They are meant to be encouraging, to boost us and help us achieve our goals, and I’m sure that sometimes they do have their desired outcome…but what happens when they don’t?
I very much dislike the word “just,” when used in this context. The Cambridge Dictionary website describes the meaning as “simple,” thus “just” implies that the job to be done is simple and therefore equally achievable by each and every person on any given day. Now if we were robots following programming with mechanical parts that never wore out and identical lives in every single way, then yes, that would likely be the case. But I am not the same person one hour to the next, let alone day by day, and definitely not compared to others. And in my opinion, based on my experience and observations, these variables make the word “just” one of the most insidious, unkind, presumptuous words of the English language.
We’ve all seen it, I imagine. “Just lose weight, eat less, exercise more, go to university, get a job, work harder, save more, spend less, try harder …” Each of these statements assumes every person is starting from an equal position in experience, opportunity, age, gender, economic status, marital/family status, physical health, mental health, finances, education; the list of potential variables goes on and on, and to ignore this is to ignore what I feel is a far more important, basic human fundamental need: kindness. Kindness doesn’t assume, doesn’t demand, doesn’t belittle, but empowers and builds up. It encourages change, but accepts people for where they are at and for who they are.
Whilst hearing this word from others can be somewhat disheartening, I might suggest it becomes even more debilitating when we turn it on ourselves. “I should just….because everyone else is just…” Generally, the cycle starts with us trying our best, but sometimes, often due to reasons we cannot easily change, if at all, we can’t quite achieve what we feel we ought to. And because we have been led to believe it is “simple,” we feel shame at our lack of achievement. And generally, this shame holds us back and prevents us from feeling adequate or worthy of being loved, accepted or participating in society, so we withdraw, until the next time we tell ourselves, “just do it.” And so, the cycle continues.
I believe what we need to hear far more of is “just be you!” Now that I can do quite simply indeed! I believe we are created with intention, for a purpose, and that purpose does not hinge on what I cannot do well, but on the things I excel at. But if I spend all my time and energy focusing on what I don’t do well, how will I ever step into the things I was destined to do? The truth is, I don’t have to keep on striving to do all the things others insist I ought to be doing perfectly. Yes, I’m looking at you, strangers on social media and executive producers hiding behind desks in Hollywood!
Life is so short. Yes, there is a time for pushing through and “just” doing the hard things. Yes, there is room for growth and self-improvement, but there must be room for compassion and grace and seeing the good in people, too.
If we are going to “just do” anything today, let it be loving others as we learn to love ourselves a little better, too. For in my experience, this undermines shame and is a powerful key to living a happy, fulfilling life free from judgement, of myself and others.