Why I Hate the Phrase "You Can Do Hard Things"

Very Unpopular Opinion: It’s time to stop telling people with chronic illness “You can do hard things.” It is not only carelessly overused and cliché, but it can also be defeating and downright dangerous to the one it is intended to motivate.

“You Can Do Hard Things” and its many reiterations are scrolled across journals, affirmational quotes, influencer memes, and reels, and yes, said in love by many well-meaning people. And I get the appeal. It’s a gentle or tough love “push” to meet a challenge or go a little further for whatever needs to be accomplished.

For me, it was once in my top 5 go-to motivational phrases by the “Beautiful Girl You Can Do Hard Things” magnet front and center on my refrigerator.

Words that were once sincere to me, I see now as a lazy mantra that is mostly a marketing ploy and I’m turned off. So, now I’m voting it off the island. In plain speak, it is time for it to be retired, especially when it comes to those of us who have chronic illnesses.

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Lupus and hard things

Here’s why: by telling me “You can do hard things” it makes the false assumption that I’ve never come across a hard thing before – and that couldn’t be further from the truth for me and folks like me who have battled hard to be alive. Even if you’re not battling a disease, “You can do hard things” assumes that you’ve never had a challenge in your life and that’s not true for anyone really.

Imagine telling a lupus warrior in the hospital for the 10th time this year that they can “do hard things.” How would it feel to someone who got back-to-back diagnoses to hear that they can “do hard things?” How about someone who is suffering from mental illness because of all the trauma caused by a diagnosis? Yes, of course they can do and have done hard things!

Because here’s the thing: doing hard things has become a way of life for us. That is something that each one of us in the lupus/chronic illness community has had to accept one way or another. How demoralizing could it be to the person who has pushed themselves to the limits, only to be told that they can do hard things? To some, it could even be unintentionally dangerous and cause unnecessary mental harm.

Acknowledging all experiences

But of course, there are always two sides, and I’m only one person a part of a large community. I do understand that while it has lost it's luster for me, it could be just the words that someone else may need to hear. Maybe, for a moment, a lupus warrior or someone suffering from chronic illness forgot that they have done hard things before. Perhaps, they lost hope and they needed a reminder. And for that, the phrase is still useful.

So, here’s my suggestion as someone who has gone through every facet of renal failure caused by lupus, including hospitalizations, dialysis, and a kidney transplant. Let’s adopt the phrase: “You can do hard things, again.” “You can do hard things, again” is powerful and compassionate. For the lupus warrior or person with a chronic illness, it rightfully acknowledges their difficulties and triumphs, and to me, it is an empowering reminder.

In writing this, this is a reminder for me and hopefully, you to think carefully before we use these catch-all phrases that could cause unintended harm. When we take the time to be a little more mindful in our words, we can intentionally uplift one another rather than cause unintentional harm.

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