My daughter Sawyer was due to return from soccer tryouts at any second.
As I prepared dinner, I wondered how she did. If it went well, she’d barrel through the mudroom, down the hall and into the kitchen. Her cleats would clack against the wood floor, and her pride and enthusiasm would fill the house as she delivered a play-by-play account. If tryouts went badly, the scene would be totally different. I didn’t want to think about that.
Suddenly, the door flew open and then banged shut. I heard Sawyer’s backpack hit the closet doors. She stormed upstairs. Her bedroom door slammed, telling me tryouts were awful and she didn’t want to talk about it.
I continued cooking and gave her some time. I tried to visualize what was happening up in Sawyer’s room. I was sure she was crying.
With dinner needing to simmer, I walked upstairs, quietly turned the doorknob and stepped inside her room. She was lying limply on the bed.
“I take it tryouts sucked?” (I always use teen talk when I want to connect on her level.)
“It is what it is,” she responded.
I hate that expression! And everyone seems to use it. Got fired from your job? It is what it is. Lost your savings? It is what it is. Put on 50 pounds? It is what it is.
I’m here to tell you: Stop saying “it is what it is.” The expression is a mantra for losers.
When you say “it is what it is,” you are saying, “I failed and it’s not my fault; it is what it is.” If you fail, own it. Life is what you make it. Nothing simply “is what it is.”
I looked at my daughter, and said bluntly, “Tryouts didn’t suck. You did. What happened, for real?”
She looked up and said, “What do you mean?”
I said, “Be honest with yourself. Halfway through the tryout, you thought it wasn’t going well, so you stopped pushing yourself, didn’t you?”
“Tryouts didn’t go well because you didn’t try your hardest. You gave up mentally, so you gave up physically.”
We sat on her bed awhile, and I explained that when you know why you failed, you can figure out what to do next time. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way, and I was sharing what I figured out from my experiences. I told her, for instance, if I have a bad day on the radio, I never say, “It is what it is.” I own it. A bad day means I didn’t prepare as well as I could have. It’s my fault. It’s always my fault—that way I am in control.
Sawyer understood the need to take responsibility and then shared with me that she talks herself out of things a lot: tests, sports, eating healthy, even boys liking her. In that one conversation, she saw that maybe, just maybe, she has more control—that life isn’t just what it is, but rather it’s what she makes it.
When you fail, figure out why. My daughter realized that whenever she gets scared, she gives up. Fear will never leave. Nerves will always be on edge. Next time Sawyer will know to ignore the feelings and keep pushing.
As we headed downstairs, I knew something else was simmering besides dinner: a renewed confidence building inside my daughter. It’s the confidence that comes from knowing that you are in control when you own your behavior.