Early in my Army career, I went to a difficult training course. It was physically and emotionally demanding. Most of the time we were over-tired, had aching muscles, and wished the darn thing was over. Each day passed slowly, seeming to take forever. And the end of the course felt like a distant and unreachable dream.

The mornings were cold and wet, the days were hot and humid, the instructors were merciless, and the training was exhausting. We would start out shivering, trying to avoid ice-covered mud puddles when we had to drop and do push ups. In a few hours, the chill turned into relentless heat, and we’d be sweltering. We were worked to exhaustion, but were expected to keep on keeping on.

A comment that was often heard among my fellow-sufferers was, “This sucks!”

One day, a guy said, “Sure this sucks. Life sucks. The key is to embrace the suck.”

Today, of course, the phrase embrace the suck is well known, not just throughout the military, but in corporate boardrooms and among self-help gurus. Books have been written about it, and even National Public Radio used it as a topic for discussion. But back when I first heard it, I had no idea what it meant.

During the chilly mornings, hot days, and short nights, I tried to figure out what embracing the suck could mean. I decided to watch the fellow who said it.


It turned out that he was a Special Forces soldier, and so were two of his friends. Back then, they were called Green Berets, but during this training they had to wear regular Army caps like the rest of us. The three suffered like everyone else, but did it with enthusiasm and good humor. If one of them was told to drop and do 50 push ups, the other two guys would joyfully drop and join their friend in the punishment.

No matter how difficult the training or miserable a situation, it had no negative effect on them. They accepted it all without a moan, not allowing circumstances to control their attitudes. And that, I realized, was what embrace the suck meant. Accept what is, no matter how hard, but don’t let it discourage you.

Later on, I read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I was struck by this passage: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.”

That, Frankl said, was “sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Today, I am amused at how common “embrace the suck” has become. Even diet creators and fashion influencers work the phrase into their teachings. (If after two weeks you haven’t lost so much as a pound, don’t despair. Embrace the suck and stick with this diet, blah blah blah.) Such a use of embrace the suck sucks.

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