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This Too Shall Pass: Why Repeating It Won't Make You Feel Better
But thinking about it differently will
This Too Shall Pass: Why Repeating It Won’t Make You Feel Better
"Go easy on yourself and remember this too shall pass."
Relationship coach Kendra Allen uses this catchphrase to sign off her popular podcast "Heal Your Heartbreak with Your Breakup Bestie Kendra." Now available on Spotify.
Her loyal listeners are meant to appoint the mantra into their newly single lives — something to repeat the next time they notice their ex’s car parked at the grocery store.
"this too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass."
If you've felt the sting of failure, lived through grief, or heartache, then you know mantras aren't the cure to your agony. Words alone don’t possess that power. You can't say Je t'aime to a lover who doesn't speak French. Words remain empty unless you give them meaning.
There's wisdom in "this too shall pass," but it helps to understand why.
Where Does The Saying Actually Come From?
It has been written that Abraham Lincoln popularized the phrase during a speech at the 1859 Wisconsin State Fair — a few years before the Civil War. The speech was supposed to be about agriculture, but he quickly pivoted its subject to hope and the farmer’s role in the grand scheme of the universe (as was his style).
‘And this, too, shall pass away,” he proclaims. “How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride!—how consoling in the depths of affliction! ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’”
Here’s the thing, Lincoln suffered from debilitating depression most of his life. Modern psychology wasn't around to treat the illness, so everyone simply called it melancholy. At 32 years old, Lincoln was so low that his friends took all the knives, guns, and rope from his house to prevent self-harm. "I'm now the most miserable man living," he once wrote to a friend.
Twenty years later, the people elect Abraham Lincoln 16th president of the United States and inherits the worst crisis in US history. An estimated 750,000 people died during the Civil War; entire cities burned to ash; slavery endured all the while. It's hard for us to imagine that a man once on the brink of suicide could also bear squarely on his shoulders the entire weight of a grieving nation.
"You are sure to be happy again." He wrote to a young woman who lost her father to the war. "I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once."
Lincoln harnessed the pain from his internal turmoil to ease the burden of millions. "This too shall pass" weren't just words. They were his truth. We all need someone in our lives to remind us of the reality when emotions overwhelm our resolve. That you will heal. You will feel better. It is written.
"And this too shall pass away."
What To Do While You Wait For it to Pass
You will feel better again in two weeks, in two months, maybe two years, but who wants to emerge from the other side a lazy fat slob. You can’t wait around till then.
You have a choice. You can play the victim, or you can play the hero.
“It’s the first time I see that we have a choice.” Wrote the psychologist, Dr. Edith Eger, talking about her experience imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp. “We can choose to pay attention to the things we lost, or we can choose to pay attention to the things we still have.” At 16 years old, Dr. Eger was separated from her family and witnessed every unspeakable horror at the hands of anti-Semitism. Though she possessed superhuman strength and fortitude, it was another simple phrase that made all the difference.
“Survive today, for tomorrow I will be free.”
You have a choice: Remain stuck in the past or look for the positives in front of you. They’re always there. Laura Ingalls Wilder said it best, “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”
The writer Ryan Holiday often cites Dwight D. Eisenhower when talking about turning horrible situations into opportunities.
The Battle of the Bulge during WWII was certainly a horrible situation. Some 200,000 drugged-out Germans hurling towards an Allied force still exhausted from taking the French coast just months before. Now they face the undefeated blitzkrieg. Yet here’s Eisenhower, he walks into the conference room at Malta and announces:
“The present situation is to be regarded as an opportunity for us and not disaster,” he says. “There will be only cheerful faces at this conference.”
When many believed they would be sent back to the beaches, Eisenhower sees only opportunity. “Eisenhower was able to see a tactical solution that had been there the entire time: The Nazi strategy carried its own destruction.” Wrote Ryan Holiday.
So long as the allied line bended to the attack but refuse to break, the Germans would find themselves trapped —which is exactly what happened when 50,000 German soldiers surrendered to the Allies. As General George Patton humorously put it, “It’s like they put their head in a meat grinder!”
You’re Following In The Footsteps of Giants
The stories from our past aren’t meant to diminish your present challenge. They teach us that they’re universal. Bad things happen to everyone. “If you look at your birth certificate, does it say life will be easy? It does not,” Wrote Dr. Eger
When life doesn’t make sense, that’s when it’s time to put in the work. Why? Because that prison in your mind can just as easily turn into a fortress. That’s what we all really want. Not to wait for things to pass but to be made better than before.
We want to be the artist who turns pain into beauty. The businessman who turns a fault in the system into a cash cow. The team that loses in the first round and wins the championship the next year.
Let's end with a more relatable story — Your Breakup Bestie Kendra Allen. By her mid-twenties, Kendra found herself nine months sober after battling alcoholism and all the healing and humiliation that comes along with that process. Then, she meets the man of her dreams, gets dumped, and is forced to eat heartbreak all over again. Her response is downright heroic.
Like Lincoln and Dr. Eger before her, she harnessed her turmoil to ease the burden of others, only this time, with her podcast and social media feeds. She even turned it into a profitable business.
She may not realize it, but she embodies the resolve of the greats who came before her. And you can too.
This too shall pass. Yes it will. But what will you do with the opportunity in front of your face?
Marcus Aurelius said it best:
"A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown at it."