Can We All Stop Saying “It Is What It Is”?

It has been brought to my attention that the usage of this phrase has become an epidemic for those that have lost all hope and feel there is nothing left to latch onto but what has already been established. And I am a firm believer that things don’t have to remain the way they are, unless we want it to.

Quote saying "Nothing will work unless you do" from Maya Angelou in big font.
Maya Angelou knows. (Source: smrtgirls)

I will start off this rant by saying that I really don’t like the phrase, “it is what it is.” Whenever I hear it, I cringe, furrow both eyebrows, and roll my eyes. It’s not as if I’m trying to directly disrespect anyone that utters these five words, but I work hard to suppress my quivering frustration from reaching the surface whenever I have to endure hearing that phrase.

I think this annoyance dates back to when my mom would use several different generic uplifting messages to help me feel better about an event or issue that left me feeling depressed. Of course, the goal of using these words were to incite a release of tension or to view the future in a positive way. She would say things like, “Don’t worry, things will get better,” or “Just stay positive,” and “It is what it is.”

Growing up with an undetected anxiety disorder and being viewed as just a big worrywart, I hated hearing these phrases because it never made me feel better about the event I was worrying about, or hopeful for whatever bright future lay ahead of me. The alleged uplifting messages of “things will get better” always left me questioning of HOW it could possibly get better. But the “it is what it is” struck an even deeper note with me.

As I started to move toward a feminist and critical consciousness of the world around me, and then started to vocally express these views and concerns, I was met with a lot of resistance, especially the generic “well, it is what it is” phrase of finality. The phrase carries a message of there’s nothing we can do about what has happened or how things are, so we need to accept it for the way it is. But if you’re an activist, creative, or innovator of some sort, you know very well that if everyone just accepted the current structures that we live in, then there’d be nothing else to work toward. It’s like saying, “We can call it a day folks because there’s no more work to be done around here.” 

I caught myself a few days ago using this phrase I detest so much. I was at work, talking to a colleague about the current work conditions that were making me unhappy and when I realized I couldn’t figure out any other way that could make the environment better, I sighed and said, “well it is what it is.” I then had an out of body experience where I came into this awareness of the reasons why I felt compelled to just give up on working for change in the office. I felt depleted, hopeless, and unmotivated.

It wasn’t until I started reflecting more on the possibilities of a better working environment and actually visualizing what I wanted, that I gained hope for a better future either in the office or in my career path. But it took ME convincing myself that this could be possible. It wasn’t the generic phrase of “things will get better” that helped me — I had to feel in my head and in my heart that things could be better because I can actually see that. Of course, the process of being aware of this could have been much easier, had someone just helped me in being creative about looking at the different possibilities in the future.

So if you have anyone in your life that is going through tough issues at work, personal life, internally and so forth, especially if they have a ton of stress and anxiety issues, be of service to them by avoiding generic, empty statements. Trust me, it’s the last thing they would want to hear.


By Luann

Feminist, Pinay, coffee lover, boba aficionado and pop culture enthusiast. Current graduate student in Peace and Conflict Studies. Dwelling in the rainy city of Portland, Oregon but always California dreaming. You can also read more of her articles at

6 replies on “Can We All Stop Saying “It Is What It Is”?”

To me, when people in the workplace say ‘it is what it is’ what they really mean is ‘i’m not willing to help fix it and I’m not going to listen to your arguments’. It happens a lot at my work and as such, morale is low.
I try and say ‘ok why don’t we do it this way’ but in most cases am knocked back because of the less than ideal approach we’re already taking..

The message I normally try to give people is that things will get better, because they almost always do. I’m not sure how I feel about “it is what it is.” In some ways, it’s something that has helped me let go of a lot of anger and frustration and people and situations in my life; in other ways, I sometimes find myself caring passionately about very little.

I guess it depends on how it is delivered. Is it meant to be an exhortation to quit trying or hoping, or is it supposed to mean that you should do your best and be prepared for any outcome? Does it stop you from tilting at windmills, or does it make you hold off on making one last heroic effort on behalf of something you care about?

I agree, I definitely think it depends on how the phrase is delivered that makes the biggest difference. Depending on the tone, “it is what it is” can sound very hopeless. Typically, I’ve heard the phrase uttered to me with a sigh at the end. There have been a few times where I’ve heard it been said with a “cheer up!” positive kind of tone – but that’s also a rare occurrence.

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