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The Psychology Behind 'It Is What It Is': Why Do We Say It?

The Psychology Behind 'It Is What It Is': Why Do We Say It?

It's quite unbelievable how often the phrase "It is what it is" is used in the workplace. Could this possibly be the worst phrase anyone could say? Embracing "It is what it is" The phrase "It is what it is" has become

James Mason profile image
by James Mason

It's quite unbelievable how often the phrase "It is what it is" is used in the workplace.

Could this possibly be the worst phrase anyone could say?

Embracing "It is what it is"

The phrase "It is what it is" has become an accepted and popular saying in our modern society, especially in the workplace. It is often used to express acceptance of a situation that is beyond our control, whether it's a difficult project, a frustrating coworker, or a major change in company policy. While it can be a helpful coping mechanism in the short term, if people throughout history had simply accepted the status quo and never questioned or challenged the world around them, it's likely that human evolution would have been greatly stunted.

The Evolutionary Perspective

From the earliest days of our species, humans have shown a remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in response to changing circumstances. Our ancestors developed tools and techniques to survive in harsh environments, domesticated plants and animals to provide food, and developed complex social structures and systems of governance to manage their communities. These advances were only possible because people were willing to question the status quo, challenge established beliefs and practices, and push the boundaries of what was possible.

The Bumps in the Road

Of course, progress has not always been smooth or without setbacks. There have been periods of conflict, oppression, and social upheaval throughout history, as people have struggled to overcome prejudice, inequality, and injustice. In these moments, the phrase "It is what it is" can seem like a defeatist attitude that perpetuates the status quo rather than challenging it.

The Imperative of Curiosity

To ensure that humanity continues to evolve and progress, it's important that we maintain a sense of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. While there are undoubtedly situations that are beyond our control, it's important to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and seek out new solutions to the problems we face. By doing so, we can ensure that "It is what it is" is not an excuse to accept the unacceptable, but rather a reminder to stay focused on what we can do to make the world a better place.

So, what exactly do we know about the phrase "It is what it is"? This seemingly simple expression carries a multitude of meanings and connotations, making it a versatile tool in communication.

Conveying Resignation and Pragmatism

At its core, "It is what it is" can be employed to convey resignation or disappointment. It's a way of acknowledging the existence of limitations or insurmountable obstacles and accepting that they must be navigated rather than overcome. In this sense, it reflects a sense of pragmatism and practicality.

Embracing Fatalism and Determinism

In some instances, the phrase may delve into the realms of fatalism and determinism. It suggests that the outcome of a situation was inevitable and couldn't have been avoided. This facet of the phrase adds a layer of complexity to its usage, as it can imply a certain degree of surrender to fate.

Focusing on What We Can Control

Nevertheless, "It is what it is" also serves as a reminder to focus on what we can influence rather than fixating on the uncontrollable. It's a concise way of expressing the idea that some things are beyond our grasp, and our energy is better spent on addressing the aspects we have power over.

Tracing Its Origins

But where did this phrase originate? Its precise origins remain shrouded in uncertainty, but it's believed to have been in circulation for several centuries. Some attribute its popularization to the Irish-American author and philosopher, James F. Byrnes, who frequently used it in his writings and public speeches during the mid-20th century.

However, variations of this concept have appeared in literature and popular culture for much longer. For instance, the Spanish and French cultures have their equivalent phrase, "Que sera, sera," meaning "whatever will be, will be," which shares a similar essence.

A Rise to Popularity

"It is what it is" gained widespread recognition and popularity in the United States during the 1990s and 2000s, particularly within business and political contexts. It became a common way of expressing acceptance or resignation when faced with challenging situations. Since then, it has firmly embedded itself in popular culture and everyday conversations, serving as a succinct reminder of the complexities of life and the importance of adapting to circumstances.

10 Unbelievable Moments that Defy the "It is What It Is" Mantra

Life has a way of throwing curveballs that leave us speechless. While the phrase "It is what it is" may be a go-to for some, there are moments so extraordinary that even the most stoic among us would struggle to utter those words. Brace yourself for these 10 jaw-dropping scenarios where "It is what it is" just doesn't cut it:

  1. The Morning Coffee Catastrophe: Imagine spilling scalding coffee all over your pristine work shirt during a frantic dash to the office. "It is what it is"? Think again.
  2. A Canine Conundrum: Your beloved dog decides that your work documents are the perfect canvas for their artistic endeavours. Can you really accept that with a mere shrug and an "It is what it is"?
  3. The Lost Jackpot: Your lottery ticket was the golden ticket to financial freedom. But it's gone. Do you just sigh and mumble, "It is what it is"?
  4. Culinary Calamity: After hours of precise meal preparation, you turn your dinner into a charred mess. Would "It is what it is" do justice to your culinary heartbreak?
  5. Love Left at the Altar: You're all dressed up, surrounded by guests, and the love of your life leaves you standing alone at the altar. Can you chalk it up to "It is what it is"?
  6. NASA Dreams Dashed: NASA, the pinnacle of space exploration, rejects your job application. Does "It is what it is" capture the gravity of that moment?
  7. Sports Heartbreak: Your favourite sports team loses a championship game in a nail-biter. Is it truly "just the way it is"?
  8. Wilderness Nightmare: Stranded alone in the wilderness, your phone dies, leaving you helpless. Can you nonchalantly say, "It is what it is"?
  9. Double Whammy: A parking ticket arrives on the day your luck has hit rock bottom. Can you simply mutter, "It is what it is"?
  10. Email Blunder: You accidentally hit "reply all" and unleash an embarrassing message to your entire company. Does "It is what it is" cover the impending chaos?

These 10 extraordinary scenarios remind us that there are moments when the ordinary just won't do. "It is what it is" may be a lifeline in some situations, but in these cases, it's time to break free from the cliché and embrace the incredible twists and turns life throws our way.


Using the phrase "It is what it is" on occasion is not necessarily a problem, as it can be a helpful reminder to accept the things we cannot change. For example, if you find yourself caught in a sudden downpour of rain during a leisurely walk, it's understandable to simply say "It is what it is." While you may not be able to change the weather, it's always wise to be prepared for such circumstances, whether that means checking the forecast before leaving the house or having a raincoat on hand just in case.

Ultimately, using the phrase "It is what it is" can be a useful tool for staying calm and grounded in the face of unexpected challenges, as long as it is accompanied by proactive steps to address and prepare for future situations.

What do we mean by “Let’s take this offline”?
To take a subject matter offline and choose not to discuss it in a meeting or forum would imply that the topic is not urgently in need of addressing. It may be that another audience or person is needed to discuss in more depth, according to a realistic analysis of
James Mason profile image
by James Mason

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