Embracing the Suck

I’m getting tired of hearing people say, “Just sit on your sofa.” That our grandparents fought the Nazis, but all we have to do is Netflix and chill. Or, “Find calm in the midst of crisis.” As good as that advice is, that’s hard.

This may not be World War II, but it can sure feel like it when you’re home with kids fighting underfoot, you’ve got three more Zoom meetings today, and there’s nothing for dinner because you couldn’t get a delivery slot and the grocery is out of meat anyway. Thich Nhat Hanh would have trouble finding peace in that.

But there’s a third option: “Embrace the suck.”

“Embrace the suck” is what military people say when things are bad, they’re not getting better, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got 12 more hours without sleep when you’ve already been up 24? Embrace the suck. You thought you were going home next month but got extended another six? Embrace the suck. Your CO is a sadist who’s out to get you? Embrace the suck.

It’s shorthand for a hugely important skill: controlling your mindset.

I’ve been a serious meditation practitioner for 30 years. I meditate in the middle of Times Square. But the skill that 30 years of meditation and mindfulness has taught me that’s most useful in this pandemic is one I share with the Special Operations Forces warriors I coach: Embracing the suck.

Costco is out of toilet paper? I first went to India in 1998, when the country wasn’t the global powerhouse it is now. I studied for months across years, not at a peaceful temple in the Himalayas, or a beautiful ashram under swaying palm trees, but in the middle of Mumbai, where students stayed in a former brothel to study with a master who lived in a one-room “apartment” barely large enough to hold a twin bed and a chair, above open sewers flowing in the street, with an “Asian toilet” down the hall. Just a hole in the floor you had to squat over. No toilet paper. No warm jet from a bidet. Just a cold water tap and a plastic measuring cup. You washed yourself with your bare hands, a dozen times a day because you invariably got sick. That’s embracing the suck.

I went to India after living on staff at a retreat center in the mountains, where guests could use the outhouses, but we were encouraged to squat in the woods. After you’ve lived like that for five months, an “Asian toilet” is an upgrade.

Not everyone needs to leave the world and go live in a backpacking tent at a retreat center. But that shift in my perspective, from Wall Street Manhattanite to squatting in the woods, demonstrates how much control we have over our mindset.

One of the great teachings in many Eastern philosophies is that suffering comes from our resistance to it. Pain may be in the body, but suffering is in the mind. There’s no toilet paper? That’s annoying. But if there’s nothing you can do about the situation, there’s a lot you can do about your mindset. You can “embrace the suck.”

“Embracing the suck” is a crucial life skill. It lifts you out of being a victim of circumstance, and makes you master of your mind.

Many of us are suffering much worse than a lack of toilet paper. Tens of millions have lost their jobs, tens of thousands have lost their loved ones. Life is hard now.

But that’s the point. There’s nothing we can do about it. Things right now are tough. All the color-coded charts on Pinterest and fancy foam coffees on Instagram aren’t going to change that underlying reality. I don’t feel “an attitude of gratitude” about it. This sucks.

I can’t change the world, but I can change my mind. I can look at this as an opportunity to acquire some self-mastery and lay the foundation for a more joyous life. I can consider the pandemic a training exercise in becoming a SOF warrior of the mind.

I can embrace the suck.

So can you.

Susan Lakatos, GUAA Career Coaching PartnerMention this blog post to Susan to receive a 50% discount on all coaching services to help you navigate your professional life during these uncertain times. 

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