“The struggle is real”… it’s time to remove this phrase from your vocabulary

I’ve heard a lot of people use this phrase recently, and I find myself using it too. “The struggle is real.” And yeah, so maybe it is supposed to be a joke. Ironic. Sarcastic. Like “first world problems”, the phrase “the struggle is real” plays on the ironic notion that although you have problems, they are far easier to deal with than someone in a much less fortunate situation than you.

Thank god the first definition in Urban Dictionary takes note of the fact that this is intended to be ironic.

Especially after reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, I have become much more conscious of this phrase when I use it myself or hear others use it. And I feel guilty. In the book (which I highly recommend to anyone and everyone to read), Jeannette describes her upbringing with an alcoholic father and a depressed/bi-polar mother in a household where food is scarce and they live in poverty stricken conditions, many times without a roof over their heads, on the move, or in a disgusting rot of a house. The book reminded me that even in a privileged world, many people around you could be struggling with problems far worse than your own, without basic necessities. And that really, our struggles are not all that real.

A good friend once taught me the importance of considering your own problems in relation to others’. To paraphrase, “… I was crying over being kicked out of my house and was trying to figure out where to spend the night. My friend was crying over what shoes to choose for prom…”

Irony is a key ingredient to these phrases, and although irony is a literary device designed to make the reader stop and think (see examination of the use of irony here), I think that the humour in these phrases takes it to a whole new level of not OK. We may stop and think about the seriousness and meaning behind the phrase the first, second, and third times we use it. But as it becomes a part of our vocabulary, we may soon forget the real reason why we were using it in the first place. It becomes a funny one-liner to add to our painful morning run, our 10 mile hike, or our 7 a.m. alarm. This is where the humour plays in. Once you use the phrase enough and the real impact of the phrase wears off, it just becomes humorous. But the thing is, it’s really not funny.

For me, the guilt followed from this realization. As the phrase had become a part of my vocabulary, I found myself saying “the struggle is real” even when I was aware how much the irony had worn off, because it was a habit. Luckily my awareness of my use of the phrase has helped me to break the habit.

So please, consider how real your struggle is before using this phrase again. Much like “first world problems”, “the struggle is real” needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary altogether.


4 thoughts on ““The struggle is real”… it’s time to remove this phrase from your vocabulary

  1. My favourite saying is “There but for the grace of God go I”. There is always someone else worse off than me and I am always reminded to thank God for the blessings and gifts He has bestowed on me. Keep on blogging; it will make you stronger and wiser.

  2. I was just about to use this term in a post for an organization I represent. I searched for its origins and found I agree with you. I decided not to use it. I feel for the unsuspecting corporate social site manager who uses it the day everyone decides it’s no longer funny.

  3. One point that was not addressed is that “The Struggle” is a commonly known concept in the African American community. It has been for quite some time. It speaks of struggling against an economic system that favors the wealthy (and all the sub-systems related an economy). The real irony here is that most citizens face this struggle, but are too busy “hustling” or too “in with the times” to see their current place in history. How can you see the “big picture”, when you’re desperate to stand in the frame? I think words are powerful and if you don’t know the meaning of a word or saying, why exhale that ignorance into the world? If you think words are just words, I’m not interested in hearing yours. Thank you for writing this article. I was the bad guy for calling my friends out for saying that two weeks ago.

  4. C’mon……are we so worried about being insensitive that we can’t have a sense of humor…. ever?? I have used the phrase occasionally. “I was going to go to the lake but the boat guy didn’t get my boat ready in time…..the struggle is real.” Am I to be worried that someone who doesn’t have a boat will feel bad? What about the people that made it to the lake…..should they tip-toe around me because I didn’t make it?

    Additionally, in my circle of friends we use those phrases mostly to remind each other what we are stressing out about isn’t worth it. Me: “My phone isn’t letting me do this thing and it’s making me angry!!”, Friend: “First World Probs.” Me: “Oh, right.”

    I grew up with domestic violence, alcoholism, divorce, and abandonment. I’ve worked my tail off to get myself an education and climb to a place in my career where I am blessed. Along the way I’ve had tragedy and heartache…..maybe more than most, definitely more than some. I’ve started over, from scratch, more than once. I am not being disrespectful to anyone’s struggle when I use an ironic phrase in reference to my blessings. Additionally, just because I have some blessings doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own struggles that continue, such as infertility and two parents fighting cancer, If you are in a place where you are judging “my struggle is bigger than your struggle”, then I would suggest you don’t really have much of a struggle.

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