with the not-great stuff currently in my world. He did—which was incredibly helpful. And I’ve been playing them in my head over and over. It’s just that stupid first one I keep wresting with. Which is simply this:

It is what it is, and not what I want it to be.

This is hardly a new idea. We’ve run the “it is what it is” expression into the ground. But still. It’s so counterintuitive, especially when you’re a copywriter storyteller person, writing all day long about big ideas and vision and the world of what could be. I mean, I love that world. I love aspiration and beautiful language that inspires people to make a different choice or follow the thing they want more than anything else and stop squishing the voice that says “well, this just is what it is.”

So I scream at my bullet point: “How dare you! That’s not right! People have power and agency in their lives. You can make things be what you want them to be!”

And then the reply comes as a sob: Except when you can’t.

The World of What Could Be

When is it just what it is?

I mean, when? Can I have some bullet points for that?

Because I often ask clients: What is your vision for the world? What do you want this whole thing to be? And then I use their answers to build their voice and their marketing copy.

But are all of the dreamer business poet people out there like me just doing a disservice to people’s psyches, building up these ideas of what could be, and encouraging brands to play with aspiration—instead of reflecting reality?

There’s a pretty funny movie from a few years ago called The Invention of Lying. The premise is that no one can tell a lie. People just aren’t programmed to. Everything is black and white truth, all of the time.

I don’t want to live in that world. The world of simply what is.

The world of Pinterest and sudden flashes of wow and inspiring manifestos and what could be is so much more my style.

But here I sit, knowing that that first bullet point is there for a reason.

So what’s to be done?

Well, logically I know that it’s all discernment: when do I accept this and when do I not accept this? How do I both make peace with something and change something at the same time? Alcoholics have latched onto the serenity prayer for a reason, after all. Because no recovering alcoholic can successfully stay sober if they just stop with: “It is what it is.” As in, “Oh well, it’s just who I am. Nothing to be done about it.”

There is a second part, of course. There has to be. I think it’s this: “It is what it is. Yep. But here is what I will do about it.

What to do about it: I have to believe that we still need aspiration around that. Great words and big visions and swelling music. We still need help with our responses to reality. This keeps me in business as a copywriter.

But in my life? That’s murkier.

Because I have a situation right now that I cannot change. I can’t make one single thing better about it. The thing itself is all bad. I don’t want to hear about a silver lining. I want to just be sad about it.

It is what it is, not what I want it to be.

I say it, and I see that it’s true the more that I say it.

The problem is the anger. The utter unfairness that a thing can just be. That optimism alone or a great paragraph of copy can’t will it away.

But I still have “here is what I will do about it” left. And first on that list is to write this newsletter. To send a thought out into the world, and see if it comes back to me as something else.

And then? I don’t know. But I have four other bullet points that might be able to help me out.


  • Mary Curran-Downey

    Posted by Mary Curran-Downey on 06/05/13 8:34pm

    Hi Judi...
    Personally, I hate the phrase , It is what is is. Why not just say blah, blah, blah and get it over with? Then, of course, there are the times when it is just what it is.
    I hate that.
    Sounds like you are in the midst of a totally unfair, difficult, horribly painful situation. I have no words of wisdom. My wisdom took the last stage out of Dodge and hasn't been seen since.
    It's simply that when you send something out into the ether like this, you appreciate it when you know that someone is listening.
    I'm that someone.
    You're not screaming into the darkness.
    Hang in there.
    Take care...

    Mary C-D

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 06/06/13 4:13am

      Mary, thank you. I appreciate that I'm not screaming into the darkness. I've gotten such lovely responses today. Again, thanks for taking the time to acknowledge my words.


  • Let It Be |

    Posted by Let It Be | on 07/24/13 12:53am

    [...] there are a couple of things in my life I need to figure out how to let be (shades of my post: Is It What It Is Or Not?). We all have these things, [...]

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